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A Christian Response to White Supremacy

My sermon from August 13, 2017, following the events of this weekend in Charlottesville, VA


Matthew 14:22-33


The other night, Christy and I took Linus to Dilligham Intermediate School to get his new schedule and meet his teachers. There are nine elementary schools in Sherman, which go from K-4th grade. Then all 5-6th graders attend the same school. It's not the way I would have drawn up the school system, but it is what it is, at least for now.

Anyway, as we walked through those halls, it was very evident to me what it looks like when one takes every kid from every school and puts them together in one school. The kids and their families were beautifully diverse: immigrants speaking a second language. Second generation kids. African American kids. Latino kids. Caucasian kids. You get the picture. As I looked around at the different faces and heard different accents and even languages of kids and families who will share the same space as my son, I did not feel threatened or isolated. I didn't long for a past that hurt others for the sake of my benefit. I didn't feel like a victim. Theologically speaking, diversity is a gift of God, because all of us are made in the image of God.

 As the events of this weekend prove, not everyone holds that theological understanding, and as both a pastor and a Christian, it is my duty to speak the truth in light of the violence and hatred we've witnessed in Charlottesville, VA. White supremacists carrying torches staged a night-time march Friday, singing Nazi songs, and chanting racist and hate-filled slogans. The same people returned Saturday, carrying Confederate battle flags and flags brandishing swastikas. Protesters for justice, including many pastors and Christian layfolk, confronted the white supremacists. Several violent skirmishes happened, culminating in one of the white supremacists plowing his car into the other protesters, killing one and injuring nearly twenty others. This was an act of terrorism similar to others we have seen around the world in recent months in places like London and Nice. Two police officers also died yesterday in Charlottesville, as their helicopter crashed nearby. The cause of the crash is still unknown.


White supremacy has no place in a free society. Holding oneself as superior to others leads to oppression and violence. So while the marchers in Virginia had a right to gather and protest, their anger and fear are misguided. The nature of white privilege is to assume that things will always go our own way; when we feel victimized it is because we sense our privilege is decreasing; not because we are actually losing freedom or our rights.

** But the erosion of privilege is a good thing. **

It leads to a freeing of our best selves. With our eyes newly opened, we can embrace God's vision for a fallen humanity. This reconciliation with others and with God begins with a recognition of our brokenness. Sin breaks the relationships we have with others and God. The power of sin is limited by God's grace. The good news-- the best news-- is that the love of Jesus is stronger than human sin. God's forgiveness empowers us to break our self-imposed bonds. "At the right time, while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). The most powerful words of our communion liturgy happen near the beginning. The pastor says, "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven." The congregation responds, "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven." And we all say together, "Glory to God. Amen."

After a long day of ministering to others, Jesus gathered the disciples together in a boat, and they began to journey across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, however, stayed behind to pray. No big deal; some of them were fishermen, who worked that lake for years. But then the storm started raging, like the one we had overnight. Then they saw a ghost walking on the water towards them! But it was no ghost; it was Jesus. He said, "It is I. Do not be afraid." Unconvinced, Peter said, "If it is you, allow me to walk to you." Jesus said, "Come." So Peter did a remarkable thing. Summoning up his courage, he defied the laws of physics, if only briefly.

He stepped out onto the water. He took another step. And another. Then he noticed the wind and the waves. He remembered the storm. He looked away from Jesus and focused on his surroundings. Wait... this is impossible, he thought. And he began to sink. Then he began to panic. Finally he cried out, "Lord, save me!" And Jesus pulled him out of the water and placed him back in the boat.

Turning away from our sin is the first step in overcoming racism, white privilege and supremacy, and hate. We have to make the decision to leave behind what is normal and familiar, and summon the courage to step out of the boat. It is hard to leave privilege behind-- especially if you've never considered its power over you before-- but it is in the nature of Christ to challenge us and call us to new places. Otherwise those disciples would have never left their former lives. Remember what Jesus said to them: "Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." To Peter in the boat, Jesus says, "Come." To those of us willing to step out in faith and walk away from our privilege without fear, Jesus says, "Come." We want to leave behind the sins of privilege, racism, superiority. We want to step out of the boat and defy physics and every other standard of reality. That's where Jesus is. Calling us, inviting us: "Come." Jesus will give us the will, energy, focus, and desire to change. When we become distracted and sink, Jesus will save us and put us right. But there is no going back to who we used to be. Even though Peter returns to the boat, I guarantee he is not the same person. Peter continued to grow and develop over the coming years. That new person was born the moment he stepped onto water. We will be changed too. For the better.

Will you step out onto the water with me? I don't have all the answers; I am imperfect and scared of unknown realities too. But I chose to respond to the unknown with faith rather than fear. My tools are hope and the promise of redemption and new life, not evil and violence. Let us denounce the evil we have seen this weekend in Charlottesville, knowing it is not confined there-- it's here in North Texas, in Sherman, in the churches and schools and everywhere else. Let's repudiate it together. I've seen the words of 1 John 4:20 all over social media in the last 24 hours: "Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen."

It's Back to School Sunday. We've blessed backpacks and prayed for teachers and students before the new school year begins Wednesday. In our family, Linus will begin at Dillingham, Miles will move to Piner, and James begins his second year at the high school. They'll each attend classes with other kids who come from different backgrounds. Our kids look to us as examples. What are we teaching them today?

Saying NO to white power, white privilege, homegrown terrorism, hate and violence, we stand in the boat, ready to leave behind what is both familiar and evil. We say to Jesus, Lord of all creation, "If you're really there, call us to you." Jesus says, "Come." The first step onto the water is the confession of our sins, and the assurance of our forgiveness. The next steps have to do with building relationships with others, uniting with them under our common humanity as brothers and sisters made in the image of God. Rather than being afraid of what we may lose, let us embrace the possibilities of new life, embodied in the One who calls us out of the boat. "Come," says the Lord Jesus.

To close, I found this litany of confession in a United Methodist small group study for overcoming the sin of racism. Let's join our hearts and voices together:

All: We believe:

Leader: God is the creator of all people and all are God’s children in one family.

People: Racism is a rejection of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Leader: Racism denies the redemption and reconciliation of Jesus Christ.

People: Racism robs all human beings of their wholeness and is used as a justification for social, economic and political exploitation.

Leader: We must declare before God and before one another that we have sinned against our sisters and brothers of other races in thought, word and deed.

Pastor: In our common humanity in creation, all women and men are made in God’s image, and all persons are equally valuable in the sight of God.

Leader: Our strength lies in our racial and cultural diversity and we must work toward a world in which each person’s value is respected and nurtured.

People: Our struggle for justice must be based on new attitudes, new understandings and new relationships and must be reflected in the laws, policies, structures and practices of both church and state.

All: We commit ourselves as individuals and as a community to follow Jesus Christ in word and in deed and to struggle for the rights and the self-determination of every person and group persons.

Adapted from “A Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global Community,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012).

We closed our service by singing We Shall Overcome:

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We'll walk hand in hand,
We'll walk hand in hand,
We'll walk hand in hand, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around
The whole wide world around some day
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

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