“Two God-fearing men”
I cannot get these words out of my mind.
They are a reminder of the tragic results from the ideology, the religion, of white supremacy, in which white lives are idolized and black lives matter little.
White supremacy seeks to silence black voices that would contradict and oppose the monopoly of its message.
This is why many people vocally spoke out against Colin Kaepernick peacefully kneeling when the national anthem was played in protest of police violence but had nothing to say about armed white supremacists marching through the Michigan state capitol just last week.
The god of white supremacy calls his followers to care more about the symbolic accoutrements of liberty and democracy than the reality for which they stand.
Even more recently, we have elected officials with irrefutably and unrepentant racist pasts to some of the highest offices in this land.
In turn, they surround themselves with unabashed white supremacists who believe this nation would be better off as a racial monolith and are seeking to create just that.
White supremacists are the kind of people who can question the first black president’s nationality on no grounds of truth whatsoever, and when the narrative is proven false, it is only parroted even more.
White supremacists are the sort of people who feel like they can tell nonwhite politicians to “go back to where they came from” even though they came from here.
From the lens of white supremacy, the real America is a white America and anyone else who lives here does so at the privilege and behest of white approval.
There better be gratitude. There better be allegiance. There better be quietism. Because, ultimately, in the religion of white supremacy, it’s whiteness that determines identity in America.
White isn’t a color; it’s just reality – that which gives meaning to all other colors.
The god of white supremacy is well supported in this country. He does not lack for resources, temples and shrines.
People will give their lives for him, even at the expense of the other gods they name. People will bow before his throne because he makes their lives easier.
He eases their discomfort. He provides them a worldview in which they are simultaneously the hero and the victim of a country amid dramatic demographic transition.
He conditions thoughts and behaviors and provides a well-oiled system of belief. His fingerprints are on all the walls of power in this land.
Many people fear him more than any other god. Many people love him more than any other god.
He is white, rich and male, and therefore he sanctions a world that bends toward the white and rich and male.
You don’t have to seek his traditions and ways; they will seek you. In fact, they have been the default catechesis, or religious education, in this country for nearly three centuries.
Often, this god is the one actually worshipped in Christian churches, who vocally call God by a different name altogether.
But this is not the God I worship.
I worship a God who cares about justice, not just the kind of justice that asks, “How can this be punished?” but who asks, “How can this be prevented and healed?”
I worship a God who tells the truth about things and calls us to do no less, as best as our feeble minds can.
I worship a God who is no respecter of persons.
I worship a God who calls us to a peace that blesses all people, not just a quietism that benefits a select few.
I worship a God who, when defining the word neighbor, reached for the farthest “other” imaginable, essentially saying of a Samaritan, “This one is your neighbor.”
I worship a God who doesn’t just summon disembodied souls to heaven, but who commands embodied people to help bring heaven to earth.
I worship a God who provides a radically different meta-narrative than white supremacy to bring meaning to our lives.
I worship a God who stands in solidarity with the pain of others and calls us to do the same, maybe even in such proximity to them that we suffer whatever they suffer, as illustrated by the cross.
I worship a God before whom all nations will give account, including our own.
I worship a God who summons us all to repentance from gross injustice, which means correcting our ways, not just expressing sorrow for them.
This is the God I’ve tried to follow all my life, and this is the God about whom I proclaim with intense regularity.
This is the God whom I want to shape my country’s soul, my church’s soul and the souls of my children.
This is the God I want to resemble in the deepest parts of my being.
I ran my 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery and prayed my way through my disillusion and disgust. But this day calls me – and maybe you – to something more.
We become what we adore. Therefore, I will tend to the liturgies that shape me and the liturgies that I’m responsible for in the shaping of the church and other people.
I will tend to the words I speak and the words I allow myself to hear. I will try to be a good steward of the catechesis that shapes my views of God, the world and myself as a white man.
So long as black people are on the wrong end of white peoples’ policies, programs, worldviews, histories and theology, we shouldn’t be surprised when black people are on the wrong end of our guns.
And if so, we will be on the wrong side of the cross, primarily because we’ve been carefully taught to worship the wrong god all along.
To change our worship, to change our catechesis, is to change our world. May it be so.
Then, maybe the next time a black name is mentioned in connection with the phrase “God-fearing,” it will have something to do with life and not death.
Preston Clegg is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.