God saw everything that he had made,
and indeed, it was very good.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:3, 5, 7-9—NRSV)
The Hebrew scriptures open with a sweeping affirmation of the Creation as a God-imaged gift—to God’s own self no less. All that is exists because at the heart of the universe there beats a creative heart defined by relationship, a loving heart that is always seeking to know and to be known. A human being’s own desire to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, is one of our most fundamentally holy (God-like) attributes. Those essential desires constitute what is most truly “good” about us because they draw us toward each other and, therefore, toward God. To seek and celebrate the goodness within us and within others is to seek and celebrate the presence of God in all that God has created and loves. For people of faith, to honor the holiness in other human beings and in the wider Creation is worship, sacrament, and service because through these practices we begin to know and love God.
Sin is more than doing bad things or leaving good things undone. As the refusal to honor the holiness in all that God has created and has called “good,” sin weakens our humility and our willingness to follow the ways of poverty of spirit, meekness, purity of heart, and mercy. Sin intensifies human willfulness to impose arrangements beneficial to those considered privileged onto numerous others (even, it seems, if the “minority” is in the majority). Sin also tends to project the selfish fears of a dominant group onto a scapegoated population. This always creates acute suffering for the group(s) considered “minor” because they are treated as if their humanity lacks legitimacy. This becomes most devastating when the oppressed group’s suffering is regarded as having no consequence.
It seems to me that sin destroys all people and all communities because in denying the holiness and the humanity of anyone, individuals and groups grant themselves the authority to decide that something God-made lies beyond the full love and affirmation of the Maker. The fear-driven violence that inevitably ensues prevents any of us from being whole. This is what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020 to Amaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, to Matthew Shepard on October 6, 1998, to nearly 300 Lakota men, women, and children on December 29, 1890, and to countless others for countless reasons throughout the decades in the United States of America and throughout the eons of human life on this planet.
These events illustrate that one form of sin that has plagued our culture for over two centuries is the sin of systemic racism: The deliberate denial of the holiness and humanity of groups of people whose skin color, ethnicity, or language has been judged as inferior by a group or by groups who hold the greater share of wealth and power in a society.
Systemic racism dehumanizes individuals and groups by:
-judging others according to stereotypes.
-limiting oppressed groups’ access to opportunity.
-treating minorities with demeaning paternalism.
-participating in and/or overlooking violence toward minorities.
-diminishing the weight of suffering forced upon people whose God-given, God-imaged physical attributes differ from those in power.
No, not all who are counted among races and genders of power and privilege participate in acts of overt racism. By the same token, not all who are counted among races and genders of power and privilege participate in acts of overt peacemaking by which the systemic sin of racism is named and resisted.
As a member of and leader in the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ, and as a child of God and, therefore, a peacemaker, I affirm that racism in all of its forms is sin and an affront to God who is being revealed in the Creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder. I also believe that it is the calling of all who follow Christ to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate the full holiness and humanity of every human being regardless of any category that may be attached to that person. Love for God necessarily includes love and respect for every human being and the desire to nurture that love and respect in one another.
To that end, at this crucial time in our shared life and history, I join with those in my own faith tradition, those in other faith traditions, and those who claim no faith tradition but cannot escape the call of love who are committing and recommitting themselves to standing in open and visible solidarity with all people of African, Latin American, Middle-Eastern, Asian, or any other heritage that has endowed them with the black, brown, or olive skin that makes them vulnerable to patronizing deference, vilifying bigotry, and life-threatening oppression in our community, our nation, and our world.
We are one human race, one humanity created and beloved by God, and only in unity do we find our hope.
May God’s peace be with all of us.
The Rev. Allen Huff
June 5, 2020