and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
--John 8:32 NRSV
You have probably heard the expression "the truth shall set you free" which
is spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John. For many American Christians, the
"truth" Jesus speaks of here is an individual ticket to heaven which has
nothing to do with the here and now or wider social issues. This is bad
theology and bad interpretation of scripture.
Jesus is indeed talking about a "truth" that will save people from sin, but
as John makes clear from its opening words, the salvation offered in Jesus
Christ is for the world not just individuals who say the magic words of a
prayer Americans made up centuries later. Jesus speaks of an "eternal life"
beginning in the here and now as those who understand who Jesus is have
their lives and the world around them transformed. Who is Jesus? For John,
Jesus is the message of God's love for the entire created world, a love
which is radically inclusive of all people.
The truth of God's saving love exposes the lies of sins which oppress,
exclude and destroy. We are in a truth-telling moment in our society, and
the lies are being exposed which many of us were taught as history. We White
folks were sold a sinful lie for our history, and now our reaction to God's
truth will determine whether we are free from these sins or not.
In the past few days, Tulsa, OK has commemorated the 100-year anniversary of
the massacre of African Americans at Greenwood nicknamed "Black Wall Street"
because of the wealth Black people were accumulating there. I was raised in
the Midwest, an easy drive from Tulsa, and I had never heard the story of
this massacre until a 2019 TV show about superheroes included it in its
narrative. Likewise, I never learned about Missouri being full of "sundown"
towns where African Americans found in them after sunset were arrested and
even killed. I grew up in St. Louis and Kansas City but never learned about
housing segregation and redlining which divided the cities and allowed White
people to accumulate generational wealth and denied the same to Black
people. I wasn't taught these things. Were you?
Similarly, I learned in school about "race riots" in the sixties, but I
never learned about White riots in which Black people were massacred like
Wilmington and Rosewood. I learned that the cause of the Civil War was
"States Rights" rather than slavery, even though slavery was explicitly
mentioned in the articles of secession of southern states. I learned that
George Washington's teeth were made of wood and never that his false teeth
came from the actual teeth of slaves. I wasn't taught these things. Were
Now that I am learning the truth about the racist history of America, I have
a choice. I can allow this truth to free me from the sins of racism and the
lies of a "Whites Only" creation of history or I can remain a captive of
sin. Even now, sections of White America react to these truths with anger
and even violence, as if they are the true victims of a new history being
written. This is a lie that holds White people captive to sin. The real
victims are the named and unnamed non-White people who were on the receiving
end of economic, social and physical violence for generations.
As a White man in America, I was taught the Civil Rights era solved all
problems of racism in our country. That lie has kept me captive to a sin I
did not create but rather was born into. It is up to me to choose whether
the truth will set me free or if I will reject this new work of God's
radical inclusive love for the entire world. If you're White like me, then
it is also up to you.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.