As members of the Faculty of Memphis Theological Seminary, we offer these theological affirmations as a faithful response to the hurt and anguish in our churches and society due to racism.
We affirm our faith in God, who as Creator and Redeemer, acts in love seeking our good. God makes all of us in God’s image. Every person reflects the image of God. Each person has an inalienable dignity deserving of respect in both personal and public life.
We affirm that God suffers with those whose dignity has been denied. Today, as throughout the history of this nation, the recognition of dignity and the practice of this respect has been denied to African Americans.
Brought to this land as slaves, placed under the heinous legal system of Jim Crow, and routinely subjected to economic, political, and cultural discrimination, backed up by a violent criminal justice system, African Americans have suffered massive injustice. At the same time, the dignity of African Americans continuously has shown through. Refusing to be defined as slaves, African Americans took from a distorted white Christianity the truth of their lives as belonging to God alone. Resisting Jim Crow, African Americans built a powerful alternative church, economy, political power, and culture. Affirming their own dignity, African Americans stood up for a better church and a better America. The light of God’s image clearly shines through the lives of African Americans in their repudiation of a racist system.
We affirm that the repudiation of racism is necessary because of the pervasive power of sin. In white-defined national and ecclesial lives, sin—the breaking of our relationship with God and each other—defines all of us. White people enslaved black people for economic gain. White people dismantled Reconstruction and built the system of Jim Crow. White people committed sin through brutal lynchings and other acts of racial terror. White people infused sin into the creation and maintenance of white supremacy in political and economic institutions. White people also breathed sin into religious life that often became defined more by allegiance to whiteness than to Christ. Human sin runs throughout the horrific history of white-dominated private and public life in the United States.
We affirm that God’s judgment exposes the sin of white racism. As Christians we hear Jesus’ words that judgment occurs because “light has come into the world” (John 3:19). This judgment comes in the work of the Underground Railroad and abolitionists. It comes through Ida B. Wells’ newspaper that fought against lynching and in the powerful words and community organizing of such civil rights leaders as Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and Prathia Hall. This judgment comes through the powerful music of the blues, jazz, and Gospel, and the prophetic writings of Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Houston, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou, among many others. This judgment comes in the Black Lives Matter movement.
But Jesus also warned of the consequences that come because people will not heed God’s judgment “because their deeds were evil.” We see these consequences in slave rebellions such as that of Nat Turner, and in a bloody Civil War to end slavery, in the protests and rebellions of the late 1960s and following the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991.
Judgment comes even today as people erupt in protest in response to the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Judgment calls white America to account for its sins and to repent.
We affirm that God’s will is for sin to be redeemed and evil to be destroyed. Redemption demands repentance and conversion. The call to repentance requires that white people listen to the uncomfortable stories of the sin of their ancestors, to accounts that reveal their own racial sins continuing today, and to the voices of those victimized now. This is the call to assess the ways in which we can change our allegiance to the standards by which we judge ourselves and others. It is the call to repair the harms done by that discrimination. Repentance leads to reparation so that reconciliation can occur. The call is to make amends for racist wrongdoing and to build a new society in which race is not the basis for unjust discrimination. In this moment of crisis there is Kairos, a time in which a choice can be made for the reign of God rather than continuing the reign of sin.
We affirm that in Jesus Christ we see redemption, the restoration of right relationship with God and each other. Christ invites us to see in those whose dignity has been denied, the very presence of God (Matthew 25:31-46). In Christ’s way of life, the human dignity of all is recognized and affirmed.
We affirm that through the power of God’s own Spirit, we seek “a new heaven and a new earth” in which we partner with God to end racist inequities in policing, health care (especially evident in this time of pandemic), housing, education, agriculture, environmental health, wages, access to jobs, healthy food, and more. We commit ourselves to work for the day of justice when God “shall wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4). May it be so.
Memphis Theological Seminary Faculty, June 4, 2020