Bishop John Shelby Spong ~ June 16, 1931 – September 12, 2021
Bishop Spong provided a much needed place for those of us who did not connect with traditional theology. We love you Bishop Spong. You will be missed! Funeral services will be held at St. Peter’s, Morristown, NJ and at St. Paul’s, Richmond, VA. Dates and times will be announced as soon as they are available

It’s not enough to not be racist, you have to be actively anti-racist

 

I’m trying to productively express the rage and grief I feel inside myself and see in the people I love…

It’s not enough to not be racist, you have to be actively anti-racist. This is the basis of Ibram X. Kendi’s work and the work of so many more. It is a statement that continues to live in my spirit and I hope in others as well. It is a statement that will require a life-long effort.

I have been on a decades long process of dismantling white supremacy within myself. It has taken outward forms of protest and activism and inward forms of study and self-examination. It has been self-righteous at times and too docile at others; painful at times and thrilling at others; quiet at times and incredibly loud at others. But through it all, I have found love, grace, and hard truths. Here are five realizations I have had along with my journey. I hope it sparks thoughts, self-analysis, and action…

First, and the most basic, is that racism is not a feeling or a word. Racism is a system and structure that has 400 years of roots in the United States. I realized that white supremacy has been ingrained in me socially since the day I was born – from what I saw on television, to how I was taught history, to never having a teacher of color until I went to college. I recently noticed it in my current study of contemplation – 99% of the people I was listening to were white men, that’s problematic and wrong. Now amplify this to our legal system, housing system, education system, prison system, theological system (any system really) and a you start to see how dangerous our society is for non-white people in the United States. The racist language and actions are the fruits of these roots… you can take away the obvious fruit of the tree. You can even chop down the tree. But, unless you pull the roots, they will always be working underneath the surface.

Second, inner work is only part of the work. We have to be “actively anti-racist” and we have to be followers while being active. Sometimes this requires us to protest on the streets, sometimes this requires us to speak up when it’s difficult, sometimes it requires us to financially support movements doing the work to subvert systemic racism in our society, sometimes it is all of these at the same time. Whatever form of “action” we take, it must be done as followers and listeners of people of color leading the way. Often times we can unconsciously replicate the systems we are trying to fight because of its presence within us. And, we white people too often only want to be a part of something in which we take a lead. We need to step back and be followers for a change. The only exception I would say is if you are leading an anti-racist movement of fellow white people (which we need more of). Being actively anti-racist is more than just a social media post, we must find a way to be active every day.

Third, white people will be your loudest critics. And it will hurt. And you will want to stop. But you must not. Often times it will come in the form of accusing you of “white guilt.” Or, it will come in calling you a communist, politically correct, or a sheep. Or, it will come in the form of denying what is true. Or, it will come in the form of silent dismissal. As other people have said, the white supremacist system is not our fault (remember the 400 years of roots) but it is our responsibility to dismantle.

Fourth, we will mess up. We will say things that hurt unintentionally. We will not be as brave as we should be. We will not live up to being as anti-racist as we want to be all the time. We have to be both forgiving of ourselves and committed to changing. We have to understand that our change won’t happen overnight. So, if we say or do something offensive we must listen, apologize, analyze where it came from, and learn from it so we can change. The most important thing is that we are devoted to confronting the system within ourselves.

Fifth, and finally, change what you are taking in. A good way to start is by noticing how white your world is (remember my story on contemplation? It also happened on my bibliography of my masters thesis in Biblical Studies). Be intentional about engaging with non-white authors, scholars, theologians, thinkers, speakers, etc. Also, be conscious about how many spaces you enter that are almost all white. Why is that? Finally, engage in personal conversation with non-white friends who are willing to engage with you about race. BIPOC people are hurting and tired. It is not their responsibility to have this conversation with you. But, it is very helpful when they are. You might be surprised by the experiences they have had that you know nothing about.

I could go on and on but these are the basics of what I have learned. I am deeply grateful for the people in my life who have walked with me on this journey. To all my non-white family and friends I am sorry for the trauma and hurt you have had to endure and I thank you for the patience, love and grace you have shown me.

If you would like to start this journey, here are a few resources…

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

If you would like to financially support an anti-racist organization, there are many local organizations doing it. Here is one national group… Color of Change (https://colorofchange.org/)

About the Author

Stephen has been proudly serving as Senior Pastor of Central Christian Church since January 2016. After receiving his Master’s of Divinity in 2013 from Union Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) by Park Avenue Christian Church in 2015 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson. In addition to his work as Pastor at Central, Stephen also serves as chaplain at Wooster School, an Independent K-12 school in Danbury.

Stephen is passionate about serving God through the radical love ethic of Christ. Being a strong believer in servant leadership, he strives to be one of God’s artists carefully sculpting a part of the beloved community. He is married to Bianca and has one daughter, Kayden Noelle.

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