The irony of writing for a column called "Doing Good Together" in our current COVID-19 world is not lost on me.
In our church, while separated by distance, we continue the work of the "kin-dom" of God. In some ways our interactions with each other have become more intimate and truthful, and we are allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable with each other.
At Round Rock Presbyterian, we are experiencing that vulnerability through our inner work of dismantling structural racism. We have spent the last 10 weeks working through "Me and White Supremacy" by Layla Saad.
For some in our group, this is their first time to have these kinds of conversations centered around race. We gather in a large group and talk about how the study pertains to our faith, we commit to each other to take the process seriously, and then we break out for small group discussion.
Shame is a common emotion that arises from honest anti-racism work. Early on in my own journey, I had been told that white guilt or shame does not help the problem of racism. While this may be true, I am learning that dealing with shame can be an essential part of the process for the individual doing the work. I am learning to guide people to be vulnerable with the shame they feel instead of pushing past it too fast. The failure to deal with shame can become a stumbling block that sometimes manifests as defensiveness or a desire to disengage from the conversation all together.
During the last week of August, the larger denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church USA, had a Week of Action to denounce racial injustice and affirm that Black lives matter. Through online educational opportunities, conversations and forums, our predominantly white denomination is listening to Black voices.
In May, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II said of the church, "No longer can we hide behind not being controversial." The white church has too often lived in fear of offending, of upsetting its members, and causing people to leave the church. Those fears have led to hundreds of years of perpetuating the sin of racism, both through our actions and through our silence.
When I was 13 years old, I heard a woman preach for the first time. The Rev. Joan Salmon Campbell shared a sermon on Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego. It was lively and it engaged me like no sermon ever had before. That same year she had been elected the first Black female moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA.
Four years after I heard her preach, the church she loved and served faithfully turned her away. It made national news in 1993, when The Rev. Joan Salmon Campbell was run out of her wealthy, mostly white congregation. She was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that the church "wasn’t ready for an African American woman and my approach to ministry, and I was not ready for their resistance, and that’s OK."
In that same article, one church member said, "It was entirely a question of personality . . . I resent the implications she raised that it was an issue of race or sex. . . That was simply not the case."
The congregation’s resistance to addressing racism was not OK, but the local and national church were too afraid to call it out. I learned a few years back from a friend of Campbell’s that the experience took a personal toll on her the public never saw. I also learned that a group of faithful Black woman, surrounded Campbell with the warmth, compassion and support the church did not.
Shame and fear are powerful emotions that lead us to turn our heads from the sin of racism that lives within our faith communities.
Only when churches liberate ourselves from the silence and secrecy of racism, can we truly be free. When we confess the evils of racism, both corporately and individually, we can work as God’s agents for an equitable world where all lives really do matter.
Until that day, the white church must confess, that all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.
Our faith, whatever it is, calls us to a higher power of justice and love. Are we ready to confront fear and shame and the wounds, both physical and spiritual, inflicted on our Black siblings? Will the church universal and faith communities of all varieties stand with all our siblings and proudly proclaim, Black lives matter, too?
The Rev. Kim Smith Stanley is the pastor of Round Rock Presbyterian Church, a licensed professional counselor, mom, spouse, justice-seeker, tree-hugger, lover of life and all creation. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.