Two weeks ago, 23rd June, a Tuesday, there was A Call to Action Prayer Service in honor of the victims of the Charleston shooting. A lot of churches in our presbytery and in the Southland came together and David Whiting of the Orange County Register has written powerfully about it here. Pr. Mark Davis (Pastor, St. Mark Presbyterian church, Newport Beach) was one of the speakers. Echoing Martin Luther King Jr. Mark shared a vision of the "beloved community" together with a call to us to recover "the biblical languages of truth, such as the language of rage, the language of lament, the language of frustration ... and the final language ... - hope in the steadfast love of God."
Speaking our truth I
Sometimes speaking our truth requires saying things that are not easy to hear. So, here is my attempt to speak truth.
We well-intended white Christians have long been inspired by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community.” It is a beautiful vision and there are many worse aspirations to have. [Let me pause long enough to say that there are many not-so-well-intended folks calling themselves Christian to cannot even aspire to Dr. King’s vision because of the hardness of their hearts. None of them is here, so I’m leaving them out of the picture.] The vision of the “Beloved Community” is a noble vision, which we have sought to attain for many years now. But, there’s a problem here. Many of us have thought that if we all just get together and sing a little Kumbayah, every little thing is going to be alright. And we have opted for clean, universal language: We are all equally children of God. We are all equally sinners. We all equally need to turn our lives around, ask forgiveness of one another, forgive one another, and accept one another just as we are.
But, there’s a problem. When one of us has historically been brutalized and the other of us has historically been the aggressor, we’re not all equally sinners. When one of us is going to continue to thrive in neighborhoods with excellent schools, friendly police officers, business connections, and politicians who curry favor because of our finances; and the other of us lives in red-lined neighborhoods that are underserved by school, targeted by law enforcement, over penalized by the legal system, and ignored by the political establishment – we’re not all living the equality dream. When one of us sees the connection between the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow era to the current social structure; and the other of us thinks that anything we have is simply by dint of working hard, we’re not all accepting one another. When one of us teaches our children to play dead at the sound of gunfire, and another of us can’t even imagine our children being targeted with gunfire, we’re not all in need of the same forgiveness.
The “Beloved Community” of Dr. King cannot happen until we first walk the difficult road of addressing white privilege, dismantling social structures that defy the equal protection of our constitution, and keep us keenly aware of the real difference there is in presenting to the world as a white person or as a person of color.
So, let’s speak truth to one another. Let us recover the biblical languages of truth, such as the language of rage, the language of lament, the language of frustration, asking “How long, O Lord?”, the language of justice that demands radical and structural change. All of these are biblical languages – that is to say, they are authentic languages of the human story. But, none of them is a final language. The only final language – even in the deepest lament – is hope in God’s steadfast love.
And let us take the hard task of listening, even if what we hear challenges our world view, uncovers the ambiguities of our beloved heritage, and forces us to re-think our certainties. Then, perhaps, we are ready to talk about the “Beloved Community” with integrity and truth.