New York Theological Seminary Professor Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel says, ‘I Am a White Christian and Black Lives Matter’


America’s heart is broken because of the heinous racial murders and devastating church burnings in southern states. As a white southern Christian transplanted in New York City, I recognize the sociology of white supremacy leading to these devastating crimes and stand firmly against the actions of the perpetrators. 

What would drive Dylann Roof to murder nine African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina? The white male culture of the South contributed, baptizing him into a militarized masculinity in a still-racially-divided region. Dylann’s father gave him a gun for his 21st birthday — a rite of passage for a white Southern man — and then he consciously chose a path of violence and bloodshed. While some claim that Dylann Roof is mentally ill, the truly frightening possibility is that he is sane and sober — that he was raised under a white supremacist culture and is acting out his racism in the most violent of ways.

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We have witnessed yet another eruption of racism in a swath of suspicious church burnings across the South. Burning churches is an act of destructive cowardice. A church is supposed to be a space for grace. Through slavery and segregation, the church was a sanctuary of safety for African Americans, but white supremacists have historically burned black churches to exercise social control. In 1822 white supremacists burned down Emanuel AME church in Charleston after executing Denmark Vessey, one of the church’s founders, and five other organizers of a slave revolt plot. Black churches were also bombed and burned during the Civil Rights Movement. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed four little girls who were putting on their choir robes, preparing for morning worship and a sermon titled “A Love that Forgives.” Through vigilante violence white racists are violating spaces of sacred community, unveiling a moral contradiction in the heart of America — white supremacy.

As a Southern white man I discovered racism in my own heart and hometown. After moving away from Mississippi and meeting my wife, I brought her home. Whenever she heard racist comments, she would fearlessly and forthrightly challenge them. She gave me the courage to call out my community on racist remarks, but most of all to call out the racism in my own heart.

In this moment of national mourning, we have the opportunity to grieve the loss of lives and churches, and unite in resolute opposition against any more lost life. Prophetic grief transforms our sadness into seeking faith-rooted justice for all. It is critical in this moment that whites step up and confess the sin of racism in America and condemn this deadly disease. As pro-reconciliation/anti-racist whites, we must repent by dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, communities, families and hearts, and by becoming humble, supportive allies in the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement, accountable to those who suffer most. ‬‬‬‬‬‬

Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan is one sign of real hope, convening consistent conversations for change. Pastored by Rev. Dr. Jacquie Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church is a welcoming, multi-cultural congregation that has skin in the game for social justice. Every month Rev. Dr. Lewis and I gather a group of clergy and young activists from #BlackLivesMatter and the Justice League NYC for a lunch conversation. Our open table conversation has two goals. First, we want to develop a new public theological language related to #BlackLivesMatter and the trauma of racism in America. Second, we seek to develop specific strategies for increasing the engagement of leaders of faith and moral courage in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Open and honest conversations in our congregations are an important first step for change.

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Source: Huffington Post

This is the part of a series of posts by Auburn Senior Fellows of different faith and backgrounds who proclaim that when #BlackLivesMatter we will all be free.

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