Publicly confessed racism can move souls to peace

Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:01 PM

Recently I ran across a quote I’d once copied and saved. The quote says that “fear and loss brought to speech lead to energy.”

It gives a corollary that “fear and loss not brought to speech lead to violence.” I’ve been wondering in the face of all the racial violence we’ve been seeing lately if this is, in fact, true.

Because I am a pastor, I’ve also been thinking about our churches – how they are not places where folks often come to talk about violence, even though our Bible is rife with it. When we gather for worship many of us arrive with the expectation that we will find respite from everything that makes us world-weary. But if this quote about bringing our fear and loss to speech is correct, perhaps church ought to be a place where we begin to do the work of truth telling – of admitting our fear and our losses and of taking a long, hard look at our complicity with violence.

One truth we may be in need of telling is that while each and every one of us has experienced loss, and many of us live with fear, we are wont to speak them out loud … certainly not in public, and for many of us not even in private. We have been taught to see ourselves as strong, self-sufficient persons. To admit that we grieve or that we have fear would be to admit that we are not strong, or God forbid, that we might need one another in some profound way.

Another truth we may be in need of telling is how limited our love of neighbor is. In one moment we may say, “yes,” to Jesus’ foundational teaching that we love our neighbor as ourselves and in the next moment justify any of a variety of types of violence perpetrated against all sorts of people. (Those people, by the way, rarely look like us).

Few of us give expression to the potential we all have to be ruthlessly violent. For the most part we participate in “soft” forms of violence. We ignore folks whom we find distasteful. We gossip about others behind their backs and demean those on whom we look down. What’s more we support (in both active and passive ways) systems that keep some in our society in second-class positions.

Violence runs the spectrum from killing people to looking the other way and ignoring social structures that set some folks up from the beginning to be behind.

So is the quote true? Is there some unspoken grief or loss that leads to this “soft” violence? Might we bring something “to speech” that would free us from this cycle of violence? What truth might we have left unspoken that could energize us to live God’s Shalom in which all are included, none is less than, and where peace and compassion are the warp and weft of our lives?

As a human being, I am horrified by the recent burning of black churches. As a Christian I am compelled to consider that there may be a silence in which we in so many of our churches have participated for far too long that has contributed to these actions. I find myself wondering if it is a silence born of fear, not of loss. And I wonder if that fear may be that we are losing our white hegemony. If that is the case, it is a fear so deep-seated that it trumps even Jesus’ teaching that we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Should that all be accurate, even if it is not a complete portrayal of what is driving the violence in our country, it would indicate that it is time that we Christians, with “fasting and weeping and mourning… rend our hearts.” (Joel 2:12) And not only that, it would say that it is time we bring our fear to speech – that we publicly confess the racism embedded in our social and sacred structures in which we all participate.

And then, if the quote is true, with God’s help we may become energized to live in that Reign of peace and justice in which we all are One.

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or