Bringing Matthew 25 into Focus, Part Two

Genesis 1:1-31, 1 John 4:7-8                                Pastor Teddie McConnell
This Sunday, we’re talking about Dismantling Structural Racism as the second part of a series on Matthew 25. Last week was about Congregational Vitality, and next week we’ll talk about Eliminating Systemic Poverty. 
The Bible begins with the story of creation, when God made humankind as part of an intricate and astonishing world. We are a small part of a much larger picture, on a planet of mountains, plains, oceans, plants, animals surrounded by an even grander universe made up of countless stars and planets. We cannot even fully grasp the enormity of what God made and declared to be, not only very good, but just exactly the way God wanted it. God didn’t rest on the seventh day because He was tired, but because the work was complete.
When some people decide to elevate themselves over others or falsely judge another group to be less good, it’s an attempt to make a liar out of God, the creator who said it was all good.
The 1999 PC(USA) Policy Statement on Anti-racism), builds on the image of God in all human persons as fundamental to the rejection of racism. While humans have many individual differences, we are all children of God, made in the image of God, and therefore of equal worth, value, and dignity. The 1999 Statement calls us to a vision of humanity without racism that is “grounded in our common origin as children of God from which we derive our inalienable worth, dignity, and sanctity.”
God loves diversity. Look at all the different colors and sizes of roses there are. Look at all the many varieties of creatures God came up with, each with its own strengths and characteristics. No one animal is more valuable than any other. Yes, carnivores are dangerous, but they keep the planteaters from overrunning the planet. Yes, animals are more tasty to us than others, but God made them all. Perhaps Jews started avoiding pork because it carries the risk of trichinosis and is only safe to eat when cooked properly.
Acts records a series of visions Peter was given in which God told him that all people were made clean by the blood of Christ and all animals are acceptable to eat. The grace of God doesn’t negate our differences, but empowers us to be unified by the love proven to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. At Pentecost, God provided a way for each person in the audience to hear the message in his or her own language, rather than providing a new universal language. God loves diversity.
Jesus spoke with and honored everyone he met, including women, children and men who were Jews, sinners of all kinds, tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans and Canaanites. He made a point of directing his disciples to go into the world to preach the gospel to all nations, which meant the Gentiles as well as the Jewish people. No one is excluded from God’s love when they choose to accept it. God loves variety.  Racism is propaganda that says our differences are negative and unhealthy, not evidence of God’s creative diversity.
What do we mean by the terms white supremacy and racism? Racism is the belief that pervades our society in both obvious and subtle ways and thinks white people are better than people of color. It includes the social and political systems that support that concept. White supremacy claims that whites are superior as a fact, not as an opinion, but has no scientific or biological proof to back it up. It was introduced during the period of European colonial expansion and justified the slavery of black people by calling it divine order and took land from Native Americans by calling it Manifest Destiny. It still justifies paying people of color and non-English speaking immigrants less money, denying them jobs or entrance into colleges and other programs.
Let me give you a few statistics about who ends up in prison. In the United States, whites are 59.3% of the population and 49% of the inmates. Hispanic and Latino Americans are 18.9% of the population with 14% of the inmates. Blacks are 12.6% of the population with 35% of the inmates.  The fact that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated means that their children and families struggle to support themselves without their incomes. Once they are released, their records impact their lives and careers negatively from then on.
Blacks are likely to be charged higher interest rates from banks or offered loans where the interest rates are designed to increase heavily after a few years. Houses in black neighborhoods have lower resale values than the same properties would in white neighborhoods.
To give you a personal example of discrimination, my grandfather, Diran Tomboulian, escaped from Turkey during the Armenian genocide during WWI and came to America. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, at least 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2 million Armenian Christians died during the annihilation committed by the Ottoman Empire. This mass extinction by the Ottomans influenced Hitler to believe that the world would ignore his plan to murder all the Jews in Germany.
My grandfather became a U.S. citizen and applied to various universities with the intention of becoming a doctor, but he was turned down due to antisemitism. Armenians experienced the same racism suffered by all immigrants from the Middle East, Jews and gentiles alike. He eventually found a college that would accept him and later became a physics professor at Cornell University and made innovations NASA used to explore space. I’m sure his struggles would have been even worse if he’d had darker skin.
Racism is a classic example of humankind’s sinful nature justifying selfish behavior. If we condemn any group of people in order to elevate ourselves economically and socially, we are manipulating the system for our own advantage. If we declare any skin color or background to be superior and worthy of receiving more advantages than other colors, we pervert God’s beautiful plan for creation. Whites have been raised to see racism only in individual acts of meanness or cruelty, not in invisible and overarching systems that give whites the upper hand, just as men have been raised to deny the advantages they enjoy because women are disadvantaged. Whites tend to say, “personally, I’m not a racist.”
God also loves justice. This comes up over and over in the Bible. The major Hebrew and Greek words for justice appear in scripture over 1,000 times. Racism is inequality based on skin color and is fundamentally against God’s will.
Taking this to another level, according to the PC(USA) website, “structural racism is the normalizing of racism within institutions and structures. Once racism is structural and institutional (as it is in the United States), it creates ongoing, persistent inequality. Inequality occurs in accessing money, land, housing, education, health, information, and social power. Because inequality is a part of the structures and institutions that we interact with every day, it often goes unquestioned and unchallenged by most of society or the dominant culture. In the United States, structural racism particularly advantages white people while producing negative impacts for people of color.
Important notes:
•          Racism is measured not by intent, but by its impact on those who are oppressed.
•          Racism can be overt or covert, individual or systemic, intentional or unintentional.
•          Racism grants privilege to some and sustains the dominant group.
•          Racism exists everywhere in our society, and in all institutions, including our church.”
The gospel is a way of viewing the world and each other as God’s beloved creation. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Because God loved us all enough to give the Son for our salvation, we are to love each other without reservation or discrimination.
We all need to examine the unconscious reactions and motives that can perpetuate white supremacy in our society. In her book, So You Want to Talk About Race, black blogger Ijeoma Oluo talked about this. We are all products of a racialized society, and it affects everything we bring to our interactions. Something can be about race, but that doesn’t mean it’s only about race. An example is the white store clerk who follows around a black woman and makes her feel singled out for scrutiny because she might steal something. The clerk may not be aware of the impact it will have on the black woman, who is making it about race whether the clerk intends it to be or not, because it happens so often to the her. It’s also about training, because following customers of any race is bad for business.
Just because any of us wouldn’t deliberately act in racist ways doesn’t excuse us from being part of dismantling structural racism. One way to begin the process of ending structural racism is to read Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. Copies are available on the round table in the narthex. The congregation as a whole might decide to work through the “Internal Institutional Analysis on Race Worksheet for Predominantly White Congregations”, which I’ll be including in the Session packet for their consideration.
There are many other ways to explore the racial justice issue suggested on the Presbyterian Mission Agency pages of the PC(USA) website.
There is anti-racism training available such as one led by the PC(USA) Office of Gender and Racial Justice or the Crossroads Anti-Racism Training. They suggest we put our beliefs into action by finding ways to support and welcome immigrants and refugees in our community. We can discuss moving to affirm Black Lives Matter and devise steps or initiatives that put the affirmation into action, always ensuring that there is accountability to Black groups with whom the congregation has developed relationships.
We can join in rallies and marches for changes in public policy in our local area, standing against Asian-American or Pacific Islander hate, advocating for indigenous and Native American rights, and standing with Black and other activists of color. We can donate to and become involved in the Self-Development of People Ministry, which is included in the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering.
If we’re not acting as part of the solution to the problem of systemic racism, then we are part of the problem and inadvertently perpetuating a demonic and selfish injustice. God wants us to find ways to work toward freedom from oppression and racism for all people. Let’s find ways to move toward this important goal together.

No Comments




no categories


no tags