Greetings to the people of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, my brothers and sisters in our common faith in Christ Jesus our Savior.
As we begin the month of July we once again take an opportunity to celebrate freedom. Some of you may be heading to the lakes, others may be heading to see family, and still others may just be enjoying some time at home. But no matter where you are (or were) when the 4th of July rolls around, I am sure that you will undoubtedly be celebrating freedom in some form.
However, I can’t help but wonder, in our celebrations of freedom, if we actually hold to be truth the freeing words that our forefathers wrote when declaring freedom from British rule. In the Declaration of Independence our forefathers wrote that, “All [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But do we actually believe that all people are created equal, and thus have the same right to freedom as everyone else?
With the events that have monopolized our news feeds over the last year and a half about Charleston, Baltimore, Ferguson, and others, I am beginning to think that we as a country say we believe in the equality of all people, but in reality our actions speak to the contrary. In a conversation that I had with a friend following the events in Charleston a few weeks ago I came to realize that this is a national issue, but it is also an issue right in our own communities as well. In our conversation this friend made the point that people in these communities do not think they are racist because they “allow [people of different races and color] live in their community.” Upon further reflection of this statement I could not help but notice that this statement is in fact racist. Why do people of different color or race need to be allowed to live in the community? Shouldn’t they just be welcomed? And not just welcomed, by trying to assimilate them into our customs, but by taking an interest in theirs?
This conversation got me thinking about how there are probably other comments that we make which we do not readily see as racist, but in fact they are. In an internet search on this topic I have come up with a couple such comments.
One such comment is one that I hear all the time: “I don’t see race. I only see the human race.”[i] While this sounds like a nice thing to hold to be true, it actually does more harm than good. The fact is we need to see race, because race exists. God has made each and every person unique and that includes their race, and God saw that it was good. To say you don’t see race is to ignore the fact that racism exists, thus perpetuating the problem even further.
Another comment that I hear people say, especially if they spent time in a high school in a bigger city, or in a larger public university, is: “I’m not racist. I have black friends.”[ii] It sounds good in our heads to applaud ourselves for saying that we have friends who are of a different color or race. But in reality a statement like this only adds to the false notion that people of color only exist as mere accessories.
There are many more examples of these sort of comments that people in every community around the country and around the world use to claim they are not racist, but in all reality the comments themselves are racist. There is really only one sure fire way to not be racist, and to not perpetuate racial injustice, even if it is unintentional. That sure fire way comes to us from God’s Holy Word.
In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism he explains the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” in this way, “Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions.” To say it more precious, Martin Luther explains it this way in the Small Catechism, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”
In Scripture we are given a clear example that our neighbor is not just the people who look like us, or who come from the same upbringing as us. No, in the parable of the Good Samaritan[iii], Jesus makes the point that our neighbor is anyone who is in need of our help and support. Which coincidentally is all people, black, white, or anything else, rich or poor, well-educated or not. Jesus also tells us in Scripture that the second greatest commandment is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And so the only real way to be sure that we are not aiding the spread of racial injustice is to speak of and act toward all people in the way that we speak of and act toward ourselves.
As children we learn the simple guideline that we are to do unto others we would want others to do on to us. In our time of racially motivated acts of violence this is the message that we as a community of Christian believers should be having a conversation about. As I said in my sermon on June 21st it is only through these conversations that these “storms” can be calmed.[iv] Consider the conversation started.
[iii] Luke 10:25-37
[iv] If you did not get a chance to hear this sermon you can listen to it on the parish website: medinastreeterparish.org