ATLANTA – In 2016, the United States is having an unapologetic 50th anniversary of racism and classism.
“It looks like we’ve stepped into a time machine … where racism is blatant” – the silver anniversary of racism, Aisha Brooks-Lytle preached at the NEXT Church national gathering Feb. 23.
Brooks-Lytle, associate pastor of Wayne Presbyterian Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania, picked up right where Allen Boesak left off the previous night – challenging Presbyterians to do more than just talk about racism, using as her starting spot the story from John’s gospel of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well.
“You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it,” Brooks-Lytle said of the problems of race and class, drawing on the story from a children’s book where the kids set off on a bear hunt – and know what they have to do.
Some of the evidence she presented of a renewal of racism and classism:
- The litany of people of color dying at the hands of police – including Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old father whom a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed July 19 after stopping him for having a missing license tag. Brooks-Lytle said she had to explain to her 10-year-old son that that killing didn’t happen decades ago – it was just last summer. “Black males are being shot as if the are target practice,” she said. At any age.
- The gap between the haves and have-nots is explicit and growing. In the name of gentrification, the working class gets pushed out of affordable housing. “The educational divide keeps getting bigger and bigger. And in Flint, we are watching in horror as the basic needs of clean water have been compromised for the poor.”
- Also in Flint: “It seems like some people in power had knowledge of these issues, but had access to clean alternatives for themselves.”
- Young blacks are surrounded by people who tell them “they don’t matter at all … they are surrounded by a world that doesn’t care at all.”
- The church has an obligation to respond, as Jesus did with the woman at the well – a woman who came from a people who were spurned and denigrated, and who essentially told Jesus, “When they see me, they see a Samaritan. They see a female … I am invisible.”
In Philadelphia, Brooks-Lytle said, her mostly-white affluent congregation has partnered with a small black church in the city. “Those conversations were tough, were hard, they were difficult,” she said. What helped them to persevere: “Both communities were committed to prayer.”
Will Presbyterians just stay in their homogenous communities, hoping race relations get better, she asked? As with the Samaritan woman, Jesus didn’t avoid the difficult conversations – he encouraged them.
Do more than just hope racism will go away, Brooks-Lytle said. See the resurgence of racism and name it. Go to places where hard work is being done on race and class and stay at the table there. Make sure you have friends and colleagues who don’t look like just you – which might mean they aren’t Presbyterian.
“Pray all the time,” she concluded. “Pray as if your life depended on it.”