Lenten Meditation: February 27
The Multi Cultural center on the Kansas State campus has a collection of whiteboards upon which people are free to write encouraging and uplifting messages. According to a report in the K State student newspaper, these whiteboards might also be used for a less than uplifting purpose.
The paper reported that sometime yesterday persons unknown wrote white supremacist themed messages, denigrating Black History month in particular.
Racism and white supremacy are ongoing issue on campus. Last summer, in response to a racist tweet by a student, the Kansas State football team threatened to boycott unless a policy was created that would allow a student to be expelled for displaying “openly racist, threatening, or disrespectful actions.” The university president, Richard Myers, released a plan in early July to combat racism on campus. The plan had eight actions steps for students and three action steps for faculty. The student in question was not expelled and free speech was lifted up as the defense for that decision.
I am not aware of how of if any of these actions steps have been realized. The university has been battling Covid at the same time and student life has not been routine since this summer controversy occurred. What does seem the case is that, whatever action or inaction has transpired, the voices of racism and derision are still present.
The focus of Lent is the cross of Jesus Christ. At Trinity, we are exploring the meaning of this cross and of the life lost upon it. Why did Jesus die? To save us from our sin is the immediate answer, but how does he do this exactly? Over the centuries, theological minds have wrestled with this question. Among the candidates are these ideas: That we are sinners from the get go and are unable to be in relationship with God because God cannot look upon sin. So he, who was without sin, died in our place so that we might be restored to God. Another understanding is that we are in the grasp of Satan and other forces that enslave us- sin and death. But Christ, through his death on the cross- conquers the powers of satan sin and death and frees us. Still another understanding suggests that it was love and love alone that led to the cross, for God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that we might be saved through him.
This last theory is relevant to the incident at the multicultural center. The newspaper account included the graffiti “Repent and believe the Good News- John 3:16” among the white supremacy presence. Perhaps this was just a passing evangelist. But it is true that there is a very close relationship between white supremacy and White American Christianity.
Whether the writing was meant to be anti-Black or simply a witness, it is helpful in thinking about this incident. There is surely a need to repent. Those who wrote derisive comments about Black History at a multicultural center knew what they were doing. This is no more free speech that making a Jewish slur in the synagogue. While the multicultural center is “public space”, it is not ideologically neutral. It exists to foster understanding and tolerance and educate about cultural difference. To ridicule this mission to its face is clearly an unacceptable and heinous act. Any understanding of the Jesus of the gospels would understand that Jesus was on the side of multiculturalism- reaching out to Jews and Gentiles, women and men, and especially the marginalized and the ridiculed. So yes, repent and believe the good news.
But that is not what John 3:16 says. John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is, indeed, good news. A good news that flies in the face of any racist or white supremacist expression. The cross has been variously understood in the Bible and throughout Christian history but never once has it been suggested or should it be suggested that Jesus died for white people or that God so loved only a certain part of the world and not the whole world in its multicultural magnificence.
So thank you, graffiti writer, for reminding us of this. As long as racism claws its way into our safe spaces of support, repentance is necessary. As long as there are those who choose love over hate and the world over race, the empty cross will remain our symbol of hope.
Learn more about Jim Bob Morris and the Morris Multicultural Center here.