In the Christian faith, we celebrate Pentecost today. In the Book of Acts, in chapter 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples. Peter boldly preaches to a gathered crowd. His text is from the Old Testament prophet, Joel. It reads:
“In the last days, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:17-21)
The Spirit, in Joel and in Acts, is doing a new thing. In Acts, it was the birth of the Church. What is the Spirit doing today?
As we look around at the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and see the protest taking place around the country (and around the world), there is a growing cry for justice and a call for the dismantling of racist thoughts and actions- as well as the systemic racism that allows racist thoughts and actions to exist.
As Christians (especially White Christians) who follow Jesus and celebrate Pentecost, we see that the Spirit was (and is) poured out on men AND women, young AND old, rich AND poor. We read in Acts of people of different ethnicities encountering the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are no ethnic, racial, gender, or socioeconomic barriers to the movement of the Spirit. Nor should the Church today allow these barriers to existing today. We cannot expect the move of the Spirit if we are unwilling to work towards dismantling the racist systems in our society.
Where do we start?
We start by listening. We (White Christians) must enter into the stories and lives of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters who are the victims of racism: personal and systemic. We need to hear their stories and understand our complicity in systemic racism. These stories often illuminate how ingrained systemic racism is in the lives of White America.
We must also refuse to dismiss the pain of others because it makes us uncomfortable. I’ve seen memes and posts by white friends who immediately have dismissed the protest happening now when the protest turned violent and looting began to occur. Martin Luther King wrote that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” White America must listen to the language of the riot and hear what our sisters and brothers are saying. Can we hear their pain that is so great that it would cause them to be sprayed with tear gas? To be run over by over-zealous police cars? To take rubber bullets?
As Christians, we believe our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Eph. 6:12). The systemic racism that is present in our country is demonic. This is a spiritual battle. The violence and the protest is the manifestation of something spiritual taking place. A system that elevates one group of people over another is demonic because they rob people of the sacred value and worth that was instilled in them by the Creator.
What we are witnessing online and in our communities is a call to action. The systemic racism that exists in our culture benefits White Americans. White Americans will be key to dismantling it. White Americans can use our privilege to stand with our friends and neighbors and to work for real equality. As Christians, the church should be a place of reconciliation- not just between God and humanity- but between individuals and people groups. This is an opportunity for the church to set the standard of what reconciliation looks like. To do anything less is to continue to contribute to the systems of racism that already exist.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. As we pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in our churches and the world, let us hear and see how the Spirit is moving now- and let us join in the work to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Come Holy Spirit. Come.