MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Whitney news article

By Frank Drenner
Special to the Herald Democrat

I recently read Clint Smith's wonderful book How the Word is Passed (highly, highly recommended; Smith is a poet and a writer, and his storytelling weaves both styles together brilliantly). In the book, Smith tours various places with a history of enslaved people: Jefferson's Monticello, Louisiana's notorious Angola Prison, and Whitney Plantation, near his hometown of New Orleans. His descriptions of The Whitney were inviting to the imagination and the heart. The plantation was acquired some years ago by a wealthy New Orleans attorney who spent millions to transform it into a place that told stories from enslaved people's perspective. Our family visited earlier this summerI learned about a rebellion that began at Whitney, involved hundreds of enslaved people, only to be stopped by a combination of the military and local militias. Many of them were beheaded, their heads posted on pikes as a symbol of white power and to invoke fear in any who would attempt any such movement toward freedom in the future. There is a memorial of those heads on pikes at the Whitney. I looked at the faces, brokenhearted at the loss of life-- not just these individuals, but their families and future generations-- and also the cruelty that would inspire people to inflict such violence on others who simply wanted to be free.

There is a massive discussion going on right now about Critical Race Theory. Legislatures and governors are banning its teaching from public schools. Politicians and pundits are shaming military leaders publicly for officer training involving anti-racist teaching. Teachers are being fired for teaching Black history; inclusivity officers are resigning after receiving threats at their homes. But what is Critical Race Theory anyway? Well, it's a discipline taught at the college level that examines the implications of racism on society factors; like say, how African American women are disproportionately impacted by the healthcare system and insurance rates. Or how housing discrimination impacts the ability of many African American families to accumulate wealth at a rate anywhere close to their white counterparts. These bans are mostly symbolic, since CRT is not taught in public schools-- effectively resulting in a whitewashing of the history of communities of color, or the consequences of racism. It's OK to teach portions of Dr King's "I Have a Dream" speech, but not his Letters from a Birmingham Jail.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. - Ephesians 2:13-22

The author of that text is thinking about Jews and Gentiles, both groups with distinct ethnic and historical differences, brought together by the saving work of Christ. Christ's ministry was intentionally and purposefully inclusive; to erase the racial/ethnic identities of the Good Samaritan or the Syro-Pheoneican woman, for example, is to rob those stories of significant impact. The identities and traditions of the individuals are not forgotten; what changes is the hostility that once was there. Christ brings reconciliation, tearing down the walls that divide.

Those faces at The Whitney-- the stories they represent, the lost futures, the forgotten/ignored history-- combined with so many others, still cry out for recognition and respect. Silencing/dismissing/ignoring/forgetting/whitewashing: they only strengthen the dividing walls between people, further delaying the redeeming work of Christ.

Frank Drenner

Frank Drenner was ordained in 1998 and has served as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Sherman since July 2016. He is married to Christy, and together they have three sons. Find more from Drenner at The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.