Matthew 25: Dismantling Structural Racism
In my last column I introduced the General Assembly invitation to become a “Matthew 25 church,” echoing Jesus’ story of the Great Judgment when those who have ministered to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, and imprisoned receive the blessing of the King. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “As you have done it to the least of these members of my family you have done it to me” has been selected by our Presbytery Moderator Chris Wolf as the theme verse for our Presbytery this year. We have explored what this means at our June and September Presbytery meetings.
The General Assembly invitation is part of an emerging denominational vision for mission. It includes three aspects: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty. Fuller information can be found on the Presbytery Mission Agency website:
My last column emphasized “Restoring Congregational Vitality.” In this column I will address “Dismantling Structural Racism.”
Combating racism is central to our calling as Christians. Jesus challenged discrimination and racial stereotypes in parables like the Good Samaritan (Luke 11:25-37) and in his interaction with gentiles such as the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-29). The early church broke down barriers of race and ethnicity (Acts 10-11) in bringing the gospel to “the ends of the the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek… slave or free… male and female” (Gal. 3:26-29). Presbyterians have a long history of opposing racism in society, and addressing racism is a core element of both our Confession of 1967 and the newly adopted Belhar Confession.
The Matthew 25 movement goes beyond mere individual expressions of racism to those embedded in social structures:
"Racism in the U.S. is a socially constructed system. Some people are advantaged, and others are disadvantaged, merely because of their skin color, ethnic identity or their ancestral background. Social power and prejudice have combined to treat people differently, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Some people are privileged while others are oppressed. As a consequence, there is unequal and inequitable access to resources such as money, education, information and decision-making power.
"Structural racism can show up in multiple ways, including:
- Housing discrimination that limits where people of color can live and steers them to rental markets rather than home ownership.
- Laws and policies that deny people of color access to quality education, employment and adequate health care.
- Food apartheid — areas deliberately devoid of quality, affordable fresh food.
- Mass incarceration and criminal justice systems that disproportionately target people of color with lengthier sentences, “stop-and-frisk” laws, the over-policing of communities of color, the school-to-prison pipeline, etc.
- Environmental racism — the dumping of hazardous waste, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of access to clean water that results in a range of serious health problems in communities of color."
The website offers an outline of a 21-day challenge to understanding and addressing structural racism designed for individuals and congregations. It would be a great idea for congregations to use during Advent or Lent.
I am pleased to report that the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Bay City has voted to become a Matthew 25 congregation. I encourage your congregation to join them and hundreds of others in our denomination. In my next column I will address eradicating systemic poverty.
Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter