At Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, an interracial group of clergy gathered to discuss the role of the white church in perpetuating racism. And what the church might do to heal the wounds. A tough subject, but dealt with unflinchingly.
They began with church complicity in the nation’s original sins — genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans.
“We Christians — British and Americans — said we can’t do those things to people we believe are made in the image of God,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a D.C.-based social justice organization. “So we will throw away Imago Dei. And that’s what we did. We threw away the image of God and said that these indigenous and African peoples are less than human.”
Several hundred people had gathered in the nave of the cathedral, sunlight streaming through stained glass windows. Among the windows at the church is one that memorializes Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and features a Confederate flag. They were installed in 1953 after lobbying by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The church decided last month to remove them after devoting time for discussing race and reconciliation. Their gathering on Sunday continued that discussion.
“We are gathered where Martin Luther King Jr. preached the last Sunday sermon of his life, urging us to stay awake in the light of stained glass windows,” said the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington and interim dean of Washington National Cathedral. The controversial windows, she said, “glorify a way of life that was sustained by chattel slavery and even now demands that we take account of what resources churches like ours was built on.”
The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, the cathedral’s canon theologian, honed in on why the “white church” was being singled out. “Why not just ‘the church,’ ” she asked? “You say white racism is a sin. Why colorize it?”
Wallis, who is white, chimed in: “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less reason to fear for their children. That’s a fact.” He paraphrased a verse in the book of Corinthians that says when one part of the body of Christ hurts, all of the body feels the pain.
“Not happening,” Wallis said. “When the black part of the body hurts, the white part doesn’t know what’s happening most of the time.”
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