Background for "Faith on Race"

Background for "Faith on Race"

Lenten Daily Bible Study

For Lent, I’m offering a daily bible study that relies on Scriptural texts to reflect on our faith, experience and the sins of racism (to partner with the work that our Sacred Conversation on Race Ministry Team is bidding us to do during this time). It therefore stretches for the 30 days between the first of the Lenten House meetings Feb. 25 and the second meeting, March 25.

For the first six days in Lent, before the Bible Study started, people were invited to do some personal reflection on their experiences of race and racisim:

Thursday, 02. 19 ~ identify your earliest memory of an awareness of race?
Friday, 02.20 ~ remember a recent instance of how race or racism separated you from someone else, or something you feel you were supposed to have done or experienced?
Saturday, 02.21 ~ make a list of the ways that race has added to your life. If that’s difficult, think of the people who are racially or ethnically different from you who have been a blessing to you. (This might turn into thanksgiving at during worship tomorrow).
Sunday, 02.22 ~ make a second list: “how has racism taken away from or limited my life?” (This could inform confession at church today).
Monday, 02.23 ~ share with someone some of what you noticed about the two lists you made for reflections on Saturday and Sunday.
Tuesday, 02.24 ~ what is one step forward you would like to see made towards racial equality?
Wednesday, 02.25 ~ are you gathering with others tonight for first Lenten Housemeeting Conversation on Race?

(After the “Faith and Race” Bible Study, there will be a few days left of Lent after the second housemeeting on March 25. I encourage you to take a few days off and rest. I will prepare an 8-day Bible study again for Holy Week (on the texts and themes of Christ’s passion, crucifixion and resurrection, and what it means for our lives), beginning on Palm Sunday, March 29.)

What’s the Connection between Lent and Racism?

Someone asked, “Why are we doing this for Lent?” Here’s my reply (but the members of our Sacred Conversation on Race group might explain differently):

“Lent traditionally is a season of self-examination, where we look inwardly, deeply, seeking to see our own sinfulness, that we might repent of it, on the way to Easter.

One explanation of sin is that it’s separation– from God, from God’s will for us, from our neighbors, from our true selves. Think of all the ways that racism separates from neighbors, God, ourselves. And from the lives God means for us to live.

There is a resource from the UCC that states it clearly: ‘Racism Declared a Sin.’ And there are all the awful killings of unarmed Black men by police that have happened this year (and the years before of course).

Would that we could free ourselves of the sin of racism in time for Easter. But since we cannot, we are trying to raise our awareness and begin a journey towards resurrection…”

This year, our Sacred Conversation on Race Ministry Team is encouraging us to begin such a Lenten reflection by breaking the taboo of NOT talking about race. Instead, turning to God in order to find the trust for such a difficult undertaking, could we — this Lenten season at Old First — begin to talk openly and honestly about our experiences and differences of race?

Scripture and Race

I offer these daily bible reflections as a way to keep your heart and mind focused and churning on the questions that race and racism present in our world, in our daily lives and to our faith.

The term “race” as used in our modern world does not exist in the Bible. In fact, the word itself first came into use in the 17th century, European context in reference to national differences, e.g. “‘the English race’ and the ‘Irish race’ appear similar in many respects, but turn out to be different in character.”

Our use of the concept of “race” seems to have come into practice referring to various genetic traits of skin, features, hair, eyes concurrent with Darwin’s introduction of natural selection and explicitly employed for the purposes of ordering a hierarchy of races and racial values.

So this Lenten study of the Bible is going to asks us to interpolate a bit. And begin to think more critically.

Mostly, our texts are about how the faith exhorted the ancient faithful to deal with someone who was identified or experienced as “the other.” As you work on these texts, you might ask yourself, first, “who is ‘the other’ for me?” And then translate the text, its teaching and your sense of the other to the modern institution of racism, asking ourselves what our response as Christians is to be to the ways that racism treats and mistreats people.

It seems to me, there is a thematic arc in the sacred text itself concerning how integral “outsiders” are understood to be in God’s plan. One might be able to make an argument that the Bible deals with “other people” differently as the contexts in which the Scriptures were hammered out change. Another way of saying the same thing: as the revelation and its sacred text proceed, the horizons are widening, from the tribes of the Israelites to the known classical and multicultural world of the Pauline diaspora. That said, I do not want to leave anyone with a sense that the Christian writings are better, a corrective, more developed, an improvement or a true reveleation than the Hebrew Scripture. The Jewish sense of “chosenness” always included vocational responsibilities well beyond the limits of their own community.

Therefore, I’m alternating texts from the Hebrew and Christian writings. They are all our Scripture. In both cases, the contemporary Christian reader has a similar task — asking what the text could have meant in its original context (and various socio-political situations since then), and then asking for the Spirit’s help in understanding its meaning today. I think if we look and listen closely, in light of where the community of revelation found itself, and where we find ourselves, we begin to recognize common themes and a Divine movement.

Still, as is always the case with the Bible, it is a complicated text. I could have easily chosen condemining passages as prophetic passages when we want to bring our faith to the questions of racial equality.
And faith, of course, is not our only resource or metric. There are also complicated, interrelating economic, political and social factors. Still, I believe it is important, if you wish to say you are a Christian, to ask what perspective your faith gives you on racism.

(These bible study prompts will be forwarded daily to everyone who is signed up for our Sacred Conversation on Race and anyone else who requests them. They will also appear daily on Old First’s FB page.)

The Daily Reflections

Read each passage (they are all hyperlinked to the New Revised Standard Version of the text). If you are unfamiliar with the passage, you may wish to read a bit more, before and after the portion selected, in order to get a better sense of its setting in the text. Then read the background info. provided and reflection questions.