Humbled in D.C. by Religion and Race

This past week I was in Washington, D.C. to work with a colleague at the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race as we were writing legislation in preparation for the 2016 General Conference. We were incorporating GCORR’s ministry model into its legislative mandates: Intercultural Competency, Institutional Equity, and Vital Conversations about Faith & Race. Too many things in the news demand that we excel at all three.

We finished our work a little early one afternoon so I decided to walk down behind the Capitol and check out some museums. I especially wanted to go to the National Holocaust Museum. I was breath-taken by the solemnity and horror of what I felt and experienced. Walking through the railcar that transported people to death camps was worse than chilling. Seeing the thousands upon thousands of shoes taken from people about to be murdered was overwhelming. Not a soul in the place spoke louder than a whisper, if that. Holocaust survivors were present with tattooed arms. The visit really put my work with the Commission on Religion and Race into perspective. We must say “Never Again!” to all genocide, racism, and murderous atrocities. The Islamic State must be stopped from beheading people. Russia must retreat from Ukraine’s sovereign borders. Christians in Iraq, Nigeria, and China must be protected from persecution.

We must all do our part, wherever we are, to stop heinous acts that take the lives of the unborn, the elderly, the Roma, and not to forget those innocent Hispanic children at our borders or those African-Americans who have been profiled and targeted. Indeed, Ferguson, Missouri is a tragic reminder of the U.S.’ racial history and a microcosm of the genocidal acts that have been perpetuated across the planet. Turks tried to wipe out Armenians in the early 20th century; Nazis tried to kill all the Jews; and the evidence of hatred goes all the way back to Cain killing Abel. We can say “that” would never happen in our community, but sadly it does every time I look over my shoulder and profile the people around me as I get in my car. When does careful vigilance cross the line into profiling?

We don’t want to call it discrimination or racism but we really do cling to what our differences are as human beings. Being unique is cause for celebration most of the time – until you’re the only one who thinks differently or doesn’t look like the majority. What a challenge for the church! We believe and preach Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:26-28 that in summary say that, in Christ: skin color, gender, and social status don’t matter – what matters is Jesus! Unfortunately, however, churches are mostly homogeneous like-minded clubs of similar people. Even with the rich diversity of the United Methodist Church, one of the most diverse denominations in the world, we are 92% white in the U.S. and 60% white worldwide. How do we create community when we would rather separate into different ethnicities? It begs the question of whether it is in our DNA to be prejudiced and want to be with own kind.

In D.C. I also went into the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. Talk about mistreated. I was hoping to find a T-Shirt that said, “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492,” but I didn’t. It was a somber place to me. If the majority of this country doesn’t “get it” about the Washington NFL team that has a nickname that American Indians NEVER call themselves, then we’re in serious trouble. I am even more offended by the Cleveland Indians mascot “Chief Wahoo” whose cartoon-like features are blatantly insulting.

 I have other questions in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri.  I wonder why most persons of color assume the police have an agenda of targeting them, and why most persons who are white trust the cops. I’m torn, too. I want to believe that the authorities are just doing their job, aren’t racial profilers, and want to keep the peace. Unfortunately, our experiences differ when it comes to the color of our skins, the neighborhoods we’re from, and the accent of our voices.

People assume Southerners are ignorant because we speak a drawling version of Elizabethan English. Others assume Yankees are rude and impatient with their fast clipped dialects. Why do we assume that Asian kids are better at math, black kids are better at sports like basketball and football, and white kids are football linemen, the occasional tight end, fullback, or quarterback and little else?  Why in the world do we somehow think that Latino/Hispanic persons have a corner on the landscaping market? Are these facts, or are we racists of sorts?

We have turned the American melting pot into a salad bowl where we do our best to keep the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and lettuce separated. With that kind of attitude we don’t need to wonder why Ferguson, Missouri happened, Wounded Knee, or the Holocaust. Look at the facts and know that out of nearly 3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. 38% are African-American and that 1 in 3 African-American males will be imprisoned at some point in their lives. What makes these stats even more disturbing is that African-Americans only make up 13% of the U.S. population. Why is there such a high rate of incarceration? Is it due to a lack of opportunity? Are African-Americans somehow ill-equipped by nature or nurture to break the cycle of poverty? Is it because of the lack of a male presence in families? Is it institutional racism?

By the way Hispanics are 17% of the U.S. population and 21% of the prison population. Asians are around 5% of the U.S. population and 2.5% of that of prisons. Whites comprise 78% of the population and 35% of prison inmates. What are we to make of all this when thinking about Ferguson, Missouri and the museums on Constitution Avenue in D.C.? Have you ever heard of the phrase “white privilege?”

Privileged or not, the U.S. is made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of places and I am not ignorant of the fact that there are millions of white people who are poor and marginalized, too.  The bottom-line for me is that we must take individual and corporate responsibility for the ways that we treat people. We must look critically at systemic causes of poverty, discrimination, and racism. There is no easy answer to any of the questions raised. We live in a complex world where people learn early to discriminate between themselves and others. Maybe God had it right in becoming flesh in Jesus, a Jew from the Middle East – not African, not European, Not Asian – from right in the middle of all humankind. Jesus ably represents all of us, and gave us the words to combat racism and genocide in Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Holocaust Museum

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Humbled in D.C. by Religion and Race

  1. Tim: I agree wholeheartedly with your experience at the Holocaust Museum. My great-grandmother was a young Jewish girl who escaped Hamburg, Germany and was on one of the ships turned away by the United States. Yes, anti-semitism was also present in our nation prior to WWII. Eventually, she was allowed to enter the US and settled in Charleston where she met my great-grandfather, a member of Bethel Methodist Church in Charleston. My grandmother worked on family geneology for decades. I now have the volumes that she prepared. The one surname which almost disappeared after the Nazis took control was Lehman! That volume is far smaller than the rest.
    Also, I have walked in the shoes of law enforcement for twelve years and as a police chaplain for seven more. I really wish that racial profiling and such were the only issues! It is a very, very complex issue and for me, I think it all goes back to sin; the sin of slavery and how whites continue to profit from it. Our jails and prisons are full of young Black males. It is a direct result of what I call the continuing “curse” of slavery. We are still paying the price for it! I want to tell you, your blog hit home with me! Thanks for having the courage to ‘say’ what you said. Your Friend, Len Ripley

  2. You raise some very difficult questions, ones that I struggle with constantly. I had a principal who quoted research on the brain, saying, “The brain is a pattern-seeking device.” I believe this is true; we do constantly look for patterns to help us make sense of this world. A bumper sticker echoed this same idea: Stereotypes save time. This seems to me to be one of the reasons for prejudice. We judge people and groups based on patterns that we perceive (inaccurately or not). A friend of mine who was a Holocaust survivor once said to me, “There will always be a Mauthausen.” (Mauthausen was the concentration camp he was in.) I don’t want to believe this, but I know it is true. There are “Mauthausens” going on all around the world. We need to remember that the Holocaust was not a single period of history, but that that sort of behavior has happened before, is happening now, and will happen in the future. We need to be able to recognize it when it happens, be on guard against it, and take steps individually and collectively to try to stop it. And it all starts with treating our neighbors as ourselves.

  3. As a 64 year old white male I can honestly say that I have never been discriminated against. Not many people can say this. This was a great article. I agree with your perspective and the things we as Christians need to do to make sure these atrocities never occur again. Thank you for your insight. Billy Beard

    1. Billy, Thanks and God bless you for your honesty. Miss you! tim

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  4. Tim I agree with ur very thought provoking article. I too once held thoughts against the blacks, but believe becoming a stronger christian changed my values. After all they were also created by God & even though they have different ways they r human beings. Have had some very wonderful people (Black) who I would rather be around then some whites. While I was at White Oak for almost 3 months, I was treated like a queen. They let me know I was one of their favorites & I got special treatment because they learned I was there to work very hard to come back as much as I could. I even was called Mama Hughes & Floyd was called Papa Hughes. One of the night nurses found out Floyd’s birthday & brought cake & ice cream for him that day. Most of them were black. I loved them all very much.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! God bless you, tim

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  5. Tim, as always you speak the truth in what I always know as God led words through you. Being a Native American Indian I have seen racial profiling up close, not so much me personally but some of my family members. It is still prevalent in many of the churches. The good news is UMC has started to include Native Culture within the church. The bad news is not all the churches embrace it although in the Book of Resolutions it does state all UMC shall have a Native Representative within their church whether there is any Native presence in their church. (I know you know the # and page where this resolution is found. I am sure you can probably quote just about all of the resolutions by heart.) We are all taught to discriminate against others and most of it starts from within our own homes. But when God become the center of our heart and home we can let go and get past learned discrimination and past injustices. As I have said more than once; there is not a single ethnic group on the face of this earth that has not done something horrible to another ethnic group. Just as there has not been a single ethnic group that has not done something good that has made things better for all humankind. We need to embrace the good in all of us and get past the past in order to continue helping each other.

    Plus I know where I can get you one of the t-shirts.

    blessings and keep telling us messages we need to hear,
    Beckee

    1. Beckee, As always your wisdom speaks! Thanks, tim

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  6. Yes we do profile.
    What gets me are the people who would wipe out the remembrances of the holocaust. I went to Ann Franks house before they completed the addition and was surprised at the death threats and propaganda that was put out to debunk her life.
    Thanks for the stats and a little jogging down memory lane of our racial prejudges.

    1. Karen, Ann Frank’s house must have been poignant. Thanks for sharing, tim

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  7. Tim: I enjoyed your comments but I am left wondering why you left out LGBT persons. They are being discriminated, murdered, and in some cases, thrown out of their families because of outdated ideas about sexuality. While Paul was a great spokesman for the faith 2,000 years ago, Paul did not know what we now know about conception, chromosomes, issued related to pro-creation. I truly hope that you and other leaders in the United Methodist Church will work as hard in 2016 to eliminating the discrimination that the church now practices against gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgender individuals. Regretfully I have not spoken out as I should have while an active pastor, but I have long felt that our position on this issues was wrong. As a father whose oldest child recently had the courage to tell my wife and I that “he had known he was in the wrong body since Junior High School”but was afraid to speak up out of fear….when will the church realize that what our “Book of Discipline” is wrong, hurtful, and brings as much pain as does the trials of Christians in other countries.
    The bottom line for me, regardless of what the United Methodist Church and its leaders says, I will NEVER sacrifice my transgendered daughter and will stand by and support her as long as I have breath.

    1. Warren, I support our denomination’s efforts to be in ministry with all persons and I commend your support of your child. Everyone deserved their civil rights and all stand in the need of God’s grace. There are mysteries that are beyond my comprehension. Though you have and your child, no doubt, has experienced horrific discrimination, I cannot compare the experiences of the Armenian genocide, the horrors of slavery, and the Holocaust or those of women whose gender has created terrible devaluation to the woes of LGBT persons. You may do as you choose. However, I must tell you with love and appreciation that I support our current denominational stance on the subject.

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