Sunday, February 21
In Luke Chapter 2 we read: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
Jesus’s face as created by artificial intelligence Artbreeder software and Bas Unterwijk. (Image: Bas Unterwijk )
In Stoney the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls our attention to the use of imagery as a tool of racist oppression. “The difference between the circulation of racist images of black people before and after the war, especially after Reconstruction, is the jaw-dropping extent of its sheer numbers, its remarkable reproducibility. Repetition of a range of offensive character types—ostensibly of “Negroes”—was an attempt to fabricate and stabilize a single black image, “the Negro,” to reduce the complexity of actual black human beings and funnel it into fixed, unchangeable signifiers of blackness that even black people would see when they saw themselves reflected in America’s social mirror.”
The church has a history of cooperation in the oppression of non-white peoples demonstrated in the ubiquity of European imagery of Biblical people. The blonde Jesus of Warner Sallman’s Christ at Heart’s Door or his Christ’s Head hang in many of our churches. The paintings done in the 1940’s reinforce the dominant culture’s appropriation of biblical imagery and implicitly or explicitly are in accordance with the racial hierarchy established post-reconstruction and affirmed in the negative imagery of Gate’s passage, yet biblical people were persons of color.
Action step: today, with brutal honesty review the images present in your church, don’t overlook the most dangerous spaces: libraries, Sunday School rooms, and social halls. If you have stained glass, does it portray Jesus and other biblical figures as Europeans? The covers of your Sunday School materials, the books in the library, the three dimensional representations of the nativity that are put out at Christmas, how many of these reinforce a false narrative of white dominance?
Lord, help us to persist although we want to give up.
Lord, help us to keep trying although we can’t see what good it does.
Lord, help us to keep praying although we’re not sure you hear us.
Lord, help us to keep living in ways that seek to do you will.
Lord, help us to know when to lead and when to follow.
Lord, help us to know when to speak and when to remain silent.
Lord, help us to know when to act and when to wait.
Marian Wright Edelman shared by UMC Discipleship’s Praying for Change: Daily Prayers for Anti-Racism Email on Nov. 5, 2020