As the forces of discontent continue in our communities, recent headlines have indicated that the South is more racist than other areas. It is easy to regionalize the focus on racial tension while ignoring the continual erosion of the fabric of the African-American lives in our own contexts. It’s easy to point out the evils of others without examining our involvement.
The Confederate flag has been removed from the state house in Columbia, S.C. Yet there are people who still hold on to the symbol of white superiority erected during the civil rights era. Many say the flag represents their culture. A June 30 USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows that many agree. The nation is divided on whether the flag is a racist symbol that should be removed from public spaces. Fifty percent of white respondents say it represents southern heritage and isn’t racist. Ten percent of blacks say it represents southern heritage, while 75 percent say it reflects racism.
As a child of the South who lived, and continues to live, under the vestiges of racism, I agree with the 75-percenters. This flag doesn’t represent the heritage of my ancestors, my family or me.
We continue debating issues that have little bearing on achieving racial equality and justice.
Does this mean we have given up hope? I hope not!
In a conversation with a friend focused on the futility of hope for disempowered people, we spoke of the recent racist bullying of a black student in Elkhart County, Ind., that forced her parents to remove her from the school. My friend reminded me that a black fireman in Marion, Ind., the site of the lynching of two African-Americans in 1930, was tossed a noose by his white commander. Then my friend said, “Where there is hope, there is also a rope.”
In his July 2 Sojourners “The Way of Hope” article, Jim Wallis said, “We can start by going deeper, to a more foundational and spiritual understanding of hope — rooted in our identity as the children of God, made in the image of God, as the only thing that will see us through times like this. . . . Hope is a decision, a choice we make because of this thing we call faith.”
Is hope a decision and choice for you in the midst of ongoing racial strife?
Our Anabaptist faith calls us to be a people of justice and reconciliation. The vicious racist’s attack that occurred in Charleston, S.C., happened as we prepared or held various conference assemblies. How much attention has been dedicated to giving leadership for racial reconciliation at these gatherings? Can we let the Spirit interrupt our agenda?
I applaud the action taken by delegates at the 2015 Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City to unanimously approve a resolution in response to the Charleston murders. The call for solidarity with communities ravished by racial violence and the resolve to continue directing resources toward the elimination of racism in our midst is hopeful. Cautiously, I wonder if this resolution, like others, will be placed on the shelf and languish in dust until someone says, “Didn’t we pass a resolution on racial hatred in 2015? What’s happened to it?”
Each congregation must be accountable to implement the resolution locally, or it will be forgotten. I recommend that congregations appoint advocates to hold them accountable for this task. Listen to the advocate and collectively engage in antiracism work.
Finally, seek God’s directive for you. Then you will realize hope!
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.