LOUISVILLE (PNS) – “It’s good to gather to celebrate the diversity of our center and our church,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said in his greetings to worshipers Wednesday at the Presbyterian Center’s chapel in honor of Black History Month.
In a sermon titled “Unapologetically Black and Beautiful: From Ethiopia to Harlem to Wakanda,” the Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness and preacher for the special service, highlighted the Scripture of Song of Solomon 1:5: “I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” Hawkins also pointed out the critical role an African played in the crucifixion of Jesus. Mark 15:21 reads: “They compelled a passerby, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.”
Hawkins said, “In this all-too-brief encounter, the fate of Simon’s family is now intertwined with that of Jesus. The aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus was the birth of faith in the hearts of the entire family. Mark immortalizes Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, because this African family has status in the early church. The father was not only an eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus, but actually carried his cross for him.
“However, despite the power of God’s call for universal acceptance, the world has rejected the strength of diversity portrayed in the gospel story wherein a white man compels a black man to carry the cross of a brown man.”
Hawkins went on to say that “the disease of racism has infected every aspect of human society, every country and every people” and acknowledged that “rather than being unified by the message of sacrificial love, we have manipulated even God’s word to our own advantage — wherein one is lifted up, and the other put down.
“Racism has diminished entire races of people into vile stereotypes. Blacks are violent; Mexicans are rapists; Native Americans are drunks; Asians are super-intelligent and Africans are corrupt. Our living patterns are based upon a preference of lumping people together by their racial identity.”
Hawkins referred to a recent article from The Guardian news service entitled “Are African American families more vulnerable in a largely white neighborhood?” The article, written by Gregory Smithsimon, an associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center, reads: “White people in America tell themselves many stories about racism and race.” Smithsimon says that America suffers from a high level of segregation of black people in black neighborhoods and white people in white neighborhoods and his article explored the justification given: that people “like to live with their own kind.” But studies show that only black and white people are so segregated from one another. Asians and Latinos are much more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods, and surveys show that the largest percentage of African Americans want to live in neighborhoods that are an equal mix of black and white people. However, Smithsimon says that not many of these neighborhoods exist, and almost none remain mixed for long.
Hawkins noted that America’s separation by race influences not only our beliefs but also our ability to live together and equal opportunities for all races. He further asserted that the only thing that many people know about the black experience is that black people were slaves. “Almost nothing is known about the continent of Africa and the civilizations, which lay the groundwork for contemporary society. Even the diversity of this biblical story has been displaced. Commentaries go out of their way to dispute that neither Simon nor Egypt were African,” he said.
“African kingdoms stretched from sub-Saharan Africa to Egypt, including the civil government of Ghana, the warriors of Songhai, the gold trade of Mali, the scholarship of Timbuktu, the first Starbucks in Ethiopia and the pyramids of Egypt,” said Hawkins. “One hundred years before Moses the first people to believe in one God were the Egyptians under the pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. Today, the most famous African country is the fictional Wakanda from the Black Panther movie.
“But there’s another day coming,” Hawkins said, “for the power of the risen Lord is still transforming the human heart. Jesus is still calling men and women of goodwill, integrity in faith and action, to live together as brothers and sisters. We loudly proclaim today that we are unapologetically black and beautiful; Hispanic and lovely; white, brown and tan, all beautiful.
“It is the work of the church to proclaim the love of God for all. But before the church can deal with the racism in the world, it has to deal with the racism in the church,” he said. “How can we tell others how to integrate society when we can’t even integrate the church? We must challenge the church to be the church.”
Hawkins concluded his remarks by telling the audience to “be who God created you to be. Unapologetic. Unashamed. Head held high . . . a child of God beloved by God, cherished by a savior who died for you and for me.”
by Gail Strange, Presbyterian News Service