Juneteenth, white superiority, and God

June 17th, 2020

Surprised by Scripture

I didn’t expect to be surprised by Psalm 100 but the familiar words leaped off the page, grabbed by soul, and have not let me go.  

Know that the Lord is God— he made us; we belong to him.

The Hebrew verb know is more than mere intellectual agreement. It’s a deeper comprehending that is both personal and intimate, sometimes referring to the way partners know each other in sexual intercourse. It’s knowing that changes behavior. 

“Know that the Lord is God” means knowing that I am not. How had I missed that? “God has made us.” The 17th Century King James Version added, “and not we ourselves.” There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” God made us and we belong to God, but only the Lord is God and we are not.

We obviously have a hard time living as if we actually know that. Biblically, sin is when we start acting as if we are God. It’s the temptation to act as if my life, my nation, my race, and my culture are the most important things in the universe. The first step to faithful living is to know — really know! — that the Lord is God and we are not!

Made of one blood

Meditating on that, my mind leaped to Paul’s words in Athens (Acts 17:16-31). 

God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth… He is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth. 

The King James version said that God “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” 

If we know that the Lord is God, and if we know that we belong to God, and if we know that God made all — the Hebrew word means “all” — people “of one blood,” then every form of racism and every movement, organization, ideology or nation that sets one group of people above another is an affront to God. Racism is not only a moral and cultural disaster, it’s also sin. It’s the fundamental denial of who God is and who we are.

America’s original sin 

The myth of “white supremacy” is the sin that has infected the bloodstream of our culture from the beginnings of our nation.

  • It’s the demonic myth that landed on our shores 400 years ago with the first shipload of slaves and forced compromises among our Founders over slavery.
  • It’s the deadly myth that led to a ghastly Civil War and should have been laid to rest at Appomattox.
  • It’s the persistent myth that metastasized into the “Lost Cause,” Jim Crow, the documented lynching of over 4,000 African Americans, and made its deadly way most recently to a neighborhood road in Georgia, a busy street corner in Minneapolis and a drive-through lane in Atlanta. 
  • It’s the Nazi myth of Aryan Superiority that we thought had been defeated with the Third Reich.
  • It’s the vicious myth that has recently reemerged from the dark underbelly of our culture with burning torches and Confederate and swastika-decorated flags.
  • And, it’s the subtle myth perpetuating white privilege, of which I, as a white male, have been a beneficiary. 

However subtly it reappears, it is a sinful denial of who God is and of who we all are. 

Where will you be on Juneteenth?

June 19, 1865, was the day Texas became the last state to receive the word that the war was over and the slaves were free. It’s long been celebrated in African American communities as Juneteenth. It comes on the heels of the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, which destroyed Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” on May 31-June 1, 1921. It’s a story that I was never told.

So, where will I be on Juneteenth?

As a privileged, white male who knows that the Lord is God and I am not, and knows that God has made “of one blood” all people, the only appropriate place for me on Juneteenth is on my knees, confessing my ignorant complicity in the sin of white superiority. My only appropriate response is to receive God’s grace and to repent, which means turning in a new direction. It means listening to and learning from my black sisters and brothers, so that together we can rise up to follow the Son of God who shed his blood to prove that God has “made of one blood all people to dwell on earth.” 

Then, we can shout together the final words of Psalm 100:

The Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.

Jim Harnish is the author of Easter Earthquake,  A Disciple's Heart and Earn. Save. Give. He blogs at at JimHarnish.org.

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