By Lawrence Powers
This Saturday morning, I awoke to phone notifications that something had happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d gone to bed without checking the news and had missed it the evening before. As I pushed myself out of bed, and planted my feet on the floor to begin a new day, I read about a group of marchers who’d assembled.
I read about how they said they were assembling for me—a white male—and that they were protecting my rights that were being infringed upon.
As an American born in Georgia, and raised in North Carolina, I read about how they were marching for my southern heritage, that they were defending the gross attack of the government on the symbols that stand for what it means to be from the South.
I read about how they carried torches, and exclaimed en masse: “white lives matter!” A chant, I assume, I was to hear as my heart stirred in pride and hope.
Yet, as I stood, my phone shaking due to the multitude of emotions that gripped me in that moment, my heart did not swell. I had no feelings of support or connection.
As I sank back down onto the bed, I uttered the first prayer that came to my mind: “God, forgive me.”
In that moment of anguish I realized that, though I did not raise a torch in Charlottesville, I’d contributed to their cause. I realized that I had to be honest and stand with the reality that my sin had been my silence and that a time of repentance had come.
Repentance for all of the moments that I’d stood in pulpits and pretended that all was well. Repentance for all of the moments where fear gripped me at what my family might say if I decided to speak out against the realities of white privilege. Repentance for those moments when I should have stood up, but stayed quiet for fear of isolation and retribution. Repentance for my part in allowing the realities of racism, fear and hatred to continue flowing all around me.
I know that Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is at hand and, yet, I’ve sat idly by as its realities have been denied in our country. As a member of the clergy, and as a follower of Christ, I realized that by not speaking up for our African-American sisters and brothers, by not listening to all stories, we’ve denied the Kingdom—I’ve denied the Kingdom.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a letter addressed to clergy, that “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”
As the full representation of the Christ who declared freedom for the oppressed, a lightened burden for the downtrodden, and a life that is abundant and over-flowing, we must repent of our silence and be silent no more. We must heed the words of Dr. King as we, too, love the church in our midst but, as we also stand as Christ in the places where his declarations are not only ignored, they are being taken away. We must repent as we seek to overcome fear, lest we scar the body of Christ more.
We can no longer deny the Kingdom of God through our silence. We must preach, we must teach, and we must strive for its fullness in all of the world- fullness offered to every person. We must! We must! We must!
But first, we must repent. For repentance is always the starting point toward freedom and restoration.
“God, forgive us for our silence, and help us to be silent no more.”
Rev. Lawrence Powers serves as the Triangle Area Cooperative Baptist Student Fellowship Campus Minister for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.