This has a name: racism

“I’m here to learn more about this issue”

I was at a meeting on racism recently. We were all gathered together hoping to find ways to talk honestly with each other about race. I think I can honestly say that the group was a safe group. A gathering of people who were genuinely interested in respecting each other. But what was interesting was that no one could actually name racism. As soon as we got into small groups racism kept being referred to as “this.” This issue, this thing, this problem.

This.

Recently also someone at my favorite cigar and coffee shop admitted to me that he was trying to read through the entire bible. I warned him that it was no mean feat and he said he already gotten stuck on the list of names in Genesis. “Why do they have all those lists of names, Rev?”

It strikes me that one of the central problems of our society, and of the church too, is that we cannot name things for what they are anymore. I think we can all agree that unarmed black men should not be shot, but our society struggles to name it as a systematic problem of racism. So it just becomes “that issue” or “this problem.” At best it becomes ‘that racial thing.” On and on we go and everything goes unnamed.  My personal favorite was someone in the church telling about “this gay marriage thing.”

I can come up with a lot of reasons why those list of names are important, but one recently that struck me is that the authors of scripture refused to leave the people and issues unnamed. Look at the list of Jesus’ ancestors in Matthew 1 and there are a bunch of people who I think our world would describe as “this” or “that woman.” So Rehab isn’t “that woman” but specifically named. Ruth isn’t “this foreigner” but specifically named.

Before the church can recover any sort of credibility we need to practice naming people and issues again. Make no mistake, the church has lost a lot of credibility. It is not widely regarded as the welcoming and grace filled place that we perceive ourselves to be. There are many reasons for the decline. Some we have control over and some we do not. However, one thing we have control over is how we treat people.

We need to stop reducing people to “them” and issues to “this.”

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