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What does religion say about racism?

I remember when I was wondering whether I would have marched during the civil rights

movement. While I hoped the answer would have been “yes,” it honestly felt like a moot

point at the time. Growing up in a predominantly white community in the Midwest gave

me the impression that racism was a thing of the past. Overt signs of prejudice were

rare. Racist jokes were generally considered to be in bad taste. And people tended to

point to one or two people of color they knew as evidence of living in a post-racial


As a result of my experience, for much of my life I operated under the assumption that

the dream of racial equality that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, and civil rights

activists marched for, had already been realized. Yes, ghosts of America’s racist past

still made an appearance from time to time, but it seemed to me the nightmare of

injustice and inequality experienced by people of color was over. From my perspective,

we had reached a point where opportunities for education, employment, health, wealth,

and fair treatment by the criminal justice system were not impacted by the color of one’s

skin. And my assessment of this actualized state of American society aligned with the

outlook held and articulated by those around me.

As a result, the question I had when I was younger about how I would respond to

movements advocating for equality and justice for people of color remained largely


But I am becoming aware that this question for white Americans today is as relevant

now as it was during the Civil Rights Era, during the time of Jim Crow, during the time of

Black Codes, and during the time of slavery. At all these points in our past, the vast

majority of white Americans believed there was nothing wrong with the treatment of

people of color in our country. Consequently, the existence of racism has been met

over the course of our country's history with either defense of it, indifference towards it,

or outright denial. And regardless of which of those responses has been most prevalent

at any given time, invariably confessing the reality of racism and addressing its impact

through changes in practices and policies has been widely resisted by white Americans.

While I am grateful I was raised to believe that the racism in our past was wrong, I am

now recognizing how important it is for me to expand upon what I have understood

about racism. Not only was racism in our past wrong, it is also wrong to believe that

racism no longer negatively impacts people of color in our country.

What I have missed as a white man--learning, socializing, and worshiping in majority

white communities--I am becoming aware of through stories and statistics. Statistics

showing the significant disparities that exist today for people of color accessing health

care, education, and employment as well as opportunities for economic mobility and

wealth accumulation. Such statistics are embodied with names and faces through

stories I’ve heard from people of color. These stories tell of vastly different experiences

than I have had, from things as simple as how one is looked at and treated when

shopping to things as systemic as what it was like trying to get a home loan or what

interactions with the police have looked like.

These sources of information--statistics and stories--teach me that not only have all

lives not mattered equally in the past, all lives still do not matter equally today in our


As I Christian, I believe that all people bear the image and likeness of God. Therefore,

whether all people’s lives matter is not the question for me. It’s also not a question to

me if historically all lives have mattered equally in our country--clearly they have not.

The relevant question for me now is how I will respond to the current movement for

racial justice and equality so that black lives will finally matter as much in our society as

white lives always have.

Rev. Ben Konecny

Minister, Head of Programs

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