By Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
Executive Minister, Evergreen Association
"oh! How we have blemished and scarred
that body through social neglect and through fear
of being non-conformists."
Why we Can’t Wait, MLK
Nazis have vandalized another church. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. They vandalized a Baptist church, Morning Star Baptist Church, in Spokane. You can look up what they did to the physical space easily enough. But can any of us comprehend the damage these misguided people did to the church members' soul space?
Now everyone in this African American church knows they are not safe in their worship space. They have now been brought back into 400 years of enslavement, lynching, intimidation and more. The congregation is violently back to the ever-present reminder that the white power ruling the country can, and often has, taken everything away if they forget their place. They now have to worship God in fear in their own spiritual home. Not only that, many people who look like them now know the specter of violent racism has come to their home.
For people in the unwanted minorities, this event has long lasting repercussions. We in the minorities in our country know that when white power rises, minority lives are lost. While for many people this is an upsetting event that makes us wonder how did we get here, for the intended victim group it is a physical safety event. Every interaction going forward is run through the memory of that event. In being cut off on the road, complaining at a store, speaking with authority figures, voting, and other activities, our physical safety is at risk. An angry white person is no longer some stranger who might be having a bad day--now that person is a potential danger to my safety; therefore, it is best to avoid doing anything that makes them angry. Or we try to continue with life as it is and pray that any white person one might anger is not one of the many “unseen racists,” for if they are, one may pay with one’s life.
White supremacy is on the rise. It is also clearly supported and encouraged by the highest levels of society. Therefore, many racists dream they are on the brink of coming back to being mainstream again. Nathan Larson, running for office in VA one year ago, felt safe enough to include in his platform that he wants to restore a benevolent white supremacy society in our country. Thankfully he is still a fringe candidate. Only four years ago he wouldn’t have made the news. Seems that being mainstream is so close white supremacists can taste it, so much so that people feel more comfortable going on racist rants in public, calling the police on minorities just because they are around. We are back to hearing from our elected officials that “immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.” Our government is once again treating non-white children as subhuman. Charles Lindberg's racist cry of America First is supported by the president! Racists are on the brink of being mainstream again.
These are the historic moments when the overwhelming desire to go along can lead entire nations to cruelty beyond belief. Germany, Rwanda, the Balkans--all these nations were mostly Christian when they perpetrated their genocides. We have already taken a grievous step in that direction by jailing toddlers without their parents! Yet, those officials creating and supporting those policies could very well be re-elected because of said policies.
This is an historic moment when going along with the mainstream will destroy our souls and the lives of many. The fear of being seen as a non-conformist could become the door through which the hateful cruelty of racism comes back into accepted mainstream. Unless non-conformists like you and I cast our fear aside and stand firm.
It is time for us to embrace our Baptist heritage of dissent for the sake of Justice. As Bonhoeffer said, “the time is late” for us to do justice to our non-conformist heritage and stand, sit, block, speak, and above all love with a love so firm, broad and clear that both the perpetrator and victim know they are loved.
I pray you all find or make spaces wherever you are to say No! We will not just go along anymore! If it is legal, we will ignore it. That you will find the courage to speak to your legislators and vote your conscience for justice. That you covenant to do the hard work of learning how to best walk with our friends and family away from the fear that has led them to think of this cruelty as a solution to their concerns.
I pray our fear of being non-conformists no longer stops us from waging the powerful, systematic and intentional campaigns for justice to which Jesus calls us to this day.
What is that call?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Let us embrace our Baptist tradition so we can be the non-conformists Jesus calls us to be.