Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Take Not This Prayer in Vain

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Take Not This Prayer in Vain

Article excerpt

The Prayer of the 2013 Assembly

The theme of the 2013 assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." This theme, in reality, is a prayer of the Holy Spirit. It is a prayer that comes from the very heart of the triune God. If we are sincere about this prayer as an appropriate theme of the next WCC assembly, then we must be willing to submit ourselves in earnest to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit to ascertain whether or not we create impediments to the fulfillment of this prayer in our common life through our thoughts, words, and deeds. If we are honest with ourselves, we must be willing to admit that there probably are instances or occasions when we do hold thoughts, speak words, and commit deeds, not only as individuals but also as members of corporate bodies, that foster injustice and conflict rather than promote justice and peace.

As an African-American Christian female in the US, I am keenly aware of one particular impediment to the fulfillment of this holy prayer. That impediment is the persistence of racism and discriminatory acts which arise from it. I maintain that unless and until Christian churches are willing, with a sense of urgency, to take a greater leadership role in addressing this impediment to justice and peace, then we utter in vain this prayer of the next WCC assembly: "God of Life, lead us to justice and peace."

The Persistence of Racism in the US

The United States has been plagued by the problem of racism almost since its inception. It was racism that sustained the institution of hereditary slavery of African Americans well into the 19th century. It was racism that contributed to the fierce political battles between northern and southern states that finally culminated in a bloody civil war from 1861 to 1865. It was undoubtedly racism that contributed to the legalized practice of segregation in the south, which ensured that African Americans would be deprived systematically of economic, social, and political opportunities to participate fully in American life many decades after the Civil War. Undisputedly, it was also racism that fueled the violent resistance of southern whites to the attempts of African Americans to secure their socio-political fights as US citizens during the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, it is racism that has contributed to the emergence of a permanent, economic underclass of certain racial/ethnic minorities long after the civil rights movement faded into history.

In the past four or five years there have been attempts to posit the notion that United States has reached a "post-racial era." This notion has attained some traction in light of the successful election of the first African-American president of the US. As a student of both the abolitionist movement of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, I recognize that race relations have undoubtedly evolved since the days of chattel slavery and legalized segregation in the southern part of the US. (It must be acknowledged that de facto segregation existed in other parts of the country as well because of racial prejudice.) But neither the relatively positive evolution of race relations over the last fifty years nor the election of the first black president in 2008 constitutes a definitive sign that the US has reached a "post-racial era." We may have come a considerable way toward racial/ethnic justice in comparison to the past, but we certainly have a long, long way to go to achieve anything that resembles a post-racial era. For while it is true that racism led to the perpetuation of oppressive economic, social, and political structures, it is not true that the dissolution of those overtly oppressive structures has destroyed racism. As we have seen in contemporary times, the end of apartheid does not seem to have eradicated racism in South Africa and it is certainly true that the gains of the civil rights movement have not eradicated racism in the US. …

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