I try not to complain about COTH, because it’s like complaining about Wal-Mart: it’s too easy and it’s a big target. People I know and love shop at Wal-Mart and attend Church of the Highlands. But because this controversy is emblematic of a larger issue, here is all I will say on the Chris Hodges – COTH controversy:
• It takes NO courage to say something as banal as “racism and bigotry are bad” from the pulpit.
• It takes SLIGHTLY MORE to say “racism is bad, and in spite of our good intentions, we are often complicit.”
• But anyone who can say to tens of thousands of white Alabamians, “Systemic racism exists, and the world you see is not the world your black siblings see” — that pastor is telling the truth.
Preachers spend their whole lives working with rhetoric, honing their craft, learning how to say something without saying it, how to persuade subtly, how to push their congregations just far enough without alienating them. But in that process it becomes easy wimp out, to presume that your people can’t handle the truth, and that it’s more important that they come back and not worth the risk of making them uncomfortable.
Chris Hodges could preach ONE sermon on systemic racism, and reach more people than I or most clergy ever could. True, he might lose a few thousand people. But there’s no shortage of racist churches they can attend.
But any pastor who says “racism is bad,” and continues to support policies and rhetoric that disproportionately harm black people, that deprive them of political, economic, and physical power, has chosen the bullshit of white fragility over gospel of Jesus Christ.
We ALL KNOW hatred and bigotry are bad. These are elementary Sunday school lessons. What white Christians need to hear is
1) that unequal criminal justice, voter suppression, and poverty are sin. That racism isn’t just about your heart, but policy.
2) that all our claims about “not being racist” are invalidated if we cannot listen to or sit under the leadership of black women. This is how you know if your heart is truly changed.
Preach THAT, and you won’t have to say something as embarrassingly banal as “racism is bad.”
You might even encounter Jesus.