Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my affinity for the late Bishop Mark Dyer’s assertion that every 500 years or so, the Church goes through an extensive rummage sale. Basically, his thought was that it takes about 500 years for habits to fossilize, for people to begin to look around, wonder why we’re doing what you’re doing, and begin to make changes. He thought that the 21st century of the Common Era is going to be such an era. In my work in this area, I’ve focused mostly on the liturgical and theological innovations that need to get pulled out of the attic and sold at rock bottom prices. Today, that is changing.
As I write this post, I’m sitting in Houston’s Hobby Airport having just finished a three-day conference on racial reconciliation and discipleship in the missionary age. In a room filled with 40 of some of best young-ish leaders in the Church, we did some of the hard work of naming the Church’s, and our own, complicity in the structures that benefit whiteness, and began to imagine ways of making disciples that weren’t built upon the false construct of Western Hegemony. As of right now, I have no idea what I am going to do as a result of my time at Camp Allen, but as I read the words of Jesus to his disciples in our Gospel lesson for Sunday, I’m pretty sure that we need something stronger than a rummage sale.
We need to get to a place where not one stone is left upon the other. See, it isn’t just that America was built upon the backs of slaves, but so too was the American Church. In my research for my DMin thesis, I was made to read American Jeremiad, which looked at the sermons preached on the ships brining pilgrims to the American Colonies. Preachers talked of America as the City on a Hill, as God’s plan, as a new Eden. Meanwhile, in the holds of some of those same ships, slaves were locked in darkness, pulled from their land and forced into labor in the name of that City on a Hill.
The Church’s role in the doctrine of manifest destiny, its slave-owning past, and its unwillingness to look deeply at that history are probably more than enough for us to tear the whole thing down, look carefully at every stone, its origin, its impact, and its future. Only when we’ve taken full stock of our roll in American’s racist foundations, will we ever be able to move forward into our mission of reconciliation.
I’m grateful for some time to spend in prayer, study, and conversation on weighty matters like racial reconciliation, and I pray that God might use my time at Camp Allen to change my heart and my ministry – to break it down, brick by brick, so that it might be rebuilt in grace and love.