I rarely talk about my faith in this space, but this is one of those times…Longtime readers of my work may recall that I am the daughter of a now retired pastor. After a very long, dark night of the soul following my mother’s death, I almost entered seminary but instead took a detour to head up a faith-based agency. The calling to seminary is still very much there, and I fully admit that I am negotiating the calling versus my free, will but that’s a tale for another time.
Across the nation this morning, millions went to worship their God and to presumably hold sacred space with fellow believers, while waiting for the man or woman in the pulpit to give them good news in a world that seems increasingly short of anything good. Today, I was among the people sitting in one of those church pews, feeling a deep need to fill up my sagging spiritual reserves.Yet I was reminded once again of why the church hour for those who attend remains almost as segregated as ever.
I sat and listened to the music, the sermon that touched upon the growing class inequity in this season of gratitude and the reminder for congregants to go further and then the the time for prayers and prayer offerings…the most amazing prayers of concern, pleas for support and gratitude. But as I heard the prayer requests being offered up, I noticed the prayers that were never uttered. It was a weekend in which a 12-year-old Black child Cleveland, Ohio, with a toy gun was shot and killed in a playground by the police after a call from a bystander who apparently mistook the child for a threat. And that terrible news came on the heels of yet another unarmed Black man who was killed by police, this time in a stairwell by a New York City police officer. And both of these pieces of news at a time when we’re still wrestling with the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri…at a time, in fact, when the grand jury verdict we’re expecting soon on that shooting could racially destroy this country no matter which way it goes.
There were no prayers related to any of those issues, whether individually or as a collective whole.
The absence of prayers for justice with regards to race in this country is a glaring omission, given how prominently they are playing out in the national consciousness. The type of omission that serves as a reminder of just how vastly different life is for whites and non-whites in this country.
As the daughter of a now-retired minister and pastor with Black Baptist roots, I know the Black church well. It is the balm for my soul despite its blemishes—which are many, I admit, but at least the Black church does not require me to check my very being at the door for participation. (In other words, while the Black church certainly has its baggage, it is a place where I am allowed to be Black without fear of repercussions.) However, in a state like Maine, my worship options are limited much like almost everything else for non-white people around here.
Sitting in the pew and noticing the glaring prayer omissions, I found myself wondering about how in far too many white, Christian churches, the only time differences of race and ethnicity come up are when discussing the latest mission trip. The mission trips that almost always involve going far away and helping economically disadvantaged people of color in faraway and exotic locales.
Make no mistake, there are some white churches that are on the front lines of racial justice but they are too far between and few. Too many white churches and particularly white churches in predominantly white spaces aren’t talking about racial justice. They aren’t engaged in the racial happenings, instead choosing to trust that the love of Christ is all we need. I love Jesus, but my love for Jesus isn’t going to stop white supremacy from harming me and my family.
For far too many “Christians,” going to church is simply an item on the to-do list; a lightweight country club where we gather with people like us, all the while ignoring the blueprint for activism and justice that was left for us in the Bible. At a time when church membership as whole is declining and many churches are fighting to stay, the church’s inability as a whole to be a part of social change is disheartening. In writing this I know the potential to offend my many local clergy pals is great, yet if you are in the pulpit and you haven’t talked about race often this year in light of what’s been happening, why not? Churches have the potential to be change agents but too often, they are stuck in places of comfort. Comfort, however, does not create change or help to create a just world. If we are the body of Christ on Earth, then why are we not helping all who are in need? How can we talk about economic inequality yet ignore racial inequality?