“Well, my God would … ” or “the God I worship … ” — those phrases roll through my mind as I continue to read anguished commentary and responses to the verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.
News headlines like “The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God,” and “What Does It Mean to Call ‘God’ a White Racist?” push me to realize once more that the way we perceive God depends a lot on our cultural contexts.
All this brings back a strong memory of a seminar I participated in years ago at Union Seminary in New York City. There were 20 participants, all with leading roles in various aspects of adult theological education. Diversity ruled: age, race, education, politics, theology, gender — we were all over the map.
Over the course of two years, we met together eight times for intensive study, challenge and conversation. We often explored the city together in the evenings. Strong, mutually appreciative friendships were formed across the divides and we looked forward to our times together.
At one point, we were discussing gender and racial barriers to theological achievement. One of the participants, a good friend, spoke of his experience as a black male. I mentioned my identification with his experiences because of my own memories as a woman who had faced many barriers.
I was a bit shocked when he turned to me and said, “No, you cannot possibly understand what it is like to be a black man.”
And he was right. I could not and I cannot.
I do not know what it is like for people to immediately move to the mode of suspicion and distrust when encountering me. I do not know what it means to be perceived as scary and threatening. I have never lived in a place where it was not safe to be outside or where I could not confidently give my sons the freedom to explore their lives as they needed.
Certainly there was overlap: I could and did identify with systematic economic disadvantages and of religious dogmas that do seem to say that God is indeed racist — and sexist.
But I am, as so many others are finally realizing through this tragedy in Florida, a person of privilege. White privilege. And I need to ask: “Do I get this privilege because God favors my skin color or … ?”
Let’s assume I have privilege not because God especially favors me but more with the luck of the draw. Let us discard the too-often-taught religious thought that suggests a larger share of wealth or comfort or political influence is bestowed upon those whom God favors. Way too many “christian” preachers have propagated this perfidy.
Sure, there are snippets of this idea of favoritism scattered through the Bible, particularly in the more gruesome parts of some of the earliest writings. Those writings have long been used to justify aggression, war, slavery, rape and the slaughter of the innocents. Those are gross misinterpretations of the Scriptures.
Frankly, I have privilege because I was born into a family that took their own privileges and built on them. I benefited from their hard work and persistence — which they were able to do because they themselves had privileges that opened doors otherwise shut to many. And they were all white. They, too, had white privilege.
Now, this day, I have the responsibility to use that privilege responsibly. This means standing for justice for those still left out. Hoarding blessings constitutes one of the most anti-holy acts available to humanity. We swim in those unholy waters every time one people group is systematically denied respect of their full human dignity by another people group.
And if I don’t find some way to personally and actively change this system, then while I might not say, “God is a racist,” I surely do live it out.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .