The Rev. Richard Losch had an interesting take on where we are as church these days in the December 14, 2008 edition of The Living Church. He begins with some background on the nature of sin. He then provides an example of how we have tried to ask for forgiveness for racism. He notes how the Episcopal Church is, once again, in a process of self-flagellation over the sin of racism (my words, not his). Fr. Losch notes, “If we are only now getting around to repentance for that sin (racism), then anything we do is too little and too late. If we have truly repented for it in the past, then by what arrogance do we approach God as if he has not already heard our plea and forgiven us? Do we or do we not believe in the forgiveness of sins?” He goes on to state his thesis, “we are living in the past.”
I agree. I mean, how many times do we have to ask for forgiveness for the same sin? Through this institutional guilt that some carry around, we hear from General Convention over and over again how we need to ask forgiveness for this sin and do penance with mandatory anti-racism training. (The trainings I have participated in were never very good.) The best anti-racism event I ever attended was watching the DVD for “Crash.”
I am a third generation American. My ancestors were from Europe and were not engaged in slavery. I don’t believe I should apologize for an institution that neither me nor my ancestors ever participated in.
Having said all of that – we and I can still be racist. As a society, we are getting better with the issue of racism, but it is still part of America. We seem to be infected with a need to make whatever group we are part of to feel superior to another group of our choosing. When I was young, racist remarks were okay in many circles. Today, it would be hard to find a group where that would be acceptable, though they are out there and there are many of them.
Since racist remarks are, typically, not acceptable, racism then tries to go underground. This is in many ways much more insidious. It is harder to grab a hold of to lift it up to the light of day. It sneaks around and is more subtle. It hides in the shadows. This is the racism that needs to be addressed by the church and others. This is a hard infection. It needs an effective vaccine.
General Convention mandating anti-racism training isn’t going to cut it. In general, the people who need to attend never will. What is needed is a program of parochial initiatives that would include sermons, forums, classes (for all ages), and print information that can be distributed to people. Ways for people to take advantage of Reconciliation of a Penitent needs to be encouraged.
I believe this would be much more effective in combating racism in the church. Ministry happens in the parish, not at General Convention.