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REPARATION FAITHFULNESS

August 30, 2020

View the sermon:  https://youtu.be/tSonZE1Ll-Y

 

REPARATION FAITHFULNESS

©Wendell Griffen, 2020

August 30, 2020

(Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

 

Exodus 3:7, 9-10

7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

Psalm 28

1To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.

2Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

3Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts.

4Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.

5Because they do not regard the works of the Lord, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.

6Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.

7The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

8The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

9O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

Isaiah 59:1-3, 9, 14-18

59See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. 3For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness.

9Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. 14Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. 15Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

16He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. 17He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle. 18According to their deeds, so will he repay; wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render requital.

 

Revelation 3:1

3“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.

 

Luke 19:8-10

8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

 

       In 2016 Simon & Schuster published a book titled The End of White Christian America written by Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI].  In that book, Jones reviewed white Christian attitudes about the role of faith and justice (public policy).  Jones reported how white Christians feel insecure about the decline of their influence in the face of public acceptance of equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) children of God.   And he analyzed public opinion research dealing with white Christian insecurity about growing demands by black children of God that the United States address systemic racial injustice after the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York (July 17, 2014), Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (August 9, 2014), and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland (April 19, 2015). 

 

       Last month (July 2020), Simon & Schuster released a follow-up book by Jones titled White Too Long:  The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.  The title of the book comes from this statement James Baldwin made during a February 1968 New York Times op ed essay:

 

“I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of rehabilitation.  They have been white, if I may so put it, too long; they have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long; the effect on their personalities, their lives, their grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii.  They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.”

 

In that book, as in The End of White Christian America, Jones combined his skill in public opinion research and his training as a Baptist theologian to analyze white Christian attitudes.  But this time, Jones focused on white Christians, white supremacy, and racism.   In a chapter titled “Mapping,” Jones reported the following findings from public opinion research done by PRRI in 2018 and 2019.

 

  • 86 percent of white evangelical Protestants, along with 70 percent of white mainline Protestants and 70 percent of white Catholics, believe that the Confederate flag is more a symbol of southern pride than racism.  However, “approximately six in ten religiously unaffiliated whites and three-quarters of African American Protestants report that they see the Confederate flag mainly as a symbol of racism.”  [White Too Long, p. 159]

  • At the same time that white Christians profess warm attitudes towards African Americans, they “strongly support the continued existence of Confederate monuments to white supremacy and consistently deny the existence of not only historical structural barriers to black achievement but also … existing structural injustices in the way African Americans are treated by police, the courts, workplaces, and other institutions in the country… In every case, it is religiously unaffiliated whites who stand closer than white Christians do to their African American Christian brothers and sisters.” [White Too Long, p. 163]

  • In the United States, “the more racist attitudes a person holds, the more likely he or she is to identify as a white Christian.” [White Too Long, p. 175]. 

  • Attending church more frequently does not make white Christians less racist.  On the contrary, there is a positive relationship between holding racist attitudes and white Christian identity among both frequent (weekly or more) and infrequent (seldom or never) church attenders [p. 184]. 

  • Based on his research, Jones offered this sobering conclusion.  “If you want to predict whether an average person is likely to identify as a white Christian, and you could know only one attribute about that person, you would be better off knowing how racist he or she is than how often he or she attends church.  Or, to put it even more bluntly, if you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause on a Sunday morning, you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church – evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, or Catholic – than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.” [p.185]

     

    Recently, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary  (the oldest of the Southern Baptist theological schools) and Baylor University (the oldest school of higher education in Texas and the largest Baptist higher education institution in the world) – both founded by white Christian men who preached and taught about the religion of Jesus while owning and selling Africans as enslaved persons – acknowledged their history of supporting slavery and relying on money from slavery to build their respective institutions. 

     

    Yet Al Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, rejected a suggestion from black and white ministers in Louisville that Southern give 10 percent (a biblical tithe) of its nearly $1 billion endowment to Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black Christian college also located in Louisville that was founded by formerly enslaved Africans with this response in May 2019.  “We do not believe that financial reparations are the appropriate response.”

     

    Similarly, the unanimous resolution signed in June of this year by the president and regents of Baylor University “acknowledging the University’s historical connections to slavery and racial injustice” did not contain a word about reparations for the theft of black lives and labor. 

     

    White Christians cannot blot out these words from Exodus 3: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.”  The call of Moses we read about in Exodus 3 shows that God knows white Christians and their descendants have refused to make reparation for the 400-year debt they owe black children of God, a debt of lost lives, stolen labor, unearned benefits, and undeserved privilege created and continued by white Christian allegiance to white supremacy. 

     

    God knows about the wealth received by white Christians and transferred to their descendants across generations from the unpaid labor of enslaved Africans, whose descendants inherited only poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, and state licensed and religiously defended trauma, sorrow, and other pain. 

     

    God knows about the rapes. 

     

    God knows about the kidnappings. 

     

    God knows about the beatings. 

     

    God knows about the castrations. 

     

    God knows about the children sold away from their parents.

     

    God knows about the men, women, boys, and girls sold from their families and bought, sold, and treated like breeding stock. 

     

    God knows about Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride, Philando Castille, Walter Scott, Bobby Moore, Bradley Blackshire, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arberry, Jacob Blake, and the names of so many others white Christians do not recognize.

     

    And God knows that white Christians have no excuse for claiming they do not know.  God knows that white Christians are not innocent, but in denial about what Jesus described in Luke 16 as “a great chasm” that exists between the descendants of white and privileged children of God and the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans.

     

    God knows that in every generation, white Christians have known about racial discrimination.  God knows white Christians knowingly endorsed racial segregation across the society after Reconstruction ended.     

     

    God is not an idiot!  God knows that white Christians have no excuse for denying the moral, monetary, social, and other debt this society owes the descendants of enslaved Africans.

     

    “I have observed the misery of my people… I have heard their cry… I know their sufferings…”

And God knows that white Christian politicians oppose reparations.  White pastors and congregations take offense at the thought of reparations.  God knows that white religious leaders like Al Mohler at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the leaders at Baylor University issued reports and resolutions claiming to express remorse about the slaveholding histories and theologies of their institutions yet refused to engage in honest conversations with descendants of enslaved Africans about reparations. 

As Robert Jones writes in White Too Long, white theologians who justified white supremacy based on “the mark of Cain” in Genesis were wrong.  Jones writes: 

“I’ll be blunt:  it is white Americans who have murdered our black and brown brothers and sisters.  After the genocide and forced removal of Native Americans, the enslavement of millions of Africans, and the lynching of more than 4,400 of their surviving descendants, it is white Americans who have used our faith as a shield to justify our actions, deny our responsibility, and insist on our innocence.  We, white Christian Americans, are Cain…

…The challenge for white Americans today, and white Christians in particular, is whether and how we are going to answer these questions: “Where is your brother?” and “What have you done?”  [White Too Long, pp. 230-231].

When white Christians feign moral amnesia, ignorance, innocence, and paralysis about racial injustice and reparations they confirm what was written at Revelation 3:1 about the church at Sardis: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.” 

 

Sardis was a prosperous city 55 miles northeast of Ephesus.  It had been the capital of the kingdom of Lydia.  The prophetic description of that church was “you have a name of being alive” – meaning vigorous, effective – “but you are dead” – meaning ineffective, impotent to influence the culture of the city for righteousness/justice. When we apply that message to white Christian America and its impact on white supremacy, the words of James Baldwin strike home.  White Christians have enabled white supremacy in this society because they have been “white too long.” 

This truth is obvious whenever the issue of reparations for systemic racial injustice inflicted on enslaved Africans and their descendants is raised with white Christians.  White Christians “have a name” – meaning outwardly – profess their belief – in Christian education and “discipleship,” but they “are dead” to the teachings of Moses and the prophets that wrongdoers must repay for harm done to and loss inflicted on others.  They have been “white too long.”

White Christians “have a name” for believing in racial harmony but “are dead” to the message about reparations found in Luke 19 concerning the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus when Zacchaeus pledged to repay four times the value of anything he had obtained through fraud (dishonestly).  This means, ironically, that white Christians “are dead” to what Jesus meant when he said that “salvation” had come not only to Zacchaeus, but also to his “house” – meaning his family. They have been “white too long.”

White Christians “have a name” for believing that the grace of God empowers people to overcome the power of sin.  Yet, they “are dead” to the truth that the “great chasm” that exists between themselves and the black children of God – revealed by their active disregard, willful ignorance, and inexcusable pretense of moral and ethical amnesia and paralysis concerning the reparations debt owed to black children of God because of 400 years of white supremacy and racial injustice – also separates them from God.  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen [1 John 4:20].  They have been “white too long.”

 

That is why black children of God, as did the Psalmist at Psalm 28 and the Israelites mentioned at Exodus 3, “cry” faithfully to God “for help” and must continue to demand reparations despite how white Christians ignore and reject that demand.  Black children of God understand that what was written in Isaiah 59 about another outwardly religious people applies to the white Christians today. 

 

… your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness…

 

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter… The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 

 

He … was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so … [h]e put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.  According to their deeds, so will he repay; wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render requital. 

 

Notice that word – “requital.”  It means “to repay.”  Like the Psalmist at Psalm 28, black children of God have looked to God for 400 years – faithfully – for requital from “the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while mischief is in their hearts” [Psalm 28:3].  In the face of 400 years of violence, lies, fraud, and other wickedness committed, excused, and ignored by white Christians, faithful black children of God have identified with the Psalmist.

 

Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.  Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the works of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.

 

Blessed be the LORD, for he has head the sound of my pleadings.  The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him [Ps. 28:4-7].

 

       Therefore, faithful people ought to demand reparations and must not lose heart.  Despite setbacks, disappointments, tragedies, and terrors, let us continue to trust God.  Press on, beloved! 

 

I love the Lord, he heard my cry, and pit – ied ev – ‘ry groan.  Long as I live and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to His throne.

 

I’ll hasten to His throne.

 

I’ll hasten to His throne.

 

I’ll hasten to His throne.

 

Amen.