“White supremacy is evil and God does not compromise with evil or encourage incremental change convenient to the oppressor.” — Mike Kinman
On Monday, September 25th All Saints’ rector Mike Kinman was part of the International Ecumenical Hearing on Racism, Discrimination, Afrophobia and Xenophobia: The Experience of People of African Descent in the USA held in Geneva, Switzerland at the UN Human Rights Council.
Organized by the World Council of Churches — together with the National Council of The Churches of Christ in the USA — the live-streamed hearing was an opportunity to learn about the racial discrimination, xenophobia and afrophobia that people of African descent are experiencing in the USA, and acknowledge and reaffirm the role of faith communities as agents of transformative justice in the face of racial injustice.
You can watch the entire (over 2 hour) hearing here … The panel presentation begins at 49:30 on the timeline. Watch. Learn. Share. And let us continue to discern together how we are called to act to dismantle systems that privilege some to the death and detriment of others.
Here is the text of Mike’s testimony at the Hearing:
Testimony before the International Ecumenical Hearing on Racism, Discrimination, Afrophobia and Xenophobia: The Experience of People of African Descent in the USA. Sponsored by the World Council of Churches. Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, Switzerland.
My name is Mike Kinman. I am a husband. A father. An Episcopal priest serving as rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, USA. I am a white, American, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, wealthy, white, cis-gender male. You would be challenged to find privilege on this planet I do not possess.
And I am one more thing. I am a disciple of Jesus. And that last thing has to mean everything or else it means nothing. Following Jesus has to be the lens through which everything else is viewed, the source of all my actions and aspirations. And because I follow Jesus, I must hear and heed Paul when he writes to the Philippians:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied the divine self,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”
I hear Paul’s call to have the mind of Christ and I realize that Paul is talking about dismantling systems of privilege and supremacy. After all, Christ did not regard having equality with God – the ultimate privilege – as something to be grasped, but emptied the divine self. That’s not doing it just as a hobby or even a career but putting all that I am, all that I have, putting my very body on the line to destroy systems that privilege some to the detriment and death of others.
I read these words and I realize that THIS is the way God in Jesus Christ reconciles the world to herself. That God’s chosen way of reconciliation in Christ was not by being born in a palace but being born as a dark-skinned, refugee child in a police state where the leader had put a death sentence not only on his head but on the head of everyone like him. So, if I am to have the mind of Christ, I must look at what that reconciliation looks like for me.
Reconciliation is that process of sacramental atonement and reparation justice of which Dr. Carruthers spoke. And the first step is self-examination. That simply means I have to look around and see the world for how it is. And when I look around, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus echoes in my ear, and I see that a great chasm has been fixed between God and me, between God and America. It is the chasm we have allowed to be fixed by how I, others like me, and truly our entire nation for generations unto centuries have treated people of color.
We have to look around and name what we see. And not just see from the eyes of those whom our nation is set up to privilege but the eyes of those on whose backs, through whose blood, sweat and tears, but not for whose benefit her wealth has been built. And when we do, we see that white supremacy, police violence and the oppression and annihilation of people of color is culture and policy in the United States and has been from the beginning.
One of the dangers of what happened in Charlottesville last month is that it can distance people like me from white supremacy. Despite the fact that 58% of white American voters cast a ballot for a president who is an open and unrepentant white supremacist, a supporter of police violence, oppression and annihilation of people of color – most Americans would look at those who marched under swastikas in Charlottesville with disgust. In fact, most Americans use neo-Nazis and the Klan as a way of convincing ourselves that white supremacy is about someone else. That we are the good white people … and that since most of America is just like us – really nothing needs to change.
Except white supremacy is not just people marching with Nazi flags. It is that same ideology whispered instead of shouted. It is a nation that privileges whiteness and all that is Eurocentric to the diminishment of other races, ethnicities and cultures. It is a nation that believes that whiteness and white/Eurocentric ways of being are superior and that others must adapt to them because others are inferior.
White supremacy is how we equate education with whiteness. We equate financial savvy with whiteness. We equate sound, strategic thinking with whiteness, not realizing that there are other, non-Eurocentric models of these things that are equal or exceeding in beauty and effectiveness. White supremacy and its cousin, patriarchy, means at every level of our national life, that it is a whole lot harder to be taken seriously, to generate wealth, to be in leadership or even to keep breathing if you don’t look like me – a white male.
America has a system of policing that from the beginning has been designed to protect the bodies and property of the wealthy and white from the poor and black. Police use violence against people of color and police neighborhoods of color differently and more aggressively on micro and macro levels than white neighborhoods. People of color are much more in danger of being assaulted or killed by the police. We have a culture of police violence against people of color. Protect and serve is for white neighborhoods and white kids. If you are black, you get command and control.
America has a culture of oppression and annihilation of people of color. This has looked like different things at different stages of our history. From the genocide of our native populations to the mass incarceration and mass criminalization of people of color today and the use of ICE agents to terrorize Latinx neighborhoods and people. Many, if not most, cities have a line that divides rich from poor and that line is almost always a color line as well. On different sides of that line are vast disparities in not only income, health care, and education but life expectancy.
Yes, a great chasm has been fixed in our nation. It has been fixed for centuries and despite the best efforts of white America to convince ourselves it isn’t there, to convince ourselves of the truth of the American myth of equality and emancipation, we are still living on the plantation system and black America has yet to get her freedom papers. At the same time, brown America endures, in the words of Miguel de la Torre the genocide of “tens of thousands of Brown bodies dying along our southern border, attempting to follow the resources and cheap labor stolen from their home nations, and the millions of undocumented Latinas and Latinos who live in the shadows of Empire because their labor is wanted but not their physical presence.”
If I am, if we are to have the same mind in us that is in Christ Jesus. If we are to be reconciled to God and one another, we must look around see that a great chasm has been fixed in our nation and we must confess it as sin.
It is sin that if you look at my family and that of Dr. Leah Gunning Francis you see two families – both of which have one pastor and one teacher as parents. Both of which have two boys. We are alike in so many ways. And yet only one of us fears for the lives of our children. Fear of them dying quickly from police violence. Fear of them dying slowly from the toxicity of American culture and society to black men, women and gender nonconforming persons.
As America, we must take that deep look in the mirror. Tell the stories of past and present that need to be told, speak the truth that has to precede and follow reconciliation, and confess the deep sin of white supremacy that has fixed this chasm between us.
And scripture tells us that part of confession is lament. And so if we are to destroy the white supremacist systems in our nation. If we are to be healed from the sin of white supremacy. If we are to bridge the great chasm in our life we as white America must lament our participation in this sin … AND we must allow space for the lamentations of the people of color we have been torturing, enslaving and killing.
We must look at the young black and brown, often queer people in the streets crying “indict. Convict. Send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” We as white America must look at them as prophets of our own salvation. We must not only provide space for them to lament and wail and rage, we must give thanks for the gift they are giving us as they do it and follow their leadership into a new world order of equity, justice and love.
But that’s not all. Self-examination and confession is not enough. Before there can be absolution. Before that chasm can be closed there must be repentance and amendment of life. We must commit to reparation.
Reparation for the black bodies who were stolen from their homeland and had their labor tortured out of them to build the American economy that has generated the greatest wealth in the history of the world. Reparation for the brown bodies whose native lands we pauperized leaving no choice for them to follow the stolen wealth north over a border that crossed them. Reparation for the native bodies whom we slaughtered to steal their land and whose clam for basic human rights at places like Standing Rock is met with the same militarized violence that we see used against our black siblings in our cities, and against our brown siblings by ICE.
We must commit to reparation, to that African Marshall Plan of which Dr. Carruthers spoke. It is a lie that it is an economic impossibility. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that we will pay trillions of dollars to do violence to our siblings of color. Certainly, we can pay at least that much when the very soul of our nation is at stake.
Finally, we must commit to amendment of life. To living differently. To intentionally centering voices of color. To embracing non-Eurocentric methods of leadership and education. To following black leadership without condition and celebrating black power without fear.
A great chasm has been fixed in our nation. And we are in need of the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. There is no future for our nation or for this planet without reconciliation. And reconciliation takes self-examination. Confession. Repentance. Reparation. Amendment of life.
And we cannot do it alone. We need the world’s help. We need the world in love to hold America to the same standard of human rights that for generations we have taken such pride in trumpeting before the world. We need the world in love to call America out on our own human rights violations. On the militarization of every aspect of our life at home and abroad. On our white supremacy and colonialism, which has been and continues to be toxic to people of color both in our own land and around the world. On the great chasm between the aspirational values of freedom present in our founding documents and the police state present in our communities of color.
In all this I have great hope. I have great hope because I believe in God who so loves the world that she will not let anything stand in the way of her love.
But let us be clear. White supremacy is evil, and God does not compromise with evil or encourage incremental change convenient to the oppressor.
God did not tell Moses to write a strongly worded appeal to Pharaoh for reforms in the slavery system – God told Pharaoh: “Let my people go!” Because the stakes were high. Freedom or slavery. Life or death.
When we say Black Lives Matter we are affirming that this is not about some nuance of public policy, this is about life or death. That it has always been about life or death. It has always been about a choice. When Pilate put Jesus before the crowd, the choice he gave them was not “crucify him” or “incarcerate him for 8-10 years.” It was Jesus or Barabbas. Will you kill your Christ or not? Choose a side.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, God incarnate in a refugee child of color who was executed by the state. Destroying white supremacy and ending the assault on black and brown lives is not an opinion or a policy point. It is the Gospel. And that means it has to mean everything or it means nothing.
Paul says “have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
The side is ours to choose. Together.
Which side will we choose?