From the President: Knowing and Understanding
What do I know about racism? Really. Yes, I think I understand racism intellectually, as a concept and idea and theory. And, yes, perhaps from time to time I’ve even experienced some measure of prejudice, of being judged ahead of time because of assumptions people hold based on what they see. But, really, these occasional moments of prejudice or bias are not the same as racism. I have little fear of being pulled over while driving because of my skin color, or of wondering whether I didn’t get a second interview because of my ethnicity. Truth be told, I know, in the end, very little about racism experientially.
For that matter, what do I know about white privilege? Yes, this is more a part of my direct experience. But the very nature of white privilege makes it nearly invisible, particularly to the one enjoying it. Do I really notice the daily assistance or various privileges or advantages I enjoy because of my ethnicity? Likely not.
But while I may not understand these things fully, that doesn’t mean I am impotent in the face of them. It doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to combating them, to making the world a more just and equitable place, to nurturing for others a sense of the equality of the kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed.
But precisely because I have so little direct experience of racism, if I am serious about doing something about it I will need to listen, to enter more deeply and vulnerably into relationship with those who experience racism and see white privilege every day. It is by listening to their perspective, learning from them, talking with them about their experiences that I learn and grow.
This is not easy. Conversations about racism are difficult in part because it’s hard not to construct them in any other than oppositional terms. Some have suffered while others have profited; some have endured pain much while others have enjoyed privilege. Accusation — and therefore defensiveness — seems always to be lurking just beneath the surface of any conversations we may want to have.
My question, as I contemplate the response of this seminary to the massacres in Charleston last month, is whether we can transcend these issues of accusation and defensiveness long enough to talk together as fellow children of God and humanity in order to understand the dynamics of racism well enough to begin to dismantle them.
This, again, will not be easy. But it is, I believe, imperative. Moreover, it is also our call from God — to live into the Apostle’s declaration that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” — and we might add, “there is no longer black or white, brown or yellow, rich or poor” — “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).
These conversations — difficult, important, and part of our vocation and duty — are not new to LTSP. A historically white institution, we have been in conversation and partnership with African American congregations to address the problem of racism for decades. But while these conversations are not new, in the coming months they will be renewed as we seek not only to listen and learn and hold conversation with each other, but also to invite others into these conversations, to share what we are learning, and in these ways to equip our students and constituents to form congregations that are places of peace in a world of violence and communities of reconciliation and the love of Christ in a world that too often relishes in division and hate.
I don’t pretend to know how best to do this, or what may prove the best forums for nurturing conversations that lead to effective and faithful action. But I do know that we at LTSP are in a unique position to draw leaders from different Christian traditions and racial and ethnic backgrounds together to live more fully into being the Body of Christ and to discover again what St. Paul meant when he reminded us that “if one member of the body suffers, all suffer together with it, and if one member is honored, the whole body rejoices” (1 Cor. 12:26).
This edition of PS Portions begins to touch on some of the issues of racism and reconciliation as we react to the tragedy in Charleston, and I will let you know as opportunities for conversation and action emerge. In the meantime, as we seek to renew these conversations at LTSP, I would ask for your support and prayers, and also your participation as we travel this challenging road together, trusting that while God may indeed have, in the words of the familiar prayer at morning, called us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths untrodden, through perils unknown, yet we know and trust that God’s hand is leading us and God’s love supporting us.
Yours in Christ,