Why I Want to Talk About Race

From the Rev. Joe Hensley, rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | April 14, 2015

Ugo and SarahWhen I heard that our regional church would be holding conversations about racial reconciliation, I cheered and signed up to participate right away. Why do I want to talk about race and racism? There must be a better way to spend my Saturday. I have attended and even led numerous trainings about these issues, and I keep going back for more. Why?

I want to talk about these issues, because we, as a society, have trouble talking about these issues. We start talking about how everyone should be treated equally, which is fine. As soon as we start talking about how whites have received far more benefits than non-whites, then people start to get defensive. We are willing to admit that the system was broken for a long time, but when we start trying to talk about how the system might still be deeply flawed, about how people are still dying because of racism, then we start having difficulty. I say this without judgment. I do not want to talk about race in order to make other white people feel guilty. I do want other people, especially white people, to see that we enjoy benefits simply because we are white, which is not how God created the world to be. I want us to experience the freedom which God does intend for all of us. Racism resulted in the literal slavery of African-Americans in this land, but it has and continues to hold us all in bondage to falsehoods about humanity.

I also want to talk about race, because I have a lot to learn about being white in America and about what it is like for people who are not white in this country. My experience is not enough. I need to hear what other people have gone through and are going through. In order to know what it means to be in the Body of Christ, I need to know what other members of the body are feeling.

I will give up another Saturday talking about race, because I believe God created us to love each other. The categories of race have done little to help us love. Most often they have made it easier to mistrust, despise, and kill one another. If I am to love my neighbor as myself, then I need to be talking about race. If we do not talk about it, racism will continue to work its evil on us.

These conversations do not make anyone better than anyone else. They do not give us higher ground upon which to stand and shake our finger at people who have other things to do. I hope others will want to participate, because they do knit us together in ways that we might not ever imagine otherwise. Why do I want to talk about race? I do not know and cannot wait to see what will emerge from the next conversation.

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia will be holding “Hand in Hand Conversations” about race during 2015. To sign up for this event on April 18 at Trinity Episcopal in Fredericksburg, visit the Hand-in-Hand Listening Session registration page. For information on other listening sessions and Bishop Johnston’s racial reconciliation initiative, go to www.thediocese.net

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