O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
I am reminded that February is Black History Month, and I’ve wanted to recognize it in a column before the month runs out! Wikipedia gave some background, including the reason for February. The historian Carter G. Woodson introduced its precursor, Negro History Week, in 1926 for the second week of February. That is the week that marks the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). Dr. Woodson noted that African-Americans and their contributions were not recognized in the history curricula of our schools, and he hoped that African-Americans could gain strength as they learned more about their history.
The reason I’ve been reminded about Black History Month this year is the sad irony that the pervasiveness and deep roots of anti-Black racism have shown up so vividly these days. The issue has shown itself most recently with the violent hatred of a Coast Guard officer who proudly calls himself a “white nationalist,” and the self-hatred that is demonstrated in the possible staged hate crime where a Black man reportedly chose to use a noose in his hoax. This last action reflects conflict with a tragic element of Black history, that of lynching.
Another conflict with history has been demonstrated by too many political leaders who have perpetuated demeaning stereotypes through blackface, seemingly ignorant of the pain this causes African-Americans who know how effectively blackface taught America the negative stereotypes that haunt our nation through unconscious bias. This bias is so insidious that it has led to the abhorrent frequency of innocent African-Americans being reported to the police for simply living their lives, or by those who think “I don’t see color” is the solution to racism. I guess they think it’s a compliment to not acknowledge one’s race. But this is no more a compliment than if they say they can’t tell that you are a woman.
Perhaps you might think it’s a step up to pretend not to see the color of one’s skin. But that implies that color must mean something negative. The fact is, people of color are not ashamed of our color, or feel disabled because of our skin color. We just wish others could see our color and have a positive response, with some appreciation for the cultural gifts, traditions, values, experiences, wisdom, music, food, and so many other offerings different cultures bring to God’s big table in the church. And that’s why Black History Month is important to me—it’s the annual reminder that there is more I can learn about why I’m glad that African-Americans are, and continue to be, and continue to grow, in influence, in the United States—and in the Christian church.
I am so happy that our presbytery is joining with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus Southern California Chapter (NBPC-SC) to explore a new ministry in our neighborhood, a possible new church that welcomes all but celebrates and utilizes the gifts and traditions of the Black church to communicate the love of Christ and the power of the Gospel. Our Vision and Strategy Team will be focusing their efforts on this, and I ask your prayers as we take steps to deepen and broaden Christ’s mission through this work. VST Chair Jonathan Hughes and I participated in NBPC-SC’s annual meeting last week, and presented this project idea, which was received well by the members.
As we go forward with this new ministry, we give thanks for the legacy of South Hills Presbyterian Church, which will provide the seed funding for this work. I would also ask for your prayers for Char and Don Sevesind, who were long-time leaders of South Hills. Char is struggling to recover from the first of two planned surgeries, and Don has been a great support, as he has been in many ways for our presbytery. And speaking of great support, please continue to pray for Twila French, who is away this week for a long-planned time away, a week after her mother’s passing.
There is much that we can learn about each other, to our benefit and growth in faith. Perhaps we can take a moment or two before February 28 to learn about Blacks, including their history in the Presbyterian Church and the moments when we Presbyterians stood with our African-American sisters and brothers. And perhaps we can go on through the year and learn about our varied histories and cultures, called together by Christ.
And on a day-to-day basis, I ask that you see yourself, and each other, and every person you meet, for who God made in you—each of you, for all that you are. A while ago I came across this covenant, and occasionally use it for church members to offer to each other. The last time I used it I tried to find a source so I could properly cite it—the only source I found was, coincidentally, as the covenant of the national organization of Blacks in Government (www.bignet.org). Yet another reason to give thanks, and to share in the wisdom and love that God offers for and through all of us.
A Covenant for All God’s Children
I regard myself and you
As being created in the image of God
I see your beauty, I sense your power
I celebrate your potential
I support your prerogative to sing your song
I share your pursuit of the high quality of life
I will tell you the truth, and I will have your trust
I will listen to you with my heart
And I shall speak to you with my smile
I shall care enough to confront you
And to comfort you
In you I see God, and in God I see you
You are my friend, and I love you.