Friday, April 04, 2008

The Disease of Racism

Friday, April 4, 2008 -- Week of 2 Easter
(Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Leader, 1968)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 959)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) 134, 135 (evening)
Exodus 16:22-36
1 Peter 3:13 - 4:6
John 16:1-15

"Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God." (John 16:2)

Forty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. I remember the confusion and anger and violence. I remember the celebration among some of my friends, gleeful that somebody finally gave that nigger what was coming to him.

The previous Sunday, March 31, 1968, Dr. King was the preacher at our own church, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He left there for Memphis to support the right of the sanitation workers to have a union and to strike for better wages. Workers were paid just over the $1.60/hr. minimum wage, paid no overtime, unpaid when weather or holidays interfered with collection -- but more than that, they were treated with contempt and disrespect by their white managers, who were paid during non-working days. Dr. King's speech to the leaders of the Memphis strike is replayed annually, a speech where he remembered his mountaintop experience and opined that he may not make it with them to the the Promised Land, but he had seen seen it, and was confident that one day, his people would be free at last.

"Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep you conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:14-17)

Last night PBS aired another show in the series "Unnatural Causes," reporting on the rates of illness and death that are related to social and economic systems rather than simple medical conditions. There were several remarkable conclusion from the studies that the program followed. One series of studies shows that racism in America causes low birthweight and complications for African-American babies, regardless of the economic or educational levels of the parents. Another traces the decreasing health patterns of Latino immigrants the longer they live in this country and absorb the effects of our cultural bias.

Racism and discrimination make people unhealthy. The oppression of being less valued has profound health effects. We can see these patterns among the poor, but it is even more striking among people of color. The hostility that they absorb in a dominant white culture makes their babies weak and their grown-ups sick.

In John's gospel we read that the work of the Holy Spirit -- the Advocate, the Helper -- "will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment." By the Spirit God convicts us by exposing, as light revealing sin. God calls us to righteousness, and judges our evil. The scourge and evil of racism continues to infect our hearts and bodies.

At this moment a punitive, racist bill authored by Representatives Shuler and Tancredo (HR 4088) is trying to be brought to the floor of the US House of Representatives without committee review, debate, or amendment. Representative Boozman has already signed the discharge petition to try to pass this flawed bill without proper debate and review. Trying to solve the immigration problems by enforcement only is just another manifestation of the sickness of racism that has weakened and shamed our nation from its founding. Trying to do it without debate is another abuse of power by the dominant. Everything that Christ lived for is insulted in such actions.

What would Jesus say? What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say? They might say something closer to what the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has said about the flawed immigration system, urging legislation which would:
  • permit the orderly entry of legal workers to the US to respond to recognized labor force needs;
  • ensure that close family members be allowed to enter or be reunited with individuals legally entering the US to accept employment;
  • permit undocumented migrants residing in the US at the time of the enactment of legislation to pursue legal residence and eventual citizenship if they are employed or responding to an offer of employment; and
  • ensure that migrants working legally in the US be granted the rights and benefits according US workers, including the right to change employment.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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