This fall the theme of our adult Christian education program is Telling God’s Story/Telling Our Story. In light of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month I’d like to share with you part of my story as it relates to race, and my thoughts on the Beloved Community and what God calls us to do.
I grew up in Pasadena, Texas. Pasadena’s claim to fame then was that it was the location of Gilley’s Night Club. Gilley’s is long gone and the Pasadena I grew up in is long gone also. When I was young Pasadena was less a suburb of Houston and more a working class city all its own with a downtown, a vibrant shopping mall, and old neighborhoods on the north side where my father grew up and new subdivisions on the south side of the city where I grew up.
I was born on March 2nd and my mother never failed to remind me that it was also Texas Independence Day. As a youth my favorite subject was history, especially Texas history and the American Civil War. One of the highlights of my childhood was visiting the Bull Run/Manassas battleground outside of Washington D.C. My favorite Confederate general was Robert E. Lee. In 2011 I visited his burial site at Washington and Lee University. Through my reading and my own experience I am aware of the complicated feelings many people have about the Civil War, the South, and Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate leaders. In my youth I have to admit I did not give much thought to the reasons that we endured a Civil War though I knew at the root of it was the institution of slavery.
One thing I remember about growing up in Pasadena is that the KKK had a bookstore on Red Bluff road near Hwy 225 near the refineries and the drive-in movie theater. It was a white building with “Ku Klux Klan” written in large red letters on the front. Maybe that is why the population of Pasadena was predominantly white Anglos. There were some Hispanics and a few Asian people. In my experience African-Americans didn’t live in Pasadena, or at least attend my high school. Pasadena had four high schools at the time. I graduated from Sam Rayburn High School with a class of 425 people or so and there was not a single African-American in my class. There was one black person at Sam Rayburn and he was Panamanian. I did not have any African-American friends and had few Hispanic ones. I did not know an African-American person until I was seventeen years old and worked as a telemarketer in an office on the north side of the city which by my late teen tears was becoming more ethnically diverse.
The telemarketing firm for which I worked mostly employed older teenage males many of whom were Hispanic, and a few were African American. Our office manager was a twentysomething African-American from New Orleans. Working in this office was the most integrated experience I had had in my life up to that point. Due to the diversity of race, ethnicity, and class we often engaged in discussions about race. Through these conversations, and sometimes, vehement arguments, I became aware of other points of view I had never considered or even knew about.
After I left to go to school in Austin, the city of Pasadena began to change. White people moved out and Hispanics and African-Americans began moving into the neighborhoods in which the members of my family lived. The signs in businesses that used to be in English changed to Spanish. The Episcopal Church in the older part of the city of where my family attended began to transition from being primarily Anglo to Hispanic. When changes like these happen it can be disconcerting. It can be upsetting. At the time it felt like a part of my life had been lost.
I narrate my own story to acknowledge that I am not without prejudice. I come from a particular time, place, and people in which certain ideas about race and ethnicity were passed on to me implicitly or explicitly. Though I have changed through the years and have tried to leave these ideas behind, I still fail in this area of my life. From time to time I fall back on old prejudices and stereotypes.
When it comes to the events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia it must be said that racism, anti-Semitism, and Nazism are wrong and are completely opposed to the Gospel. The symbols carried in the marches, flags with swastikas and Confederate battle flags do not represent a “heritage.” They represent systems of slavery and genocide.
Though we are removed by geography from the events in Charlottesville members of the nationalist/white supremacist movement until recently pursued plans to have a rally here in Bryan/College Station and targeted Texas A&M as the location. At this time the rally has been postponed. We now have some time to reflect and think about our own lives and our responses to such possible events.
All of us have our own story when it comes to race based on our life experiences. We all have ideas about race. We can ask ourselves whether our ideas about race and ethnicity are based on stereotypes and prejudices, or based on the truth that all people are made in God’s image and that Christ came to redeem all people.
Moreover, as Christians God calls us to witness to this truth. As rector of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, one of the oldest churches in Bryan/College Station, which is located in the downtown of a diverse city, I feel it is incumbent for me to make my voice heard on this issue. I also believe we are called as Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church to make it clear that racism and white supremacy are contrary to the Gospel and the values of the Beloved Community.
This is an uncertain, confusing, and emotional moment in our lives, but I trust that God is with us and leading us. With that confidence I ask that we not be afraid to examine our lives when it comes to race, act on the principle that all people are made in God’s image, and engage in the work of reconciliation in our communities. As we do so I ask everyone to pray for one another, and for the cities of Bryan/College Station, and for the whole human family.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth especially the cities of Bryan and College Station. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Daryl T. Hay, Rector +