Action Follows Faith: What Christians should do when their Church remains silent about Racism
Sunday is coming. Soon, millions of Americans will find themselves in the houses of worship that dot nearly every corner of this country; disparate buildings where they’ll gather under the banner of religion, of faith, of goodness.
Whether set in trappings that are ancient or modern, filled with polished pews, reclaimed restaurant booths, or plush concert seating—a vast multitude will leave their homes this weekend and purposefully head to those places to be part of redemptive community that seeks to perpetuate the heart of God in the world — or so the story goes.
You may be among the faithful making this weekly pilgrimage in person or online, and whether you’ve spent a month or a lifetime at your current spiritual home, I’m suggesting this might be a good time to leave it. Our country is experiencing a real-time human rights emergency, a horrible repetition of history (or more accurately a sickening continuation of it).
We are witnessing unthinkable and brazen acts of police brutality against people of color: unarmed men being suffocated and shot to death in the middle of the day by officers, women killed in their own beds, 13-year old boys being assassinated with their hands raised.
We are seeing a ferocious rise in harassment and hate crimes committed by White people who would tell you they love Jesus, while showing contempt for anyone with a complexion resembling his. We are seeing White people knowing cameras are rolling and yet feeling fully emboldened in their terrorism because they feel no accountability will come.
People of faith need to make them accountable. If there was ever a time when the Church should be visible and vocal, it should be now. If there was ever a moment moral leaders were made for, it is this one. If there ever was a day where spiritual leaders should stand bravely in front of their faithful and speak the hardest of truths, complaint and mass exodus be damned—it should be this one. But it probably won’t happen.
Many of these White would-be prophets will be silent, either out of cowardice, self-preservation — or worse yet, agreement with these sins over pigmentation. This Sunday they will deftly dance around the conversation and preach around the issues. They will sedate their audiences with flowery, intentionally vague prayers that pretend to speak but actually say nothing.
They will attempt to distract their flocks for an hour or so, and sidestep the urgency outside their buildings, because they don’t have the intestinal fortitude to brave the turbulence that taking bold stands creates. They will offer platitudes that hope to placate their people in the moment, juts long enough for the uncomfortable crisis to die down.
Many of the professed spiritual leaders in these faith communities will count on people filling their pews and booths and chairs, not giving a damn enough to ask them to speak with absolute clarity about the present crisis against humanity in America. You can’t let them be right.
Every White pastor, priest, and minister should be standing before their various communities this weekend and specifically naming White Nationalist violence and condemning acts of police brutality and racially-motivated hatred. They should be explicitly condemning these violations against humanity and calling their communities to do the same. They should be directly confronting the privilege they have benefitted from and participated in. They should be specifically naming the stoking of prejudice-born violence and the abuse of power we’re seeing, as fully antithetical to the heart of their faith tradition.
If not, you may want to ask yourself what the point is and why you need to stay another day. You may want to ask yourself what use the religion they espouse there actually is, if not to rescue the most vulnerable from the most powerful, if not to advocate for the least of these, if not to care for their neighbor of color as themselves.
If your faith leaders can’t find their prophetic voices to defend endangered people from imminent harm, are they really worth looking to for guidance on how to live one’s faith, know God’s will, or emulate Jesus? If they have silent tongues and feet of clay in these days, why should you remain and nurture such moral impotence? This is about the courage of the people who lead your church; about demanding that local churches and their ministers fulfill their greatest calling: delivering the expansive Gospel of Good News to the poor and the orphans and the widows, regardless of the cost.
If you’re a member of a predominately White church or led by a White minister, and the leaders there don’t specifically reference the racism on display right now, and push back hard against it—you should ask them why they aren’t. Ask them directly, and if you aren’t satisfied with their answer, seriously consider leaving then and there. This may be your greatest spiritual declaration, the most concrete affirmation of your beliefs that you’ll ever make.
If you are keeping company with polite cowards and smiling frauds whose faith is quiet while others grieve, you may need to empty the pews and exit the buildings, and go loudly speak the words of truth and compassion and justice that need to be spoken right now.
You may need to fill their silent voids with your rafter-shaking voice. You may need to follow your deepest faith convictions right out the door and toward the families assailed in these moments. If the people of God where you gather this week, will not bring equity and justice while such things are in such great demand — that may be your cue to exit.
You may need to leave the church to find your religion. Now, you may need to follow God right out of the building in order to hold on to your soul.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com