I had a great and unique privilege handed to me last week. I was invited to be a guest preacher for a sister church in our community. It wasn’t what you might expect. I was invited to be the preacher for the 148th Anniversary of Wesley Chapel AME Church in Georgetown. I made mention at the outset that it was fascinating to me that they would choose a head-shorn anglo pastor (who looked more like a bar bouncer or perhaps even a white supremacist than a pastor of a church that is truly open to everyone). The church was alive with excitement as members of Wellspring joined in with members of Wesley to celebrate our common heritage, and more specifically, the witness of Wesley Chapel to the community and our world at large.
As I prepared for the service, I did a quick calculation and realized that 148 years ago was 1869. As soon as I saw the date, my head began spinning. I quickly confirmed what I knew were other significant dates. The Civil War had gone from 1861 to 1865. Word of the Emancipation Proclamation had only reached Texas on June 19, 1865 (a date known simply as Juneteenth). I am a lover of history, and I know well how Juneteenth was loathed by slaveholders and other white supremacists. The KKK got busy after 1865 and began to make sure that the freed slaves would be denied as many rights as they could possibly dream of taking away. Crosses were burned in the yards of sympathizers, lynchings were happening frequently for the smallest of infractions on the part of black Americans, and racism had a firm grip on Texas. One of the strongholds of the KKK was right where we live in Central Texas. To be fair, Williamson County was the first county where prosecutorial success in convicting the KKK for illegal activity happened in the 1920’s. It remained true, however, that racism was firmly rooted in Georgetown … especially in 1869.
And right into the midst of that racism a group composed (at least in part) of former slaves planted a church … Wesley Chapel AME.
Bold. Humility. On August 20th, I preached at Wellspring on the Canaanite woman and talked about the fact that she was bold (standing toe-to-toe with Jesus) yet humble (accepting her place with the dogs under the table). What I have discovered about the people of color who have stood in the gap to fight racism have likewise practiced a similar “bold humility.” When I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, he was one who was unafraid to speak the truth, yet he never took up violence as a way to make his truth known. When I think of Mahatma Gandhi, I see one who, likewise, sought to speak the truth of the harm of white supremacy yet who never advocated violence. And most especially, when I look at the life of Jesus, I see one who spoke out for those whom he called “the least of these, my brothers and sisters,” yet he never advocated violence.
The audacity of a group of African-American people in 1869 to think that they could just up and put a church right in the middle of Georgetown! And then to proclaim the message of Christ as a message of hope for those who were persecuted for nothing more than the color of their skin! This is the boldness that truly inspires me.
Maybe that’s the kind of boldness that is needed in the world today. We still live in a world fraught with racism as evidenced by recent events. We need people who are willing to speak the truth yet who do not speak it violently. We need people who stand with “the least of these,” not because the “least” need help, but precisely because that is where we meet our Christ … in the faces of these whom we seek to help. We are challenged to be a church that reaches across the lines that divide us. We are challenged to be a people who will be bold enough to speak our truth into a culture that is often hostile to the message of Christ.
For me, that means that I must speak clearly and unequivocally about the racism that continues to unfold in our culture. We have a group of people who, for all intents and purposes, benefits greatly from white privilege and that then considers itself somehow disenfranchised or harmed when black people or anyone else speak the truth about racism. This is evident in the “all lives matter” campaign in the face of the “black lives matter” movement. I’m not sure how they can so easily make that claim, but folks, this isn’t about free speech! It is about racism, plain and simple.
As I was privileged to share with my brothers and sisters at Wesley Chapel AME this past Sunday, I was inspired by their boldness and their enthusiasm. I am inspired to speak the truth. I am inspired to stand with my brothers and sisters of all races. I am inspired to speak the word of hope that perhaps we might discover in the Christian faith a world where, as we say at Wellspring, “all are welcomed and all are accepted!” And I want this to be a world where all really means all!
Be bold! Be humble! Let God speak the truth through you!