Cities and communities, he said, are often the places where structural and systemic matters of racial access, inclusion, equity, and justice are experienced or denied. And the Church, he said, must acknowledge its role in maintaining this structure in order to effectively minister in cities.
"For any Gospel-centered city movement to have integrity and relevance, the matter of race must be addressed. And so you might ask, where do we start, where does one begin in this?
"We begin by recognizing that the nature of the problem is the matter of the spirit for which we are uniquely equipped to speak both in terms of repentance for the part that the Church has actively or passively played in the problem. And in recognition of the prophetic role that the Church has played in the struggle. We must begin there by speaking to the matter of our complicity in the problem. Our historic complicity," he said.
"If you want to catch a glimpse of that, there is a movie called 'The Birth of a Nation.' It's the story of Nat Turner, Nat Turner was a preacher of the Gospel and there are scenes in it of how the slave master would pimp Nat Turner to go and preach to the slaves to keep them docile. And to accept slavery as God's ordained Word. This was the Church at its worst. If you are part of a denomination that has Southern attached to it, you recognize that the history is the reason why it was Southern was over the issue of slavery," he added.
"And yet, we also know that the Church spoke prophetically in the abolition movement, in the civil rights movement and even today. And at the root of what we are facing is a sin problem," Alexander explained.
For reconciliation to occur, however, the Church must recognize what reconciliation requires, Alexander argued.
"Reconciliation cannot be some amorphous wish that ignores, or downplays or discounts, the actual wounding, the actual event. As much as I would like to, when couples comes in for couples counseling, as much as I would like to just wave a magic wand and everything will be alright, if I don't deal with the actual events that created the wounding, no healing will happen no matter how much Scripture I quote, how much oil I pour out.
"If I do not dig up, unearth and address the actual events that created the wounding, so that the person who wounded would not do anything that can even look like that anymore, because what happens is, in those instances, as soon as the aggrieved sees anything that looks like it, that is it," he said. "If you don't know what it looks like, you can't bring the healing. And so, we have to know, we have to be able to get in touch with the history, and many of us … were not educated when it comes to this."
Reconciliation, Alexander said, requires a historical understanding of race in America.
"Because we don't have a historical understanding then we don't appreciate the contemporary manifestations of what we face. We can't deal with income inequality properly because we don't understand that when, if you were given free land and free labor, how you could make money. But then, once your free labor is cut off, they are not given reparations, but you are, because you no longer hold the slave — think about that. The persons who got money after slavery were not the slaves. It was the slave-owner. Consider that," he said to the diverse audience at the event.
"Consider that the G.I. Bill, which is believed to be the single most [effective] piece of legislation to create the middle class for soldiers coming out of World War II, that did not apply to soldiers of color. The single most piece of legislation designed to create economic opportunity," he continued. "Consider in the 1800s a case was brought by a Chinese person against a white, the California Supreme Court said, and this became a national holiday, no person of color could testify against someone white. This is what's in the ground."
He added: "And in 1968, the Southern strategy was put in place with the code word 'law and order' and that was a code that for everybody, especially in the South, who did not like these minorities ... we're gonna get them back in line. That's what's in the ground. So when you talk about how people view law enforcement differently, when you talk about income inequality, when you talk about how certain neighborhoods are. ...
"Unless we know the history, we can't understand the contemporary anger, the contemporary frustration, or even just how difficult it is to address the matter in a contemporary way."
Bishop Alexander then made the following recommendations for churches to confront racism:
- Educate: There is an ignorance of history in terms of the depth and extent of domestic terror, neglect, etc., that occurred within America. Many of our contemporary issues are outgrowth of the unreconciled past. An example is the tension between law enforcement and communities of color.
- Vision and Values Formation: The Church must be unabashed in its proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Shalom of God. It must uphold the values of justice, righteousness, corporate responsibility, communal repentance and lament, sacrifice, and neighborliness.
- Creating a safe space for people to wrestle with the difficulty of communal sin, communal repentance, and communal responsibility.
- Cross-congregational work may include pulpit exchanges, shared service projects and worship experiences, utilization of arts, movies, and literature to foster increased dialogue and understanding.
- Shared advocacy that results from collective research, understanding, discernment and prioritization around matters of civic and community consequence should also be pursued.
- Collectively calling the questions that enhance the sensitivity and raise the consciousness within the community such as the question about equity.
- Properly exercising the influence that we have with key leaders of institutions who are members of our congregations.