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Statement from the Dean of the Divinity School

Charlottesville, The Church and Race in America

Across the nation and around the world, we are witnessing the stunning reality that racism and white supremacy has reared its ugly head once again in human history.  It leads many of us to ponder have we forgotten the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, genocide of native peoples and slavery, great evils rooted in the hateful ideologies of white supremacy and white nationalism?  Have the memories of the sorrowful cries of human suffering ebbing from the millions of souls who suffered at the hands of other humans based on the idea that some human lives are more valuable than others been long forgotten?  

From the slave dungeons of Cote d’ Ivoire on the Ivory coast of West Africa, the blood stained walls of Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston to now the rumbling streets of Charlottesville, the human community and the Church in particular must speak with a resounding voice to condemn hatred and proclaim love, justice, and truth.

America has been grappling with the enduring problem of race since its inception.  As W.E.B. DuBois so eloquently forecasted in The Souls of Black Folks, the issue of race remains perhaps the greatest sin in our nation’s history.  Rooted in modern thinking, white supremacy as an ideology is embedded in the very fabric of western culture. It has become more pronounced in the global age as we have become more aware of human differences in our daily lives amid the advent of social media, mass media, technology, and transcontinental travel. 

Throughout the South and nation stand Confederate tombstones as visible reminders and symbols of white power and domination.  These structures continue to hold hostage the future hope of an inclusive America, held together by the ideals of freedom and justice for all—unfettered by race, gender, ethnicity, or country of origin.  So, now is the time to deconstruct these relics of shame and construct emblems of hope and community reflecting a shared humanity and common fate.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, we are beckoned to embrace those words in enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men [humans] are created equal.”  Even more urgently, the clarion proclamation of Genesis 1 that God “created humans in God’s own image...” compels both the Church and all people of goodwill to let their voices be heard in the cause of freedom, justice, love, and reconciliation. 

The Church, in particular, has to rise up and meet this terrible and evil threat of white nationalism and white supremacy with prophetic rage, justice, and radical love in action.  This is a defining moment for the Church in America.  Will the Church be faithful and condemn this demonic ideology of hate as heretical and inherently evil or acquiesce to the forces of bigotry, indifference, and fear?

Regrettably, some evangelical leaders have chosen to either remain silent or openly affirm ideologies of hate, racism, and bigotry, cloaked in Christian language.  Similar to religious leaders who supported Jim Crow segregation and apartheid in South Africa, we know that not all those who speak the name of God truly demonstrate the love, compassion, and justice of God as expressed in the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Hence, those who speak truth, conveyed in practices of love and justice ultimately embody God’s presence in our world.

Universities, colleges, churches, seminaries, and individual people of faith and goodwill are called to take a stand against hate in all its dimensions.  The God who reveals God’s self in love, justice, peace, compassion, forgiveness, and truth compels us to embrace the present moment.  As John Donne observed, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” 

It is our time and our moment to take a stand and not just resist, but fight with the power of truth, love, and human dignity for the present age and generations yet unborn.

Dr. Johnny HillJohnny Bernard Hill, Ph.D.
Dean, Shaw University Divinity School
Dr. Johnny Bernard Hill is Dean of the Shaw University Divinity School, and author of Prophetic Rage: A Postcolonial Theology of Liberation, The Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Mpilo Tutu, and The First Black President: Barack Obama, Race, Politics, and the American Dream.