We had a big weekend at Northminster. In celebration of Martin Luther King weekend, Tiont Williams and I preached together. You can find the sermon, called Living the Dream, here. I’m going to add a few words about race relations below.
My friend Ben Campbell has written a marvelous book called Richmond’s Unhealed History. I know, a book with history in the title probably doesn’t get your blood pumping, but Ben is a very good writer and he tells an important, long-hidden story in a compelling way.
Ben explains how Europeans literally stole land from Native Americans to establish the city of Richmond; how Richmond was built on the backs of slave labor; how Richmond became the second largest slave market in the country (with good, white citizens blissfully ignorant of slavery’s significance to the local economy); how emancipated blacks were “kept in their place” by organized efforts to refuse them the right to vote, to shut them out of business and commerce, to deny them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; how the interstate highways were routed to destroy the most prominent black neighborhood in the city.
Ben argues, rightly I believe, that until whites are willing to confess these sins, repent and receive forgiveness, Richmond’s progress will be stunted. I absolutely agree.
The most accurate definition of racism I’ve encountered is this formula: Racism = Power + Prejudice.
Denial runs very deep among white Southerners. We never see ourselves as having either power or prejudice. As an expert on the subject, I can tell you that racism in the minds of white Southerners is never about race.
Schools, housing, the path of an interstate highway, intelligence tests for voters, it was never about race, they would say.
Neither was the decision in 1945 to relocate the Northninster congregation, they have said.
Ah, but each of these was about race above all else.
And until we recognize the sins of the past, confess them, repent and receive forgiveness, our growth as humans, as Christians, as a city will forever be stunted.