Dismantle the Architecture of White Supremacy

In a recent statement from the United Methodist Council on Bishops about the scourge of racism, one sentence stands out to me among many important sentences. The sentence that catches my attention comes from Bishop Latrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Area, who is quoted as saying, “The time is now. Dismantle the architecture of whiteness and white supremacy.” Perhaps it is because one of my children studied architecture. But perhaps it is because that sentence captures in a few words what I have been convicted about for many years. Put succinctly: Dismantle the architecture of white supremacy. That is what I put on the sign that I carried at the Beyond the Walls March for Justice on Tuesday, June 9, in Gum Springs.

Image from Beyond the Walls Church Facebook (@btwallschurch)

The metaphor of architecture is a metaphor that bespeaks a well-established structure. We might take architecture for granted, but it is very important. Architecture creates the design by which we live our everyday lives. It designs things we consider attractive, as well as things that are practical, and it programs us about how things can work together for ease of living. Architecture includes walls that create frameworks for living, that protect us from perceived outsiders, and that divide us into separate spaces. Architecture uses materials that are meant to endure over time. It directs the flow of people, influences our habits and how we inhabit our spaces; it tells us who goes where and how to get there and how to keep people from getting there. Some architecture is overt and clearly visible, but a lot of architecture is hidden beneath the surface, invisible but still very influential. For centuries now, we have inhabited a world whose social/political/economic “architecture” has been the architecture of white supremacy.

Just a few weeks ago, the Church celebrated Pentecost. At Pentecost, we see God breaking through, into a well-established architecture of how things are, and breaking it open into a whole different kind of thing, a whole different way of being. Pentecost reveals God’s design for a new way of living together. People from all the nations of the earth come together. They draw near to one another in one community, where they listen to one another and speak one another’s language, and experience the joy of God’s presence drawing them to love one another, to share with one another, to pray together, and break bread together, to carry one another’s burdens, to serve the needs of others together, and to love one another as sisters and brothers in this new kind of family.

The Pentecost architecture is God’s design for church. But somewhere along the way, God’s design has been coopted/hijacked/sabotaged into what has become part of the architecture of white supremacy. Of course, there is more to the architecture of white supremacy than the church. But I am not focusing on those other things here. Here, I am focusing on what I know best. The church, wittingly or unwittingly, has become part of the architecture of white supremacy. I would go so far as to say that it has become a key part of that architecture, where, in the Euro-American church we come together to worship God, to pray to God, to listen to God, to please God, and we do it all in the context of people whose complexion and culture are just like ours. We pass on this worldview from one generation to another, that God blesses whiteness as the way God wants things to be. When we add God’s approval to this sabotaged architecture, it ends up creating cover for a lot of other racialized disparities and racist sin in wide-ranging  places throughout our culture.

Today, in the past few months, God is breaking through again. In the cries of creation itself, in cries from the streets of cities and towns around the world, in the voices of people in every corner of our nation, crying out for change, for an end to the architecture of white supremacy in all its many forms. God is breaking through to give us hope and vision for a different future, with a church looking like what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the beloved community,” breaking down the barriers of color and class and culture, to create community where we love one another through our differences. In the architecture of beloved community, we build bonds of understanding, friendship and care for one another that prevent us from turning a blind eye toward injustices and oppression. We work together to overcome the things that destroy life, things like poverty and hunger and homelessness. We work together to build a new way where all people can flourish and respect one another and love one another as sisters and brothers in the family of God.

I call on every congregation in the Alexandria District to redouble our efforts to dismantle the architecture of white supremacy, and to align ourselves with God’s architecture for beloved community. I encourage every congregation to be intentional about having conversations that address the ways racism is experienced in our society, and to seek out conversation partners with persons whose experience of racism is different from ours. I encourage every congregation to examine our unexamined practices that contribute to white supremacy and to implement changes that will build beloved community instead. I encourage us to start now to reframe the church we have inherited so that the one we pass on to the next generation will look more like God’s Kingdom where all people are embraced, living and working together to bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus, who came to break down the walls that separate us and to fill us with the saving grace that is for all people and which desires to bring us all together.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff