Coming back from a wonderful middle school conference this past Sunday, I felt the kind of panic some parents of children of color may feel, when I turned around and didn’t see Isaiah at the fast food stop. He was just looking for something in my car, but last week, as the adult responsible for a young African-American male while stopped in rural Virginia, my heart dropped into my stomach.
As Western’s pastor, I have wanted to respond to the continued racism and violence, to speak a word of justice or describe God’s breaking heart. I’ve also been gently reminded that I am called as a white person to listen to other voices right now and to know how it feels to be uncomfortable. While I want to express divine outrage, other voices need to be heard.
DJ Purnell is a member at Western, whose mother is Taiwanese and father is African-American, and whose wife Amanda Kimball would be considered white. I heard about his prayer concern this past Sunday, about being truly scared during the sharing of joys and concerns. When I followed up with an email, he responded with this:
Last Sunday, I was voicing my frustration and fear at the events that had unfolded that past week. I am frustrated because I know that no matter how hard I work, I will never be consider an equal in the eyes of some of my fellow citizens. When I apply for jobs, go shopping, or dine out with Amanda I will always be a questionable quantity. I’m angry because a large part of American population (that votes!) believes that systematic racism and implicit bias don’t exist despite seeing video evidence. There are some who are not even capable, based off of their limited experience with minorities, of even comprehending the concept of white privilege and its impact upon the status of African Americans on the socioeconomic scale.
DJ went on to express his gratitude that Western values the “lives and contributions of all of God’s people,” but even in myself, I realize how far we still have to go on this journey. My brief panic when I couldn’t see Isaiah reminded me that I wouldn’t have worried the same way if Will or John or Eli had gone back to the car, and that I have a long way to go in acknowledging my own implicit bias. As a church, we all have a journey ahead of us.
Ultimately, our journey towards anti-racism as a church is not about us, though. It’s about not letting our grief for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, for the officers shot in Dallas- for any of those who have lost their lives to racial violence – end with sadness. Our journey is towards sustained action, within our faith community and for the sake of the larger world, because we are confident God is still healing this sickness of racism. Our world needs to know that God has not forgotten us, that black lives matter to God because each life matters.
We follow Jesus, another man killed senselessly long ago, on the cross. We know that God didn’t kill Jesus, people did, yet we can trust that times like these when God is hardest to see are when God is truly present, working for something new. May it still be so.