I was born into the church, specifically the United Methodist Church. I was baptized as a baby, went through confirmation in middle school, and sang in the church choir as a teenager. I came to understand the church as an extension of my family - a place to gather for food, fellowship, prayer, and support. I learned about grace and how to extend it to others. I was taught that everyone was welcome and that God loved us all. My church was not perfect, but it was my home--an idealized home--where love and kindness dwelled among imperfect people.
It wasn’t until college that I learned that my vision of church was limited and even naive. My local church was good to me but I met college friends that found the church to be hostile and hurtful. I learned that some friends had been kicked out of church for who they were. I came to realize that church for many was hateful, judgmental, and blatantly hypocritical. I met other church friends who deeply believed that their way was the only way to be “Church” and that way seemed to lack the kindness and grace I had come to expect. I was naive, but it was during this time that I woke up to the realization that Church was a source of pain for many. And in fact, the church could perpetuate many of the sins it stood against.
I’ve woken up a lot over the years to the injustices and failures of the Church. I’ve seen how the Church not only participated in the oppression of others but benefited from it as well. In the process, I have come to realize that I have supported and perpetuated the things I hate. I have benefited and participated in the racism, hatred, and harm of the Church. It was my home after all.
In her book, “Waking Up White,” Debby Irving recounts her own story of seeing how she has benefited from a world that has always been in her favor. She tells how she “wakes up” as a white woman to her own participation in racism. She wakes up to the realization that the home culture she grew up in was a direct result of years of oppression and pain for others, particularly black and brown people.
Debby Irving calls her new awareness “waking up.” I have also heard those who realize their place in racism as becoming, “woke.” If I put it in the language of the church I grew up in, I might call it being “born again.” Being born again is to see the world in a different way--a liberative way, where I am freed to see the injustices that result from my own participation in the sin of racism, hatred, homophobia, greed, etc. Being born again might be a spiritual endeavor but it has physical consequences. I cannot be more holy without making the world more whole. I cannot have a new life unless I recognize the old systems of racism and oppression within me and let them die. I must dismantle and let go of the comfortable places I have grown up in, even places I might call my home.
This summer I’m leading a small group of church members, community members, and friends in reading “Waking Up White.” We are exploring how white people continue to have privileges not afforded by our black and brown brothers and sisters because of racism. It’s a small step in a long process of waking up to the injustices that benefit our lives. In the process some of my old ways will have to die, but I pray that in that death I might find new life--and a new church--being born in me and my community.