Sermon; 17 Pentecost/Proper 21A; Philippians 2:1-13
At our diocesan convention two weeks ago Resolution 2020-06 was brought up for a vote. The title of the resolution is, “Racial Restitution and Reconciliation.” In short, this resolution created a reparations fund with an initial investment of $1,000,000, created a separate oversight committee, urged all congregations and affiliated schools to prayerfully consider committing a percentage of their endowment to the fund, and urged the Diocesan Council to foster reconciliation and restitution opportunities.
As I pointed out in my Wednesday Word last week, it is well past time that we do more than talk about the problems slavery and systemic racism have created, and high time we begin doing something about it. And while this in no way makes up for past abuses, that was never its intention. The intention of this resolution is to make new beginnings, to live into God's justice in the here and now, and to set up a systemic solution to a systemic problem.
One of the things we need to come to terms with is how slavery and systemic racism have created an environment of white privilege that many of us don't even see because it has become so embedded in our lives. Giving up some of that privilege, giving up some of our control, giving up some of our wealth, will be difficult for some people to do. As I said last week, for those of us who have always been privileged, equality can feel like oppression.
We are now being asked to let go of some of our wealth for the benefit of others. We are being asked to relinquish some of our privilege, humbling ourselves so that others may be raised up. We are now being asked to stop focusing solely on our own interests and begin focusing on the interests of others.
It is these actions, these attitudes, and these behaviors that we are being asked to take on, not only by this diocesan resolution, but by Saint Paul himself.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
For those of us in positions of privilege, this can be a hard thing. After all, selfish ambition is how we climb the corporate ladder. It's how we move up in the world. But it's a hard thing to do to put ourselves in lesser positions. It's hard for us to watch others advance and be genuinely/honestly happy for them. But at some point we need to be willing to not be ambitious, to take a back seat, so that others who have not experienced improvement or upward mobility can do so.
As a for instance, it's a fact that larger parishes in the Episcopal church tend to overwhelmingly call white male priests as their rector. One of the ways the church is addressing this is by no longer requiring photos on clergy profiles. It's not perfect, but it is a first step toward eliminating systemic racism.
But being humble and regarding others as better than ourselves is only the first step in the process.
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
So often in our own lives and in the history of our country we have looked to our own interests at the expense of others. Slavery obviously put the interests of the landowners over and above the interests of their slaves. Real estate redlining put the interests of white homeowners/home buyers over and above the interests of black homeowners/home buyers. Advancing the interests of whites led to relegating Native Americans to the worst locations. The interests of the white majority led to dumps, industrial sites, wastewater treatment centers, and other undesirable things to be located in or near black neighborhoods.
We need to begin looking to the interests of minorities who have been marginalized and exploited for the sake of the interests of the white majority. It's time for us to begin answering the question, “If I don't want to be treated that way, what makes it okay to treat minorities that way?”
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That is, Jesus didn't regard his position as inherently better than others, but made himself equal to others. He was obedient to God by recognizing that all people were created in his image, and that no one is better or more exalted than another. He understood that in order to make the kingdom of God a reality on earth as it is in heaven, we need to love others as we love ourselves.
And this brings me back to Resolution 2020-06. This resolution established an initial fund of $1,000,000 to go toward the work of reparations and restitution, and it asks churches to prayerfully consider how they can contribute to that fund. My interpretation of this is that we here at Saint John's look to establish an ongoing donation to this fund, not just a one-time gift. As I said, it's a systemic solution to a systemic problem, and that requires ongoing funding.
As we begin to seriously address this issue and look to participate in the act of reparations, we need to seriously begin following Paul's admonition from Philippians.
Now is the time to let go of our privilege and begin seeing the marginalized as better than ourselves. Now is the time to begin using our wealth not strictly to maintain our position of privilege and superiority but to freely distribute it for the interests of others. Now is the time to have the same mind that was in Christ, not using our wealth and privilege to exploit others but in an effort to elevate others to full equality.
As we move forward in this process, let us be less concerned with how we are being negatively affected and more concerned with how we are allowing others to live with dignity and respect as we strive for God's justice in what is too often an unjust world.