*blows dusts off keyboard* It’s back!
One night I asked my roommate to do something small in our apartment. Super small. Something that would be super easy, barely and inconvenience for him. Turn on a light. I said very politely, “Could you turn on that light for me.” And he said no. Maybe he didn’t hear me, so I asked again. “Could you turn on that light for me?” This time with a high inflection, and a look of childlike innocence. Again, he said no. A bit more confused, I asked a third time in the sweetest tone I could muster, “Could you please turn on that light?” To which he turned on the light and uttered “And we got there!” He was waiting for me to say the magic word ‘please.’
I have this theory from my years in customer service that if the words, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘you’re welcome’, were assumed defaults in our culture, we would get along better with one another better. It’s the practice of positive assumptions. We would assume a person said ‘thank you’ after receiving something, and all requests had ‘please’ in front of them. No longer would we walk away thinking, “Oh that person was really rude.” But we are not there. For my roommate, it didn’t matter the polite, lighthearted tone of my request, and it didn’t matter that I’ve lived with my roommate for several years and he knows that I’m generally a polite person, it didn’t matter that my intent wasn’t to be rude either. It mattered that I say, “please” when I request him to do something.
On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officers. It is hard to believe how much the world has slowed down since then. Peaceful protests were met with more police brutality. (Reinforcing the protestors points.) There was looting and smashing of windows, but property and object can be replaced. George Floyd’s life cannot; Breonna Taylor’s life cannot; Ahmaud Arbery’s life cannot; neither, as my pastor last Sunday said, can “the names of all the black lives that have been stolen by the pernicious evil of white supremacy”. Racism is sin. White supremacy is evil. Both have no place in the Kingdom of God, nor with God’s people. It should go without saying, but sometimes we need to repeat it. Say it out loud. Remind ourselves of our path. The Church needs to be saying this again and again. Just like we do with Easter. Christians know the Easter story by heart, but that still doesn’t stop us from we say it every year, “He is risen.”
As the protests spread from Minneapolis to all 50 states; PR and DC; and at least 18 countries, in what could be the largest civil rights protest movement the planet has ever seen, the Church of the Nazarene remained silent for nearly a week, before they issued a generic statement about non-discrimination. More days past, more silence. Then a call to prayer and fasting that only gave 1 sentence to address “racism as a virus”. We know from past experience that if this was a natural disaster or same-sex marriage, the Church would have a statement ready to go. Why is this time different? That got me frustrated, I commented, asking them to say affirm that black lives matter, and I got me blocked by the Church of the Nazarene on social media.
It was against my better judgement that I checked-in on them. I was flabbergasted that no one had urged or suggested them to do more. Not a single comment questioned the context of the statement. Just a long list of people saying “amen.” The ask is simple. Say from your platform, black lives matter, so all Nazarenes will be on the same page. And ironically that got me blocked, not the 4.5 years I lobbied the Church to be more LGBTQ affirming with Nazarene Ally.
During my time doing Nazarene Ally, I often found myself being exhausted and drained by having to share my story, over and over and over and over again. Dispelling the same myths and bad theology was so taxing on me. I pipped up now because I can empathize with being worn out from trying to educate the masses on a topic. I can only imagine how much more tiresome it is for black Nazarenes who want to roll their eyes and say “Geez this conversation again?” with their white Nazarene colleagues but can’t because they don’t want to be “that guy” or come off as being too emotional.
I remember being in a Sunday School class at Bethany First Church a few months after I came out. The teacher was an old professor of mine who I felt safe enough coming out to months ago. He asked us at the tables to discuss who each of us define sin. After some time, people would share each table’s definition. The table next to me went, and gave their definition, “Doing things that are evil.” My professor dug a little deeper, “How do you define what is evil?” The spokesperson said, “Well, stuff that they say don’t do in the bible. Like gay marriage and stuff.” My heart started racing. I started sweating. My table was next. Should I ignore that comment? Or should I stand up for myself as the only gay in a room full of straight people? This happened to me as an adult, and I felt extremely powerless.
How often in Nazarene spaces is the topic of race brought up, or a racist joke told, or a micro-aggression done, and there is only one person of color present? What if this happened in a Jr. High Sunday School class and the teacher is the one who said it? Maybe I’m starting in the wrong spot… do White Nazarenes even know what a micro-aggression is? Do they even notice that for long periods of time they are all white spaces?
The Church of the Nazarene is wildly out of touch with what is going on outside its wall and needs to do a better job of dismantling systems of oppression, protecting the marginalized and standing up for those who’s voices aren’t being heard. Being anti-racist is a journey not ‘X’ you tick off on your resume and move on. I’m on this journey too, full of stumbles and taking steps forward. But, you might be thinking, “you can’t judge a book by its social media feed.” What if there are churches that are doing anti-racist things but aren’t posting about it? That is true, not all churches use social media the same, and there are church in the Nazarene umbrella doing their part to make their circles of influence more anti-racist. Sadly, they seem to be the exception to the rule. But it also proves my point that the leaders at the denominational level, aren’t highlighting these efforts at all. You better believe if there was a building campaign it would be all over on social media. Churches don’t talk about race because it’s hard, it makes people feel uncomfortable. But not talking about it got us in this mess. And they are not alone. It took some 150 years for the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for their role in supporting Slavery.
This should be the Church’s Super Bowl, but instead of Ben & Jerry’s, Legos, football teams, hotel brands, drag queens and porn stars, are all louder in letting people know that black lives matter, racism is evil, and posting ways to uproot systemic racism. The Church is inside playing video games on Sega and ignoring the doorbell, while the rest of the world is outside protesting injustice. The Nazarene Church is forfeiting is right to speak truth to power by its continual silence. The Church needs to start reacting to racism as they do hurricanes and other natural disasters. They do a great job of letting people know where the crisis is, directing resources funds, and providing next steps for natural disasters. Why not systemic racism?
June 5th brought a ray of hope. A group called the “Black Strategic Response Team” issued a statement, under the USA/Canada arm of the Church, laid out the way forward for the Church of the Nazarene on racism. (This took a lot of digging to find their statement. Like looking for your keys in the living room and you find them in South Dakota. The USA/Canada website and Facebook page still have yet to post it.) Hopefully, the Church will listen and their suggestions to heart. Judging by the “all lives matter” comments, discussing racism in the Church of the Nazarene is not going to be an easy task.
There are a bunch of anti-racist resources for churches online already. It’s just a matter of putting the time, energy and money in. While they are fairly congregational, meaning the local churches have a lot of voice, they are still very hierarchical, top down for resources. That is why it is so important to have the Church of the Nazarene say unequivocally that black lives matter. It doesn’t hurt to say it and repeat what we know to be true. We already do this Christmas and Easter. We do this every time we say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” We say it out loud, not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the receiver. It lets them know they are valued and respected. Their silence is speaking volumes about the character and nature of the Church.
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