A few months back, I joined with some of our parishioners to hang a Reject Racism banner on our campus. We hung the banner by the roadside so all who drive by can see it. After all, "Who lights a candle and puts it under a bushel?" asked Jesus. While we hung the banner, a few cars honked in appreciation of the message on it. It is my understanding that this is the first banner of its kind that we have ever hung on our campus, and one that invited us to take a particular stand against a critical and concerning issue within our country.
What I found to be incredibly peculiar about this banner was that although the message appeared very simple - just two words, Reject Racism - it was loaded. And it was so because it invited us, all of us, to pursue a particular path. The message called on us to reject a destructive human tendency that is premised on the false narrative of the superiority of one race over another.
The call of this message is in line with what Dr. King once said when he made the point that “...if America is to remain a first-class nation, she can no longer have second-class citizens.” The second-class citizens here referenced are African Americans, in particular, and people of color, in general.
As your pastor, priest, and friend, I have often shared with you some of the moments of racism that I have experienced, and there are more telling stories that I do not find needful to share. I am, however, guided by every single experience because to assume that one is immune from being either a victim or perpetrator is to fall into that same narrative of feeling superior or inferior to another. It is to insidiously reject the idea that we are all children of God who were created in the image and likeness of God, and who bear within us the divinity of God.
I feel immensely blessed that I find myself within and among this community of people here at Christ Church. I have not, throughout my time here, ever experienced or heard a story of a parishioner falling victim to any kind of racism from another parishioner. This is mainly driven by the fact that all of YOU - those who have chosen to worship God here, those who consider Christ Church to be their spiritual home, those who find meaning in this community and feel God’s abiding presence in each other, those who find a much deeper and richer meaning in the giving of themselves in support of God’s work at this church - all of you believe that every single one of us is worthy. More than that, we believe in our baptismal call of respecting the dignity of every human being. For me, that is why we Reject Racism.
Someone asked me this afternoon if the Reject Racism banner will go up once more. I responded that the banner was already up, but it is somewhat creased. The response I got was that they will work on it to straighten it up a little bit - just so the words may stand out even more poignantly. For me, that is the joy of knowing that others care - not simply about the banner, but the words that the banner speaks to us.
This week, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King. His words echo through every facet of our lives. For many of us, his message spoke in a way that connected our individual realities with our hopes of a fulfilling future, a future devoid of the legacies of slavery, of Jim Crow and redlining, a future devoid of systemic racism and the many ills that African Americans and people of Color face in our country.
It is possible that you have been a victim of racism before. It is equally possible that you have not been a perpetrator of racism. But for those who have been, this message is very timely. They need to be reminded of the universal call to reject those things that demean and cause harm. In fact, we all need to be reminded of the harm that our actions inflict on others and how intentional acts of overcoming the seduction of destructive tendencies can make a huge difference in the lives of people.
A simple banner that sits on our campus makes a universal call, inviting people to walk on a particular path. We can never tell who it is that may need such a reminder or invitation. We can never tell who it is that needs to hear this clarion call.
But if we can change one mind, we have done our duty.