This afternoon, I am off to our annual Clergy Conference where the theme will be Beloved Community. I don’t know exactly where the phrase comes from, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made it famous as the Christian alternative to racism.
To get ready for the conference, the Diocese gave every priest a copy of James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011). James Cone is arguably the most important theologian to develop a self-consciously Black Theology. As the title suggests, he draws a parallel between the crucifixion and lynching.
The book was challenging, both in its subject and in its theological sophistication. But I also found it beautiful in a profoundly Christian way. Cone says that remembering the lynching tree keeps us mindful of the brutal horror of the cross. And remembering the cross helps us to find redemption even in the face of horrors like lynching.
At our conference, we will surely spend time acknowledging our history. But we will also worship together, and we will talk about ways to move forward constructively. At this point, everyone knows that racism is bad. But how to fight racism, especially how to fight systemic and implicit racism, is tricky.
Systemic racism is the bias built into the system. As one easy example, white people have had a much easier time building wealth in the twentieth century than Black people. My white Georgian ancestors didn’t get rich, but they did accumulate enough to provide a comfortable financial cushion for me. And part of that accumulation came from favorable government policies. Meanwhile Black people in Georgia had much more limited opportunities, in part because of hostile government policies, with the result that many contemporary Black people are more financially vulnerable. The problem is clear enough. The solution is less clear, at least to me.
Implicit bias is the unconscious racism that many of us have internalized. I have been working on this issue for years. But when I took the implicit bias test (the link is below), I was forced to acknowledge my own lingering biases. Again the problem is clear. The solution is not.
But I am proud of our Diocese for tackling such a difficult issue. And I hope that I will return with at least a few tools for moving towards the Beloved Community into which Christ calls us.