- About Grace
Bishop’s Column: Recognizing fault-lines in racial relations
On July 25, 2013
by Bishop Wayne Smith
Here is a short list of facts marking the fault-lines in racial relations in the part of Missouri encompassing our Diocese: the legacy of slavery and the Church’s sometime complicity in it; rigid practices of segregation beginning in the nineteenth century, with too many of these practices continuing to our own day; the tragically flawed experiment of the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects in St. Louis; the exclusion of minority contractors and workers from the building of the Gateway Arch, symbolic of a broader exclusion in public and private works and in employment. The list goes on.
The death of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman, have caused an already existing fault-line to tremble. The fault-line is nothing new, even if we may have become inured to its presence. I set aside for the moment any consideration of the legal and judicial matters in this case, although they do in due course deserve our scrutiny. I ask you instead to do what the Church has as our charter, which is to seek reconciliation to God and to one another through Christ Jesus. A primary strategy for this reconciliation is to hear “the other,” even across, or especially across, the many fault-lines that exist in our world. In an increasingly dismissive and polarizing time, intentional, careful hearing of the other can make all the difference. At our best, the Church provides a safe venue where truth-telling and – hearing can happen.
Two little books in the Old Testament, Ruth and Jonah, call the people of God away from any impetus toward particularism or racism. The book of Ruth accomplishes this purpose through a lovely narrative which ends with a cultural bombshell. Ruth, a woman of Moab, the distrusted ancestral enemy of Israel, will turn out to be royal David’s great-grandmother, a truth calling under judgment any notions or pretense of exclusivity. Jonah accomplishes a similar purpose, only through a kind of humor bordering on buffoonery. The prophet petulantly and persistently resists God’s call to go to Nineveh, a city of Babylon – a Gentile city and another enemy – whose people the narrative characterizes in an unflattering light. When Jonah begrudgingly relents to proclaim a message of repentance, not only the people of Nineveh but even the cattle respond! God’s reach thus extends beyond the imagination of the people of God.
Jesus crossed fault-lines in his culture, and did it often. His doing so presaged redemption and release, but it also caused him much trouble in the living of his days and in his death. I am also mindful of the Book of Acts, one current source for the readings for Daily Office, whose story is that of the Holy Spirit compelling new believers across frontiers and among peoples unimaginable beforehand.
Such is our legacy. We the Church, the Body of Christ, can hardly be satisfied with the racisms and other fault-lines in our culture. They are so deeply imbedded in our nation’s history that we become accustomed to them — until some event, like this most recent one, calls them to our awareness. I think that faithful people might cultivate the habits of seeing these fault-lines at all times, and, for the sake of the One who has called us, finding the courage to straddle them.