A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Anti-Racism Rally and Candlelight Vigil at Rochester’s MLK/Manhattan Square Park.
Full disclosure: The event was organized by the Caritas Community, a non-traditional faith collaborative I co-lead with my wife, Melissa. At Caritas, we serve alongside a cohort of other talented and resourceful Christians who can’t leave well enough alone and gleefully jump off metaphorical cliffs for the sake of the gospel. So, events like this are right up our alley.
Anyway, the purpose of the rally was to bring together people of faith and concerned community residents to stand in opposition to racism, bigotry and anti-semitism. As a response to the events in Charlottesville and the president’s disturbing lack of moral leadership, it’s our hope that the event contributed to an ongoing community dialogue about racial justice in Monroe County.
My comments focused on the role of white allies in the struggle against racism, bigotry and anti-semitism in Rochester, and highlighted the need for more people of faith to stand alongside people of color and other marginalized groups in our communities.
Becoming White Allies: A Call to the Rochester Christian Community
For many of us, the president’s response to Charlottesville – or maybe I should say responses (it’s so hard to keep track) – were mind-blowing. For many of us, there is a sense that something has changed in our country.
But for others in our community, nothing has changed.
Charlottesville … the president’s lack of moral leadership … the subtle defense of hate groups – none of it has been shocking or surprising at all for people of color because racism and bigotry aren’t news. They aren’t a cause. They’re not a headline that gets revisited every once in a while. For many of our friends and neighbors, racism, bigotry and anti-semitism are lived realities. An everyday experience.
I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending that racism is something I know or understand. My race, my gender, my privilege mean that I will never know what it feels like to experience bigotry, hatred, deportation or worse. But my faith, my calling and the gospel itself mean that I can’t sit back and do nothing. Now is a time for me to something. It’s a time for all of us to do something.
In an interview with Alex Haley in 1965, Dr. King spoke about the inaction of the white church. He said:
The most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid … I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned.
The white church, I’m sorry to say. Its leadership has greatly disappointed me. (But) there cannot be deep disappointment without deep love.
Time and again in my travels, as I have seen the outward beauty of white churches, I have had to ask myself, “What kind of people worship there? Who is their God? Is their God the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is their Savior the Savior who hung on the cross at Golgotha?
Where were their voices when a Black race took upon itself the cross of protest against man’s injustice to man? Where were their voices when defiance and hatred were called for by white men who sat in these very churches?”
So, to my white brothers and sisters in the Christian church and other faith communities: Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Attending an event like this is good start. But it’s only that – a start. The gospel and common decency require white Christians in Rochester to do more — to serve as allies in the fight against all forms of racism and bigotry.
What does serving as a white ally look like?
I think becoming a white ally starts with talking less and listening more. President Trump needs to stop talking. But you and I don’t need to have something to say all the time, either.
Instead of offering answers and platitudes, open your heart and mind to hear – to really hear – from people whose experiences in this community are radically different than your own.
Becoming an ally also means calling out racism and bigotry whenever and wherever you see it – but especially in the places where you have influence: In your communities, in your workplaces, in your churches. Even in your own families.
They say history is made by those who show up.
I wish we didn’t need to do events like this, but here we are.
We showed up.
Let’s keep showing up.