Race, Virginia, and Jesus’ Circle of Favor

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It has been a disturbing week in Virginia government. Once again, we are struggling with how we address questions of race and racism. This time Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are both confronted with incidents from their past involving appearances in blackface, a remnant of minstrel shows where the entertainment came along with degrading stereotypes of African-Americans.

While these two politicians, (one of whom has deep roots here on the Eastern Shore and whom many of us know), face difficult decisions about their future, all of us have an ongoing struggle. Regardless of how this incident is resolved, the legacy of racism remains. We can’t ‘get past’ racial incidents like this because racism is not something we can cut from the body of our society like a tumor and forget about.

This is not an argument for any particular action in this case. It’s just reality.

As a white Virginian, I grew up in a culture that nurtured me and gave me values I dearly love, but I recognize that that culture was also warped by a sad history of slavery and racial inequality. Becoming aware of that history and the ways it still lives on around me and in me has been the work of a lifetime.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Travis Chapel United Methodist Church in Oyster and my main text was Jesus’ challenge to his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4:21-30. When he began to talk about how God’s will to save included people they defined as outsiders, the response of his listeners was to try and throw him off the nearest cliff. 

We are still struggling to see how the circle of God’s favor extends to all people. Our structures, even in the church, are wounded by our failures. But Jesus is still in our midst, inviting us to receive the gifts of reconciliation and justice brought about through his death and resurrection. 

Until we live into that gift–Lord, have mercy upon us. 

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