[This post is part of our series on the politics of scripture, focusing on weekly preaching texts. We also welcome commentary on sacred, classic, and popular literature, film, and artistic expression. Inquiries and submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Last month’s presidential election was characterized by unprecedented rancor and bitterness. With the election over and Obama still in office, the partisan posturing has shifted to the “fiscal cliff” debate and the prognosis that huge spending cuts and an increase in taxes could send the American economy into a tailspin. The issue seems to have changed, but the political climate has not. Even worse than the puerile behavior of elected officials is the level of acrimony displayed by American citizens toward those who disagree with their political affiliation.
Here in Nashville, where I live, the aftermath of the election brought teary eyes, sullen faces, and awkward silence from many who proudly displayed Romney/Ryan stickers on their bumpers. Living in a city whose affluent areas are overwhelmingly Republican and almost completely monocultural meant that I, as an African-American male supporting Obama, was aware of a racial subtext that undergirded much of the political discourse, and therefore, I hesitated to affix an Obama sticker to my bumper in fear that a conspicuous scratch would one day show up on my car. To be clear, I have not engaged in any heated discussion about politics with any of the Republicans here, and so one could assume that I am being unfair or biased in my depiction of Nashville relationships surrounding politics and race. Perhaps I am. Then again, maybe I’m not.
Derald Wing Sue in his book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice describes racism as a practice that is currently enacted through “microaggressions,” the subtle interpersonal behaviors that demonstrate an attitude of inferiority or disdain toward another race. Sue defines microaggressions as ““brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” The racial microaggressions that I have personally experienced since moving to Nashville over two years ago have left me quite sensitive to my embodied existence as a black male in the midst of a political climate that is highly unfavorable to black people. Where am I going with this?
In spite of the racial division, segregation, and alienation that African-Americans still experience in Nashville (and it would take a whole series of post to delineate examples of this), I am convinced that my posture must be one of love. Although tempted to become angry, I am reminded of Paul’s words admonishing the church at Colossae to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He reminded them to forgive one another, because God has forgiven us. Ultimately, Paul instructed these believers to act out of a unified love that would bring glory to Christ. It is easy to become enraged at the thinly veiled racism involved in much of this country’s political discourse to the point that we retreat back into our segregated enclaves at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. However, I am convinced that Paul’s admonition to practice radical love means that we all must push past our pain and disillusionment to exemplify love in new and prophetic ways.
Paul’s call to forgiveness, unity, and reconciliation directed to us as Christians means that we must devise ways to push back against the political climates and social milieus that give racism so much power. The demonic nature of racism ensures that it wants to become a spectacle, for in its insidiousness it injures both the perpetrator and victim in its fomentation of anger, resentment, and pervasive hostility. However, the love of Christ still is more powerful than any demonic weapon. While we must work institutionally to guarantee equality, the transformation of hearts and values is the work of the Holy Spirit. What the Holy Spirit needs from us is a sustained, bold, and loving witness to the glory and power of God. We can be that witness through intentional practices that subvert the strongholds governing much of American race relations. By purposely attending multiethnic churches, planting multiethnic churches, or attending a church where our race is a minority (this is especially pertinent if one is a member of the majority or dominating culture), we begin to chip away at the formidable idol of racism. By purposefully integrating our worship spaces, mission efforts, and social justice practices, we shake our fist at political pundits and commentators who believe that race will have the last word.
Furthermore, by purposefully extending our love to interpersonal fellowship and relationship with people not like us, we resist the homogeneity that feeds racism and we inhabit a moment of “heaven on earth.” As Paul would now say, whether African-American or Caucasian, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, we are all one in Christ Jesus.