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Racism in Living Color

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Musings on the Eve of March: Bible Study Zoom Bombed on the Last Day of Black History Month. Racism is alive in living Color

By Rev. Dr. Lillian C. Smith
Pastor, Cheverly United Methodist Church

February 28, 2021

“Hmph. Hmph. Hmph,” my mother said quietly. We were sitting together at the dining room table observing our usual Sunday routine. Usually, she sits quietly and says nothing, but this time was different. I asked, “What’s the matter Mom?” She replied, “ I’m just thinking about those people…..” 

On Sundays she sits with me as the pre-recorded worship service streams online. I host the chat room and communicate with worshippers. Then, later, she sits in on our Adult Sunday School Class. We are studying “How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice,” based on the book by Jemar Tisby. Discussing the Imago Dei, we had just engaged the scripture, Genesis 1: 26-27.

Genesis 1: 26-27 (Common English Version)
“Then God said, let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth. God created humanity in his own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”

We had turned our attention to the  practical ways to combat racism, as identified in Tisby’s book. Tisby, in chapter 2, offered the following three practical suggestions to combat racism. 

  1. Teach what the bible says about Race and Ethnicity
  2. Learn Theology from the Disinherited  
  3. Treat Racism as a Sin 

We had just discussed the first two practical suggestions when things went awry. I posted our Bible study information on our website and sent the information through email with the prayer that more people would become involved in the conversations on race and faith/religion. I was glad to let new people in to join the call. My suspicions grew when 16 others joined. They listened then took over the call with language too disrespectful to repeat. Remember, my 92 year old mother, members of our church and guests to Cheverly UMC were on the call. This decision, by these hackers, to disrupt our discussion strengthens the need to address these issues and for the church to take the lead. Zoom hacking, best known as Zoom-bombing is a federal offense and when caught, can be prosecuted. The legal system will address this side of the issue but we as believers in Christ must address the souls of people who engage in the privilege of remaining ignorant, leverage God’s Word and the actions of His people to create harm, and miss the opportunity to live out God’s purpose in their lives because they are not open to the possibility that all of us have something to learn and each of us is accountable for doing such. 

Cheverly United Methodist Church is committed to helping people talk about issues of racism, prejudice, white supremacy, internalized oppression and God’s love for everyone regardless of  language, ethnicity, color, walks of life, etc. These types of conversations are not new for us. What is new is a heightened level of hatred spewed at my bible study class earlier today. This multicultural congregation is known as the church in the heart of the community with the community in its heart. We serve, love, feed and help the community weekly.  

“Those people”, my 92-year-old mom referenced, were not the people who required her, as a child, to sit in the movie theatre balcony, in Easton, MD,  because she was Black. “Those people” were not the ones who would not allow her to complete her Master’s Degree at the University of Maryland, because of her color. She would have to do that at Columbia University in NYC. “Those people” were not the individuals who, angered by the thought of desegregation in Lamar, SC,  threatened the lives of African American teachers who were going to have to leave the high school where Black students attended; to go to work at the former whites only high school.  The danger was so severe that those teachers had to be accompanied by National Guardsmen. The threat of buses being turned over, or worse, burned, was real.

No, “those people,” to whom my mother referred, were those we encountered on Sunday. The face of one anglo male, dressed in a red and white striped shirt shown on the screen. He sat looking at us while he ate what appeared to be potato chips. While he looked at the Bible study members, we heard voices and recorded messages. The screens of the other callers were not turned on. “Those people” my mom talked about are criminals. They said things, like, “Shut the f up….Dumb black, and more.”  “ Those people” had somehow hijacked control of the call. The only way to get them off was to end the call.The perpetrators’ intent appeared designed to dehumanize, disrespect and intimidate the persons in the class.  Intentions do not always garner the outcomes desired.….

Yes, “those people caused problems.” I, the pastor/shepherd of this congregation, do not like nor tolerate her sheep being bullied and disrespected by anyone but especially not racist individuals. I was angry these people had nothing better to do with their time but to Zoom bomb a Bible study? Really? A Bible study?

Racism is alive and growing. Lest we forget, the prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, where believers were massacred because of their color.  Lest we forget,  the recent destruction and burning of Washington, DC church “Black Lives Matter” signs. One of those churches was my childhood faith community, Asbury UMC. “Those people” disrupted our plans but their plans were disrupted as well. We were not intimidated and are not afraid. Contrary to their plans, we completed our work for the day. Those people spoke their foul language and received my call for the forgiveness of their action and the healing of their minds and souls. What they heard was….

“If you died today, where would you go? “Hell is real.”

“You are not bothering me. Your soul hangs in the balance and I’m praying that God will have mercy on you and change your heart.”

 “Is this what your church teaches you?” 

You see, it is possible they never learned everyone is created in the image of God and I wanted them to know the error of their ways before they met their Maker face-to-face. Maybe, they grew up in and/or currently attend church. Who knows!  In our Bible studies we are learning that churches have been complicit in supporting racism, intentionally and/or through silence. Churches represent communities of humans trying to live the faith walk, teach the truth, and hold the community responsible for growing in their faith, knowledge and in service.

You see, Jesus loves everyone.He died for “those people” too.It appears, those people don’t realize their hatred, harmful to others will eventually cause them to self-destruct. History has shown, those people cause destruction but they will not remain unscathed. Don’t get me wrong, I hope and pray the authorities will find and deal with these individuals. I pray God will touch and turn their hearts around so that those people do not pass on their hatred to generations yet unborn who will, in turn, inflict harm on generations unborn in my family and the families of people I love and serve in ministry. This nation has inherited a quagmire of racist hatred that threatens to destroy this nation even today.

Let none of us be “those people!”  Let us work and pray for better.  Laws alone won’t stop this evil cancer of racism upon our nation. We need God’s help. The world needs your prayers.

Let’s be clear. No longer can people of faith be quiet in the face of racism, even if it appears in our families, schools, neighborhoods or in our jobs. We can’t cower and hide our heads in the sand. We must meet the challenge head on. 

You see, “those people'' cannot have the last word. Too many of my ancestors experienced too much for me to be quiet. From the newly enslaved ancestor who was thrown off the ship and told to ‘sink or swim’ because he would not easily submit to the horrors of slavery;  to the numerous others who withstood unspeakable dishonour, degradation and disrespect, armed with God’s strenghth and knowlege that God made them somebody too.

Too many people of various colors and ethnicities have prayed, marched, risked their lives and worked for the vision of God’s beloved community. You see, those people do not realize that in order to hate people to the extent that they demonstrated today, there must be a deep hole in their souls, and only Jesus can change the situation.  Their behavior reflected more on their depravity than on any sense or message of inferiority they attempted to project on  the class members. They need help. 

Our class may not have been able to talk about the third practical step, and that is ok. On the last day of Black History Month, our experience taught us, all too well, about the sin of racism,  the power of privilege and the danger of ignorance. Racism is alive and well and needs to be eliminated. 

“Hmph. Hmph. Hmph.” “What’s the matter Mom,” I asked. “I’m just thinking about those people.”  Beloved, tonight, I’m thinking about those people too. What about you? 

Maurita Bowie Mar 8, 2021 11:28am

Yes. I’m thinking about those people too. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your musing is empowering.

Rev. Hal Atkins Mar 8, 2021 9:03pm

Greetings sister! While I am not surprised I am saddened by what you experienced while you were teaching on the subject of racism. I stand with you and am praying against the dark forces of the enemy and am grateful that Jesus has overcome the world through the cross and His resurrection. Continue to be bold and remember that in Jesus we are more than conquerors. Praying with you and for you and the people of Cheverly. In His love, your colleague and brother in Christ.

CMapp Mar 12, 2021 6:03pm

Thanks for being bold and supporting Lillian .God’s truth prevails

Lori James Mar 13, 2021 2:31pm

I am a member of Locust UMC in Columbia. Sad to hear of that awful interruption. How is the Bible study going? His seems like a potentially good text for an interfaith Bible study among clergy leadership and then among congregations.

Lillian Smith Mar 20, 2021 9:35pm

Thank you all for your responses. Our bible study is going well. All are committed to staying on the journey.