Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . .
In a time when words can feel like weapons, it’s a relief to be on the receiving end of words of truth spoken in love. While the words themselves may not be easy to hear, the love with which they are spoken allows us to receive them. They help us to grow up and grow in the likeness of Christ. For it is truth, Christ reminds us, that sets us free.
Twice this week I have experienced true words spoken (or in one case, written) in love, and twice they have given me hope and a greater sense of personal responsibility for our collective future.
The first truth in love experience was in reading an article written by anti-racist scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi entitled: The End of Denial: Is This the Beginning of the End of American Racism?
If you are familiar with Dr. Kendi’s work you know that he minces no words when describing the devastating legacy and societal wide impact of racism. Yet he writes with an appreciation for the complexity and multidimensional reality of human nature and history. For him to suggest that we might be at the beginning of racism’s end is incredibly hopeful. “We are living in the midst of an anti-racist revolution,” he writes.
He likens the possibility of this moment to another in our history when “a large swath of Americans walked away from a history of racial denial.” In the1850s, as slaveholders in the South sought to expand their reach both North and West, increasing numbers of white Americans could no longer deny or ignore slavery’s horrors. Similarly, a growing number of Americans are now moving beyond ignorance and apathy to face the devastating truth about racial inequities we have long denied.
The second word of truth spoken in love came from Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who on August 10 addressed all Episcopal bishops via video conference
“I am cautiously optimistic,” he said.
He spoke directly about the danger of rising COVID-19 cases across the country, yet emphasized his belief that we can bring infection rates down. To do so, we must all agree to do three things: wear masks when in public, keep physical distance, and avoid crowds. When planning events of any kind, particularly worship, outdoors is always better than indoors.
The next several weeks is our golden opportunity, he said with a note of urgency, before cold weather returns to much of the country and flu season begins. He is cautiously optimistic that we can do it, if we work together. “I regret,” he said, “that some perceive public health measures as an obstacle to worship, when these measures are meant to provide a gateway to worship safely.”
I’m struck by the juxtaposition of those two words: cautiously optimistic. It conveys hope and at the same time underscores our responsibility to live in such a way that we might realize a preferred future.
There’s a similar note of cautious optimism in Dr. Kendi’s work, tinged with real concern that we might settle for the removal of racist monuments, and even the defeat of a racist president, but avoid the more challenge work of dismantling anti-racist policies. But Dr. Kendi ends his article in hope that we, as a people, might realize we are at a point of no return: “No returning to the bad old habit of denial. No returning to cynicism. No returning to normal—the normal in which racist policies, defended by racist ideas, lead to racial inequities.”
Dr. Kendi reminds us that abolishing slavery in 1850 seemed as impossible as abolishing racial inequities does today. But what seems impossible can happen, if we don’t give up. Likewise, Dr. Fauci ended our conversation urging us not to lose hope. “This pandemic will end. Our actions now can help.”
As Christians, of course we pray for deliverance from this pandemic and for an end to the racial inequities that cause so much pain. But while we receive in prayer assurance of divine presence, guidance and strength, God gives us back the work. “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling,” St. Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians, “for God is the one who enables you both to want to and to live out His good purposes.”
How wonderful it would be to know that we are at the beginning of the end of racism in this country, and the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Surely that is God’s preferred future. The truth, spoken to us in love, is that it is our responsibility to make it so.