30 March 2023

"Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace"


The problem with building your peacemaking on what you're against and not what you're for is that you're always prepared for a fight and always looking for an enemy.

But that's the thing. Neither response is truly peacemaking.

— Osheta Moore, Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace.

Osheta Moore has written not only an important book, but what some may consider an impossible book. In Dear White Peacemakers, Osheta calls us to fight racism while remaining true to the peacemaking ethic set forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a smart and compelling work, and Osheta’s voice is both honest and hopeful. I benefited greatly from Dear White Peacemakers.

— Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.

I've rarely seen the words "anti-racism" and "peacemaking" in the same sentence, so when I heard about Osheta Moore's book during a visit to North Seattle Friends Church last month, I had to read it for myself. The book has been out for nearly two years, so you may well have seen it long before I did. However, just in case you haven't, here are some of my thoughts.

Moore's book reminded me of R.W. Tucker's logic in his essay "Revolutionary Faithfulness": In contrast to secular results-oriented pacifists, he says, ...

A Christian, as Friends have understood the word, is someone who elects now to live as though the world were Christian. He [sic] will remain a committed person though the heavens fall, because his inward condition demands it of him. He ardently hopes to end war—a political change—but he would continue a pacifist though certain his efforts would never bear any fruit at all.

Similarly, Moore's vision of anti-racist work, from her Anabaptist perspective, is embodied in a vision of all of us as the Beloved of God. In other words, she "elects to live" under the assumption that the Gospel of Grace is trustworthy and true for everyone. Her book is drenched in grace, and she addresses her imperfect readers as "Beloved." With endearing vulnerability, she reveals her own failures as well.

Tucker's essay doesn't shy away from addressing sentimentalized and class-bound versions of pacifism. Likewise, the "grit" of Moore's subtitle indicates that the grace she constantly holds up doesn't come cheap. 

I'm interested in dismantling white supremacy in order to build up something better for you and for me. I'm interested in the peacemaking North Star of the Beloved Community. This is our third way of anti-racism—not the cheap grace of the racial reconciliation movement and not the callous grit of anti-racism work apart from Jesus, but the Beloved Community that holds us accountable to be in right relatedness to each other and create an environment where we can all thrive.

White peacemakers engaged in anti-racist work—that is, those who accept Moore's gracious and gritty guidance—will learn not to indulge in the kind of self-flagellating shame that can actually become gratifying, nor will we get off the hook by appropriating Black culture instead of absorbing and appreciating it—and appreciating its capacity for joy as well as grief. 

But grief is there. "To be Black in America is to be constantly grieving," Moore writes. The shattering instances of recent American history—Mother Emanuel AME Church, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, just to jog (often too episodic) memories—are part of a dense pattern of daily reality.

What you're seeing in this moment, White Peacemaker, is not just a great racial reckoning, it is an invitation to grieve. To listen to our collective bodies, to hold, see, and share in grief. To mourn with us, as we mourn.

We're not just invited to "understand," we're invited into a definite discipline: to squelch defensiveness and minimization; to say "I'm sorry" and "I'm listening."

As peacemakers, we're tasked with identifying with our Prince of Peace who overcame our bloodthirsty enemy by shedding his own blood—selflessness and love flows from the cross and lays out our chosen path, humility. "I'm sorry" tames the anger. "I'm sorry" respects the pain. "I'm sorry" positions you as a friend and not adversary.

"I'm listening" because we're called to be reconcilers. Like Jesus reconciled us to the Father—it's a painful process. A denying process. A humiliating process. But a kingdom process, nonetheless. "I'm listening" says, "Yes, I have an opinion, and yes, I have strong feelings, and yes, this makes me feel more than a little helpless, but I'm going to press into this specific pain and listen."

I'm mostly quoting passages that feature Moore in teaching mode. But some of the most powerful pages are her own stories, her own experiences, her encounters with the all-too-familiar shock of racism near and far. Maybe most instructive of all are her stories of both insensitivity and generosity among those who want to be (and, thanks to grace, usually are) her allies. It was wonderful and so bittersweet to encounter the late Rachel Held Evans once again in these pages.

Among the most valuable chapters in this book are Moore's thoughts on reconciliation and forgiveness (in private and in public) and the important distinction between them.

While forgiveness is vital to a life lived in love, we must also love ourselves enough not to subject ourselves to ongoing retraumatization. Jesus' way of love opens the door to reconciliation, but it's not a guarantee. People are also free to continue in their sin, and it isn't healthy for us to join ourselves to them while they are in that state.

Moore's book is 335 pages of diagnosis and healing, both compassionate and blunt, delivered with humor, passion, anger, zero manipulation, and much hope. Believe me, there's a lot I've left out. If you haven't read it yet, see for yourself.

Another review of Moore's book. And another.

Peter Wehner's brief and blunt assessment of the significance of Trump's indictment today.

A long but fascinating and sobering essay by Rebekah Mui on "complementarian sexual 'asymmetry'," via Kristin Du Mez. (I couldn't help thinking of Sarah Ruden's Paul Among the People.)

And now for something completely different: Tory Bruno reveals the secrets of rocket design.

A rerun of one of my favorite videos: Magic Slim with the Blue Jeans Band in Brazil. Note Junior Moreno on drums and harmonica!

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