Living With Pain and Shame (A Personal Reflection)

CBAC Executive Minister Dr. Peter Reid wrote this in response to the events of the past few weeks, including the murder of black people, ongoing racial discrimination, and systemic racism in the United States of America. Canada is not exempt from this, and we need to talk about it in our own neighbourhoods as well.

Today I live with a profound sense of pain and shame.

The pain I currently experience is the pain of hearing that yet another black person has been snuffed out of existence by someone who has promised to protect citizens.”

It is the pain of knowing full well that in the dysfunctional and systemic racist culture of North America, apparently some lives matter more than others.

It is the pain of knowing that after five hundred years of supressing black people, indigenous people, and people of color, the evil and demonic power structures that dominate and control our society are still powerful.

For me it is also the pain of knowing that I (we) too often choose to forget or simply ignore the “Good News” of the Gospel. The cross of Jesus Christ was meant to tear down demonic power structures. It is the pain of knowing that “whiteness” and privilege perpetuates the subjugation of people of color and devalues human life on this planet.

All this and so much more cause me pain because I know the Gospel, the very mystery of the Kingdom of God, was designed to empower people and to destroy the dividing walls of racism, privilege and power. The Good News is that through the cross of Jesus Christ, there is victory over class and race barriers which are part of the demonic power and authority structures of a fallen, broken world.

To the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Eph. 2:14-16 NIVUK)

Paul refers to this as the “mystery” of the Gospel, a mystery into which he was given special insight:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 3:6)

In fact, Paul claims that the Church has been mandated to proclaim and live out this mystery in a way that challenges demonic power structures.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Eph. 3:10-11)

We join together at the foot of the Cross as one people, one body, one newly created humanity, the people of God, a wonderful mosaic of people who celebrate the dignity and humanity of all.

Together, and only together do we reflect the fullness of the “imago dei.” Our hearts should be broken and full of pain. Listen again to Paul’s reference to the impact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

And again, to the church in Galatia:

 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus came and died for this. And until we proclaim this, until we work for this, until we see this fulfilled, we are not really living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he intended.

At the start of this message, I talked about the pain I feel. Now I have to say a word about the shame I feel.

It is a personal shame, the shame of silence, the shame of inactivity, the shame of not speaking up and, the shame of not acting in ways that show solidarity with our black sisters and brothers here in Atlantic Canada. I speak specifically of the African United Baptist Association that has long felt the sting and effect of racism in the wider culture and too often in the family of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Too many times I have privately been “righteously indignant” when racism continues all around us while not speaking up. How many times have I said nothing as police continue to “card” African Canadians, indigenous people and people of colour? When have I spoken out as African Nova Scotians are singled out for simply, “driving while black”? What about the systemic racism that causes store employees and management to follow shoppers due to the color of their skin?

I know how guilty I am of enjoying white privilege, while at the same time not really trying to walk a mile in my sister’s or brother’s shoes. Am I really willing to walk with my sisters and brothers in the ongoing pain, or to speak out against the systemically racist ways of the dominant culture?

I was born and raised in a province where Baptist Churches often built balconies to separate black people from the rest of the worshippers. I grew up in a place where an entire group of people were pushed from their homes and their community razed to the ground—Africville. This is a place where Viola Desmond found herself arrested for having the audacity of not accepting her “place” in the theatre balcony.

Today, I wear this shame. Today I own this shame. I am not trying to deflect or blame anyone else. Simply by being white, being silent, and being action-less, I stand guilty with all white people who stand idly by when the police kill another black person like George Floyd or when I don’t demand answers to the untimely death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto this past week.

Repentance is about changing direction, changing actions, and changing the way I live. It goes beyond asking for forgiveness, into a new way of living with my sisters and brothers in Christ as Jesus intended, as one new humanity. It is about living the Gospel in ways that testify to the dignity and worth of every person.

Black Lives Matter. This truth should grip the imagination and heart of every person who follows Jesus. It should cause us to act in ways that honour and elevate all people everywhere.

Maybe, just maybe, if I feel this pain deeply and experience this shame powerfully, it will be enough to move me to action.

God help me! God help us!