If there is one thing this past year has taught me, it is that America is not truly free. I know this because we claim to live in a land where all people are equal under God. Except we aren’t.
If there is another thing this past year has taught me, it is that America was not really founded on Christian ideals. I know this because the first and most important rule that Jesus gave us was to love God and to love others as God loves us. And we don’t.
We live in a country where only 170 years ago, it was not only okay, but biblically justified, for white people to own black people.
We live in a country where only 70 years ago, black people were not allowed to swim in the same pool as white people for fear of their blackness getting into the water.
We live in a country where only 7 years ago Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker was frisked after he walked into and then back out of a deli in New York City.
We live in a country where in the past year, multiple unarmed black people have been killed at the hands of police.
It is impossible to even briefly look at the history of being black in America and still believe that America is free and Christian. We have so much work to do.
The question is, what is the work?
I learned from Austin Channing Brown to keep something important in mind. People of color are not the work. It is not their duty to find ways to fit into the way white America currently functions. It is not their duty to teach their black children to put their hands on the dashboard when pulled over by police and keep their hands out of pockets while shopping. Instead, changing the system is the work. It is obviously broken. But in order to do the work of changing the system, we need to understand how the system works.
I want to tell you that it is extraordinarily hard to see how a system is oppressing people when you are not among the oppressed. Our only option is to crack open books, listen to podcasts and hear the stories that our black neighbors are sharing.
I also want to tell you that listening to these stories will make you uncomfortable. But it is time. This is a Kairos moment. Make yourself uncomfortable. It is only in our discomfort that we recognize the need for change. And it is through our discomfort that we learn how to love as Jesus loved.
Jesus spent his ministry making people uncomfortable. His parables revealed unjust ways in which the system was working and we have a responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to continue to pay attention to that discomfort Jesus introduced. In Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, he talks about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Pope states “we are created for a fulfillment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity.” (68)
If we want to claim that America is a great nation founded on Christian ideals, we must take the time to be in relationship with one another. That means listening to the ways in which America is failing to uphold our people’s God-given dignity.
Tell me, who are you reading or listening to these days?
Who is helping you understand how to be a courageous and faithful Christian in America?