Tomorrow night, January 14, Presiding Bishop Eaton is hosting a town meeting on the criminal justice system, called “Confronting Racism: A Holy Yearning.” Joining her will be an ELCA member who is a judge in Baltimore, an ELCA pastor who used to be a police officer, and an ELCA member who has been on the other side of the criminal justice system. They will talk about race and racism, and I intend to be watching. I hope you will, too. If you cannot watch on Thursday night, you can watch it later. Look for details below in this News of the Week. What's race got to do with it? A lot. People of color are disproportionately represented in our nation's prisons and jails. And people of color are much more likely to be stopped, frisked and detained. People of color are overrepresented on death row in states across the country. We can do better.
Monday, January 18 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday and a state holiday in most states. It is a time to honor civil rights activist and Baptist pastor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a time to look back at our history, beginning with slavery, through the abolition movement of the 19th century, and the civil rights movement of the 20th century. It is a time to remember historic events, like the march on Selma, the Birmingham bombings, the "I have a dream" speech, the Memphis garbage strike, the assassination that ended the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., but not his vision, not his dream. What's race got to do with it? A lot. Although slavery ended in the 19th century, racism did not. Injustice did not. The Voting Rights Act in the 1960s made it possible, for the first time, for African Americans to vote unimpeded, by eliminating the barriers set up by states. In 2013 the US Supreme Court did away with part of the Voting Rights Act, and immediately some states began to set up barriers again. In Montana, tribes have sued to get county election offices to make same day registration available not just in the county seat, but also on reservation locations that are accessible to the majority of the people. We can do better.
In Great Falls, a former Ku Klux Klan advocate has publicly proclaimed that he has repented of his racist ways, and is organizing a tribute to Dr. King at a local Methodist church. The public is confused—is this for real? Has he really changed? Time will tell.
As Christians we believe in the reality of sin. And racism is a sin. It is not believing and acting as if God created us all in God’s image. Racism is living as if one race is better than others, and entitled to all the privileges, none of the hardships. But as Christians we also believe in repentance, conversion, metanoia. Paul went from persecuting Christians to embracing the living Christ. Is it possible to be a recovering racist? I think so.
Bishop Eaton’s webcast and the materials that go with it challenge us to look deep within ourselves, to acknowledge the racism that pervades our society, and to repent. What’s race got to do with it? A lot.
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all subject to a disciplinarian, for 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 of Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This is our hope.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA