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  • Jeanne Owings

Lenten Reflection: Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent

In the book Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman writes of a trip he took to India. The leader in India asked him how he could be a part of the Christian Church, given all that the white man has done to the Black man in America. Where has the church been in the oppression of Blacks? The church has been in the forefront, as the Episcopal Church is learning as they study the history of individual churches. And how wrong is this?

James Cone, an African American theologian, writes the following in his book, God of the Oppressed: “When whites undergo the true experience of conversion, wherein they die to whiteness and are reborn anew in order to struggle against white oppression and for the liberation of the oppressed, there is a place for them in the black struggle for freedom.”

In his book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, Jim Wallis writes:

“Sometimes the church’s opposition to genuine repentance is at the heart of the problem, as it has been with white churches’ lack of response, frequent denial, general conformity, and even direct support of white racism…”

“The sin of white racism must be named, directly and publicly, especially by white people, for the process of genuine repentance to begin. Just saying we are sorry won’t be enough.” (p. 69).

I live in the house where my husband Jim grew up. His mother also grew up in this house. His mother’s family (Carey) was one of the founding families of Good Shepherd. On the second floor, in the back, over the porch, is a small room with a separate stairway that leads to a back hallway on the first floor. This bedroom was for the cook. When she needed to go to the bathroom, she had to walk down the back stairway, around the hallway to another stairway, and then down to the dark, dank basement where there was a toilet and a bathtub. This seems awful to me, and I wonder what she must have felt about the situation.

To what extent am I responsible for the actions of my husband’s ancestors? What prejudices are within me from the way I was raised in a white neighborhood, attending white schools, knowing no Black people except the women who worked for my mother. I have been discovering things that I was not even aware of as I have watched the films and read the books for this class.

Jesus came from a poor family. He, a Jew, was one of the underprivileged in the Roman society. Jesus relates to the plight of the African American, the Indian, the Hispanic. But what about us, the white privileged Americans?

I lived for three years in Macon, Georgia and attended two churches there -- the Church of the Nazarene and then the Church of Christ. I loved my friends in these churches, but I feel sure that some would be classified as racist, even though, to me, they were loving people. I do not consider myself racist, but I do struggle with feelings that I have been made aware of as I have dealt with the idea of racism in the Sacred Ground class.

It is not clear to me what the answer is here or what action we should take at Good Shepherd. Perhaps the soul-searching we have been through in the Sacred Ground class is a good first step.

-Jeanne Owings

What subtle prejudices are you aware of in your own life? What about in the life of the church? Reflect on your own experiences.

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