Thomas, Doubt and Justice

April 20, 2015

The Rev. Carolyn Bavaro
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Evanston
Easter 2B, April 12, 2015

Today’s Gospel gives us the opportunity to consider the many questions we might have about our faith, in honor of the disciple Thomas, who initially had his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Taking time to reflect upon our questions about religion and faith isn’t an exercise to promote doubt that weakens belief; but rather, to see Thomas as a model for us - of the kind of believer who works very hard to accept as true the promises of our Lord and Savior. Once Thomas’ doubts were erased by Christ’s subsequent appearance to him along with the other disciples, his faith was strengthened and he became tenacious in his mission. In fact, Christian tradition associates Thomas in the Apostolic Age with a ministry extending to the ‘far reaches’ of India in his spread of the Good News.

This past week, in the aftermath of Indiana’s attempt to put into law legislation ‘in its original form’ that would, in effect, have allowed businesses to discriminate against people identifying themselves as LGBT’s, one important question occurs to me that has an impact on all of us in the light of our Christian faith. This issue comes to mind as being worth examining as a faith community:

This past week, in the aftermath of Indiana’s attempt to put into law legislation ‘in its original form’ that would, in effect, have allowed businesses to discriminate against people identifying themselves as LGBT’s, one important question occurs to me that has an impact on all of us in the light of our Christian faith. This issue comes to mind as being worth examining as a faith community:

The bigger Universal Question I want to explore with you is: What is a “just society” and why is it important? 

Mark’s Easter Gospel account reveals that in the darkness of the tomb, the women who went there on the morning of the 3rd day found the rock rolled away and the tomb empty. Amazingly, an angel appears to them in the darkness with the message that the “one they seek is not here.” The women are awestruck and filled with fear by the possibilities this message indicates  for all of them; with far-reaching life-changing implications. Finally, the women move forward out of that place of death, into the light of a new day on the morn of the Resurrection. 

  • They obviously got past the fear that paralyzed them at first from telling anyone what they witnessed. Eventually though, they were able to proclaim the Good News of Christ Risen vanquishing death to enfold all in His Resurrection hope for those who follow Him.

The encounter these women had is a striking parallel to the human condition we also experience in difficult and troubling times of our own lives representing  “the dark tombs that enshroud us in darkness which can paralyze us also, with a fear that prevents us from acknowledging new information (like the women at the tomb) that informs us ‘the darkness we are living in is not God’s reality.

  • Hopefully, like the women at the tomb who are told “why are you looking for the living among the dead?” we also are moved to act, as the Almighty bids us to come out of the death ‘our tombs’ signify, into the Light of Christ to follow in Jesus’ way of love embracing the new and eternal life offered to us by embracing new and eternal truths revealed to us.
    • Each of those little victories over death in our lives, symbolizes the Resurrection hope we live into that transforms what was old and ‘dead or dying’ into the ‘light of new possibilities’ for greater health and wholeness, allowing us to grow more fully  into our God given potential individually and collectively for the life of the world.

Today, I want to explore with you one of these tombs that we all share in common which has caused much pain and deterioration of  our country’s social fabric and real fellowship of our common life in Christ.

  • For generations, those of us who identify as ‘white’ have been paralyzed by fear to come out of the darkness of the tomb enshrouding us. Shut off from ‘the light of Christ’ we are prevented from, in the words of Starbucks’ CEO to “Race Together” in order to have authentic conversations with our brothers and sisters of color about the reality of how race is still at the bedrock of much injustice Social-Economic-Cultural and Political impacting most non-white Americans daily to their detriment; hampering them from attaining a better quality of life in our American society.
  • Our continuation to accept that it’s okay to not attempt to gather together in dialogue with people of color (POC) to explore in personal conversations how ‘whiteness’ pervades our societal institutions, actually inculcates racism ever more deeply, which contributes to a more lamentable estrangement of our racial relationships. 

    ‘White Fragility’ is an article on racism in America by Dr. Robin DiAngelo printed in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. She is an associate professor of ‘Critical Multi-cultural and Social’ Justice. Dr. DiAngelo writes:

    “The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” 

  • As a rebuttal certainly, some might say ‘Well, yes I have taken an Anti-Racism class in school or a Critical Cultural Competency seminar at work, so nothing additional should  be required for me to understand the situation. 

  • The Anti-racism Commission of our Diocese does a good job of sponsoring these workshops annually several times each year.

  • Unfortunately, educating ourselves isn’t a quick fix that’s going to remedy the problem of racism in America. It’s only a first step towards preparing ourselves to be more self-aware in hopes of a better-informed discourse together for interracial dialogue. 

  • The problem is that if attending AR workshops is our only response,  it minimally scratches the surface with only an ‘intellectual superficial knowing’ that helps us as whites to ‘maintain our distance’ from having an experience of authentic emotional impact afforded by engaging in conversational involvement with others who have a different world view because of the color of their skin. 

DiAngelo’s findings ring with the sound of truths I can confirm are borne out of  my 17 year’s experience and training working within the Church with POC on anti-racism issues. The ‘White Fragility’ article goes on to say, “Further, if we can’t listen to or comprehend the perspectives of people of color, we cannot bridge cross-racial divides. A continual retreat “from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement” results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place. 

Eric Holder, America’s 1st black Attorney General in 2009 made a speech after being sworn in, saying “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial we have always been, and we, I believe continue to be in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards. In 2009 he called for a ‘national conversation on race.

He said he didn’t think it would be easy, but he thought it would necessary. “Collectively we responded with the alternative of : Silence. Avoidance.  Looking the other way. Continuing to bury our heads in the sand. 

  • So, what we have now in the wake of ‘reality staring us in the face’ from the Ferguson rioting and continual assaults on young men of color, is the proof that racial injustice: destroys people, relationships and communities.

Yet even with the Justice Department’s scathing report outlining Ferguson, Missouri’s racial profiling, now just eight months after Michael was slain, we see video from North Charleston, South Carolina of another unarmed black male being gunned down by a police officer. It shows Officer Slager without justification shooting Walter Scott eight times in the back. Because of that video, Slager was fired and charged with murder. 

Tragically, we’ve learned that Ferguson is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s only one egregious example of how racial bias continues to ‘contort the social fabric of our lives’ with bad blood fouling any hope for equality in our interrelationships.

Ferguson is a reminder of how far we still have to go for improving our race relationships. Jesus told his disciples, “When two or three come together in my name, I am with them”(Mt. 18:20). If we truly believe those words, we will move forward out of the tombs of darkness that continue to enshroud us; to move beyond fear and trepidation; to be the people of God forming the Body of Christ as the Church; making an effort to come together in conversation about race in our country, towns, communities, neighborhoods and congregations; to start figuring out collaboratively how the Holy Spirit wants to guide us to move forward together interracially in hope, so that all may come to recognize a mutual respect formed by honoring one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. This was the community of believers that was “of one heart and mind” described in the account from Acts that we heard earlier on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

If we claim to have fellowship with Christ, we will live in the Light of His Love, because “in him there is no darkness at all”.

That means changing any behaviors that keep us entrapped in tombs of death, so we can move out into the light of new transformed life promised in Christ’s Resurrection.

Amen.

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