I was raised by a racist who would likely have sided with the Nazis, White Supremacists, and White Nationalists in recent events. She would have done so without thinking about the potential consequences to me, her bisexual daughter. She would have done so without thinking about her Jewish friends or knowledge of the fact that there is Jewish blood in the veins of her children (Through a DNA study, I discovered that at least one of my ancestors was an Ashkenazi Jew). She would have focused on her desire for a “white America” and the illusion that her life would have been better if People of Color were not in it. From her hatred and bigotry, I learned silence.
For many years I would say that my family was not in this country during the time of slavery and, therefore, it was okay for me to remain silent in the face of racism in all its nasty forms. Privately, I was horrified by the racial divisions in all aspects of life – education, healthcare, housing, employment, law, mental healthcare, prison… Yet, I still said nothing. I wouldn’t even stand up to my mother when she spouted off against the nearest person who did not appear to be white. I truly did not believe that it was my responsibility to speak up and change the way things were, even a little. My attitude started to change when I discovered a branch of my family had been in this country since 1635. But my real awakening came when I saw the racism Obama faced. What kept me awake, though, was the death of Travon Martin followed by too many other unarmed Black men (and women and other People of Color).
My story is not unique. We have been selling our siblings into slavery for a very long time. Some of Joseph’s brothers were active in the sale and the others sat silently by and let it happen. None of them confessed to Jacob and tried to get Joseph back. They went on with their lives as though nothing happened until they could not. Famine disrupted their illusion of wellness.
For decades, we moderate to progressive white Christians (and others) have been telling ourselves that the Civil Rights Movement was “successful.” We remained silent when confronted with obvious ways in which racial equity was nothing more than collective delusion of a society working very hard to maintain the veneer of harmony. Social Media has shattered that false image with videos of police brutality, instant news of hate-motivated vandalism, personal stories that haven’t been sterilized by mainstream media. With the rise of Black Lives Matter calling our attention to incidents of racist violence around the country, many of us have woken up to the famine that is in our land. People are dying and we’ve remained silent.
Then there was Charlottesville, VA. For many, these events were the first chimes of the wake-up alarm. They had been hitting snooze so long that the alarm didn’t have much meaning until they heard the Nazi chants and saw the Swastikas in the hands of Polo-wearing young men. The Klan rallied but the white sheets were gone. No one was hiding their identity. They were proud of their hatred, bold in their identity. Let’s not continue to call them “alt-right.” Let’s call them what they are. They are white supremacists no matter which name they go by. If you believe in a “white America” then you are a white supremesist. It’s that simple. And if you remain silent, then you are passively identifying yourself as a white supremacist. Are you awake now?
It is time for Joseph’s siblings to go and beg forgiveness – forgiveness for our actions and our inactions, our compliance with the racist systems and our failure to prevent the election of racists to political offices. It’s time we beg forgiveness for our passive acceptance of lies we’ve been told by people in power whose only goal is to maintain power. There is a famine in our country as real and dangerous as if we were literally at risk of starvation. Don’t go back to sleep.
Now as we approach Joseph, begging for forgiveness and seeking to end the famine, let’s not participate in Joseph’s mistake. You see, Joseph believed he was sold into slavery to fulfill God’s will. While I understand this interpretation of events and see that it is consistent with the time in which Joseph lived, I cannot abide by it. The God I know would not desire for anyone to be sold into slavery, especially not Israel’s beloved son. God would not orchestrate racism either. However, when human beings are selfish and ignorant enough to do such things, God can bring goodness in the wake of pain and tragedy. God has been trying to bring goodness in the wake of what the United States has been doing to People of Color, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses and others who are perceived to be “less-than” for centuries. Most of us have slept through God’s call to change our ways and resisted the potential for transformation.
If the events of Charlottesville have woken you up, then please step up and speak out. Stop blaming others for racism woven through every aspect of life in the United States and, instead, repent, step into the breach, and help dismantle the hate. Maybe, someday, we will be forgiven. Right now, though, not one more beloved child of God should die. No more blood should flow in our streets. People of Color are no more at fault for racism in this country than Joseph was responsible for his brothers selling him into slavery. Isn’t it time we listened to the God who calls us to love one another? Isn’t it time we become the Body of Christ we were created to be? What will you do to end the hate and prevent the continued rise of a young, renewed Nazi power?
No one will condemn you for being late, but if you don’t show up to the work that needs to be done you might have reason to be anxious when you step into Joseph’s presence. Now would be a good time to stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up. Get out of bed. God is waiting.
RCL – Year A – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28