As a relative newcomer to Ballston Spa, I was encouraged to hear of the recent anti-racism resolution adopted by our village board. Hate and bigotry should be condemned in all its forms. And even though the horrific events of Charlottesville, Virginia, seem far away, I see the resolution as an opportunity for our community to be proactive about our own prejudices.
Full disclosure: I am a white minister in an evangelical Christian denomination (Presbyterian Church – PCA) that publicly failed to address racism and hate in its past. It is a part of our shame. When Martin Luther King Jr. was calling for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24), he was demanding that white Christians care about justice for their African American neighbors with the same ferocity as the God of the Bible. Unfortunately, his pleas for us to stand for biblical justice fell on willfully deaf ears. Some of our Presbyterian churches would publicly say hate is “anti-Christian” but maintained the anti-biblical “separate but equal” doctrine in practice. Did you read or see “The Help”? Many of the racist white characters were based on real evangelical Presbyterian pastors and parishioners. Lord have mercy!
Before moving to Mississippi to study for the pastorate, I naively assumed that because I come from the North, racism was mainly a Southern problem. It is arrogant, I know. Apologies to my Southern friends! Even as I write these words memories of hate come flooding back.
To my shame, I remember my silence as racial slurs were regularly slung at my Korean teacher’s back. I remember a Middle Eastern teammate in high school being kicked while on the basketball court because he was a “towel-head.” I remember the N-word being flung like mud at my fellow athletes competing in mainly white towns. These were not events below the Mason-Dixon line in the 1960s. They took place regularly in small towns in Western New York. We have harmful partialities too!
Now that we have publicly declared that hate has no place in Ballston Spa, to which we should all heartily agree, where do we go from here? I propose that a helpful beginning would be this recognition: Pride and prejudice are here among us. We may not have people screaming on street corners for a fictional white-only utopia, but it is here, lurking in the shadows. Racism is no respecter of geographical borders. You will find it wherever you find people. And let’s call it what it is. Evil! To my horror I find it lurking in the shadows of my own heart, silently thinking the world would be better if they were like me!
This is where the Christian story is helpful and corrective to white supremacy and my own biases. When I see Jesus, a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man who died for his multi-ethnic enemies not because of their goodness but solely due to His compassion and mercy, I must own my part in it. I was one of those enemies. And I must see that Jesus’ invitation to his kingdom is to be a part of a multi-colored family, full of people not like me.
So going forward when we see two sides screaming and pointing fingers in what may be justifiable anger or just plain ole’ hatred, we need to hear Jesus’ words towards unjustified malice, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His compassion motivates painful honesty. Then perhaps we will move towards each other, confessing our shared humanity and the pain our prejudices have caused our neighbors.
We are a diverse religious community so you. You may not believe the Christian story. But these days we need courageous people of differing worldviews to truly make Ballston Spa “A Village of Friends.” My hope is that our local churches will both condemn hatred and humbly confess with me, “I like me and people like me too much.” So in the words of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, “Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need
mending.” Now I’m ready to listen to you!
Nate Thompson, Pastor