A New IdentityPosted: September 4, 2016
A New Identity
SLIDE 3: SLAVERY IN THE ROMAN WORLD
As far as we know, Jesus did not mention slavery during his ministry. Of course unlike the Roman world, where as much as one third of the population were slaves, the closest Jewish Law came to countenancing involuntary labor was a kind of indentured servitude, where the servant was free after seven years. Jews did not practice perpetual slavery. So, Jesus was never confronted with the question, “What about slavery?”
SLIDE 4: SLAVERY IS BAD
I would like to think, that if Jesus could have foreseen the long march of the history of his followers, he would have said, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — slavery is bad!” The followers of Jesus, however, did not come face to face with Roman style slavery until, they tried to take the faith into the gentile world. And then Paul and the early missionaries were so intent on spreading the faith, they made critical compromises with Roman culture: women should remain silent in church and must be submissive, women obey your husbands as if they were the Lord, slaves obey your earthly masters.
Jesus didn’t teach any of this stuff. He encouraged women to take their places along side of men in freedom and equality. And I think had he been confronted with slavery, he would have said, “Among you in the Commonwealth of God we do not own one another.” But since Jesus did not have an opportunity to confront slavery, for much of its history, to its shame, the church tolerated slavery.
SLIDE 5: SLAVERY COMES TO AMERICA
In the history of America the practice of slavery arrived early. Twenty African Americans arrived in Virginia in 1619 aboard a Dutch ship, but they were traded as indentured servants, free after seven years of servitude. By 1650, however, the Virginia court was declaring some African Americans to be slaves for life, and by 1700 the colonies had worked out a system of African American chattel slavery, where not only were people slaves for life, but their descendants as well. So African Americans became property to be bought, sold traded along with their off-spring with no legal rights.
SLIDE 6: WHITE SUPREMACY JUSTIFIES SLAVERY
To justify this practice slave holders began developing an elaborate doctrine of white supremacy justifying the subjugation of all colored races. At one time or another in America there has been not only black slavery, but also enslavement of Native Americans and Chinese. The evil of white supremacy has been the collective sin that has haunted our national consciousness. And even when we struggle to overcome racism personally, we are still plagued as a nation by institutional racism — that is simply part of the fabric of our culture.
SLIDE 7: ALL PEOPLE CREATED EQUAL
There was a brief moment in 1776 we almost cast off the sin of white supremacy peacefully. In our Declaration of Independence we proclaimed, “All men are created equal,” and we even included a paragraph in the original draft that would have led to the end of slavery in the new United States of America. The Southern Colonies, however, refused to vote for Independence if the slavery paragraph remained in the Declaration, and so almost a century later we fought a bloody and devastating Civil War to end slavery.
SLIDE 8: END OF SLAVERY WAS NOT END OF WHTE SUPREMACY
The end of formal legal slavery, however, was not the end of the sin of white supremacy. And allow me just a moment to note that racism is not for white people only. Around the world different racial and ethnic groups are prejudiced toward one another. African Americans resent Hispanics. Chinese, Koreans and Japanese all dislike one another. Burmese look down on Thais and in India the caste system is based on race. Persians hate to be called Arabs, who in turn hate the Israelis, and there is a tremendous divide between Northern and Southern Europeans. The Brexit vote demonstrates that Brits can be every bit as prejudiced as Americans. So I am not denying that racism is a universal problem, but I want to focus, on white supremacy in America, because that is our national sin to deal with.
SLIDE 9: WE HAVE TAKEN A CITY
I have asked the Monday Bible Study and the Thursday Sharing Table to read, We Have Taken a City by H Leon Prather, because it helps to document the roots of post-civil war racial violence in America. And since we have been experiencing renewed episodes of racial violence at the same time there is a resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan in our nation I think we would do well as a faith community to re-examine the phenomenon of white supremacy and racial violence in America.
SLIDE 10: TERRORIST TACTICS SUPPRESS BLACK VOTING
As I started to say before, the end of formal legal slavery was not the end of the oppression of African Americans in the United States. Post Civil War Reconstruction was designed to protect the voting and citizenship rights of African Americans. The presence of Federal troops in the South helped to keep the power of the Klan in check. But in 1877 only 12 years after the end of the Civil War troops were with-drawn, and white para-military groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the red shirts and the white league used terrorist tactics to suppress black voting across the South.
The book We Have Taken the City, recounts the violent coup fomented by white supremacists to overthrow the duly elected bi-racial government of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. Dozens of law abiding African Americans were killed and hundreds driven from their jobs and the City. The white mobs were organized and armed by a small group of white politicians who succeeded in disenfranchising the African American population and expropriating the jobs and property of Blacks. While the Wilmington Coup was perhaps the most egregious example of white violence used to oppress an African American population, the author documents a pattern of racial violence in the North as well as the South intended to disenfranchise African Americans and relegate them to the lowest paying jobs.
SLIDE 11: UNDERSTANDING HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR CURRENT VIOLENCE
If we want to understand and respond to the current wave of racial violence in our country, we do well to seek to understand the larger historical context of white supremacy and racial violence in America. Consider, for instance, that Ferguson, Missouri is a poor black majority community run by a predominantly white minority City government and police force. When African Americans see white people show up to political rallies during this election cycle wearing “T” shirts that read, “Make America White Again,” they see that political activity in the context of a long history of white supremacy.
SLIDE 12: FAITH COMMUNITY CAN HELP CHANGE CULTURAL IDENTITY
So is there anything our faith communities can do to help address the current wave of violence and bridge the racial divide in our nation? United Church along with other progressive churches have a unique opportunity to lead our nation into a new cultural identity. First, we can confess that when the church accommodated with the twin sins of slavery and white supremacy, we were betraying the way of Jesus. Jesus calls us to welcome everyone to the Sharing Table as equal partners in Christ. Rather than “women obey your husbands and remain silent and submissive in church, and slaves obey your earthly masters,” we can aspire to the ideals of Galatians 3:” 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, Black or White, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
SLIDE 13: RACISM THAT SURROUNDS US
We can acknowledge the racism that surround us and seeks to influence us. A classic case of institutional racism occurred right here in Madison County this past year. An older gentleman from India came to visit his family in rural Madison and was going for a walk in the neighborhood. A white resident unaccustomed to seeing a person of color in his neighborhood, called in a complaint to the Madison Police Department. He complained that a suspicious black man was stalking his neighborhood, and he was afraid to leave his wife and child at home to go to work. The police department dispatched an officer. When the policeman arrived rather than seeing an aged Indian man whose English was limited, he saw a dangerous black man, who he threw to the ground breaking several of the man’s vertebrae. Making matters worse, when the policeman was prosecuted for use of excessive force, the Police Chief tampered with witnesses to win an acquittal for his officer. That is institutional racism.
SLIDE 14: RESPECT POLICE AND HOLD THEM ACCOUNTBLE
We must encourage people to respect the difficult job and sacrifices made by police officers. Responsible policing helps make life in community possible. And police officers must be held accountable when their power is abused. Abuse of power undermines community support for all police. The new identity we must seek should be a multi-racial consciousness.
SLIDE 15: SIGN OF HOPE RACIAL BARRIER FALLS
As we come to a close allow me to lift up a sign of hope I saw during the Olympic games. When I was a kid growing up in age group swimming in Omaha, swimming was a white sport. White men can’t jump and black people don’t do competitive swimming. In Rio Simone Manuel changed that, when she became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in the100 meter freestyle. Our world is changing slowly. I believe someday we will expunge the sins of slavery and racism, and in that day we will join together in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last.”