I am a middle-aged White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) man who was born and raised in the United States of America. This designation gave me privileges I didn’t ask for and often did not realize I had. It is easy for people like me to see our experience as normative and to lack understanding of the impact and consequences of our actions and the privileges we enjoy.
Fortunately, I was raised in an anti-racist family and have benefited from numerous anti-racism training experiences and close, personal friendships with people of color. These life experiences have challenged my assumptions and made me question my privilege. As a result, I am committed to the cause and task of ending racism, but the responsibility falls on every one of us. As white supremacy and white nationalism have reemerged in a new and ugly manner, it is crucial racism be called out, named, and stopped. This will require individual soul-searching, community truth and reconciliation processes, and a national plan of action. It won’t go away by itself.
Racism touches every single person in our nation in some way. It is insidiously woven into the fabric of our society. Millions of people face enormous disparities in health, wealth and opportunity because of the color of their skin. Our criminal-justice system treats people of color unfairly on a regular and routine basis. Hatred and fear mar too many of our daily encounters with one another. This is the reality, the truth we must acknowledge and address.
If we cannot bring an end to racism and straightforwardly confront the legacy of slavery and the reality of white privilege, the United States will not only fail to reach its true potential and live out its professed ideals, it will destroy itself.
However, there is another way and now is the time for us to forge ahead on a new path that ends racism.
This is the mantle that the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is picking up. NCC is a grouping of 38 Christian denominations with 30 million members in more than 100,000 local congregations. We are undertaking a racial justice truth-telling initiative that will be launched on April 4 with the “ACT to End Racism” rally on the National Mall in D.C.
Since 1950, the NCC has served as a leading voice of ecumenical witness, unifying a diverse covenant community of 38 member communions and over 40 million individuals, 100,000 congregations from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American and Living Peace traditions, in a common commitment to advocate and represent God’s love and promise of unity in our public square. NCC shares with secular and interfaith partners to advance a shared agenda of peace, progress, and positive change. About half of the membership of the NCC is African American. This is the venue in which Black and White Christians come together to seek an end to racism.
The NCC itself has a story to be shared and a past to be reckoned with. An early supporter of Dr. King and the civil rights struggle, the Council showed enormous courage at first in the fight against racism. Sadly, when the civil rights movement began to address issues of African-American economic empowerment and attempted to grapple with the fraught issue of reparations, NCC faced tremendous pushback and withdrew some of its support.
Now, we have a chance to fix this. April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great civil rights leader whose voice was silenced too early. His dream of a beloved community lives on and to mark the occasion the ACT to End Racism rally will begin a renewed effort to decisively and conclusively end racism in our nation. We will begin with an early morning silent march led by a single drummer from the MLK Memorial on the Tidal Basin to the site of the rally.
Upon arrival at the stage, an interfaith service will be held. Immediately afterward comes the rally itself, featuring speakers and music.
The NCC will be joined by the Conference of National Black Churches, Sojourners, the African American Clergy Network, the Franciscan Action Network, the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism, the Mennonite Central Committee, Churches Uniting in Christ, Religions for Peace USA and many other organizations at the rally. We are united. We are determined. We are going to do our part to end racism.
Today, the task of the faith community is to step forward, hold itself accountable, and live out our professed beliefs that God loves each and every one of us equally. Let’s get to it.
Jim Winkler is general secretary and president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.