a blog about words and faith and life by Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘racism’

Things I’ve given up

I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities–some delightful, some heart-wrenching, and yes, some onerous at times. There are certain things you give up when you become a pastor. It simply goes with the territory. And it’s worth it–it’s so worth it–to get to do what I do. Still, there are some sacrifices pastors make, just as there are in many occupations and callings.

As a pastor, I am prohibited (by law and tax code and ethics) from using my pulpit for political purposes. I am absolutely free to discuss biblical and moral issues and decisions, and to apply the scriptures to contemporary life. This sometimes sounds political to some people, but as long as a pastor isn’t partisan, she or he can–and must–address issues that are part of the political arena because they are part of the religious arena as well.

Still, throughout this presidential election season I have tried to be careful, especially on social media.  Anybody who knows me or who has heard me preach on a regular basis can probably assume my party affiliation, but I have not promoted any candidate. I do not want to alienate my parishioners who think differently. I have bit my tongue and deleted my words before posting out of deference to our diversity. But, as the pundits keep telling us, this is not a normal election, and these are not typical candidates, and drastic times may call for drastic measures.

I may not be able to preach what is on my mind, but this is my personal blog, not my pulpit. And it is not only my right but my responsibility as a person of faith to speak truth. Yes, I am a pastor. But first, I am a Christian, and as a person of faith I must speak out against that which is the antithesis of my faith, that which is against the teachings of Jesus, that which is anti-Christ.

Racism is anti-Christ. Throughout this presidential campaign I have been shocked and appalled by the blatant racism in our society. I guess “shocked” isn’t the right word because I am not surprised racism exists. Even living here in the whitest state in the union, I am aware of the systemic racism that plagues our country. After all, I’m a good democrat, a bleeding heart liberal, a minister committed to preaching justice and working for change. I am aware of the white privilege I carry—not as aware as I should be, but I know I benefit from it as surely as I benefit from my ability to pass as a straight woman unless I’m with my wife.

What has shocked me is not the existence of racism but the validation and legitimization of it that has occurred throughout this election season. We white folks no longer have the luxury of believing it’s only a small pocket of ignorant, hateful people who hold such vile views. One of our two major candidates for president repeatedly insults “the blacks,” claims an Hispanic judge can’t be impartial, accuses Mexican immigrants of being murderers and rapists, and wants to register and/or exclude people based on their faith. His hateful rhetoric has normalized and legitimized bigotry, and I am terrified of what his actual presidency might do to our nation and to my family.

My son was three when he asked me what color I am. Not sure if this was about race or actual color, I returned the question. “What color do you think I am?” He thought for a minute and then said, “Let’s call you tan.” “And what color are you?” I asked. He held his head up high and announced with pride, “I’m gold!” He deserves better than a president who will not see him as a golden child, but will assume he is or will become a criminal because of his ethnicity.

My blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter deserves better, too. She deserves better than a president who defines women by their physical attributes, who treats women like objects who exist for his pleasure, who sexualizes even young girls, and who thinks he has the right to force his “affection” on any female he finds attractive. No, Mr. Trump, this latest video is not, as you claim, “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today.” Sexual assault is not a distraction. It is a crime and it is a sin. It is anti-Christ. And as a woman who has survived both public groping and private assault, I will not be silent while you deflect blame and diminish your own atrocities.

This is no longer a partisan issue. Or at least it shouldn’t be. As people of faith, we all should condemn rape culture and male dominance and the objectification of women. We all should condemn the scapegoating of Muslims. We all should condemn the denigrating of immigrants. We all should condemn the killing and incarceration of young black men. We all should acknowledge that black lives matter and trans lives matter and refugee lives matter. We all are responsible for making sure that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 40s never happens again.

The experts say that other people are not changed by seeing a political post. But I am changed by keeping silent. I am a pastor. It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am. The role comes with many responsibilities, including speaking truth to power. I am giving up the right to be silent.


The blog post I’m not supposed to write

I wish I could find the article, or at least remember it better. It included tips for bloggers—I think specifically for pastors. All I remember is the suggestion that when trying to decide whether to weigh in on a particular hot topic issue, we should ask ourselves two questions: Am I an expert on the topic? and Do I have anything new to add to the conversation?

That’s why I haven’t written anything about Ferguson, Missouri or Mike Brown or Darren Wilson. That’s why I haven’t written anything about Tamir Rice or Eric Garner or Akai Gurley.

I am not an expert on race or racism. I am not an expert on law enforcement or the criminal justice system. I am not an expert on racial profiling or grand juries or gunshot residue or choke holds or children with guns. I am a middle-aged white woman who lives in a predominately white neighborhood, who pastors a predominantly white congregation. Anything I would say about racism in America would be so wrapped in white privilege that it might as well be a white sheet.

This also means I have absolutely nothing new to add to the conversation—no unique point of view, no special insights, no life-changing metaphor with the power to transform systems of oppression. According to the “rules,” I should not write a blog post.

But keeping silent feels like cowardice. It feels dreadful to sit in my office and write lovely sermons for Advent, when God’s children are dying in our streets. But I am not an expert, and I have nothing new to add to the conversation. I would only be one more voice.

But yesterday I made a choice. I decided to be one more rather than one less. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to kill an unarmed teenager and then demonize him. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to choke the life out of someone for selling cigarettes. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to kill a child who is carrying a toy gun. I will be one more voice calling for accountability. I will be one more voice crying out against the violence. I will be one more white woman who doesn’t get it—who sometimes doesn’t even want to get it—saying black lives matter. Even though the phrase “I can’t breathe” gets stuck in my throat because of so many years of my own silence, I will be one more voice.

Yesterday I was one more marcher. There were six hundred of us, the paper says, participating in a protest march billed as “family-friendly.” It was nothing compared to the protest activities of some of my friends and colleagues. I was not toe-to-toe with marchers whose anger gushed outward in violence. I was not putting my body between cars and protestors lying in the road. I walked in the cold and carried a sign and wore out my voice with chants. Not exactly the stuff of great civil disobedience. But today the chants still ring in my head.

Black lives matter.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

We can’t breathe.

No justice; no peace.

This is what democracy looks like.

I couldn’t help but remember the last time I marched those same streets: the Gay Pride Parade in June. We walked in the opposite direction, in more ways than one. On that day I was filled with joy: walking with my parishioners behind our rainbow “God is still speaking” banner, proud to be the pastor of a church that is so public in its stands. I wore my clerical collar—which I own primarily for protest rallies and court appearances—because I believed it was important to be a visible counterpart to the ministers who spew hate. When the parade was finished, I took my place at our church booth under the sign “Wounded by the church? Please come let us apologize.” I listened to people’s stories of how their bodies and souls had been ripped open by the church and its ministers. Then I offered them a heartfelt apology for the horrific things that had been done to them in the name of God.

But a parade is not a march. Yesterday I wasn’t filled with joy. I wasn’t proud to be there. I was angry that any of us needed to be. This time it wasn’t my clergy collar that connected me to acts of shame, but rather the color of my skin . . . which I can’t take off after the march and leave in the drawer until the next time I want it to mean something. And at the end of the march, there was nobody to whom I could apologize—either on behalf of others or for my own unexamined bigotry. In other words, I had no power. I had no privilege. And I hated it.

Yesterday I was just one more marcher, one more voice. It’s not enough. It is so far from being enough, it’s embarrassing. But the first and only song we sang at the march spoke truth: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Maybe losing my voice at the march is one step toward finding it.