Submitted by Bruce Jeffries, Pastor of the United Methodist Churches in Rock Port and Watson

We enter February, and most people are focusing on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their significant other. The day becomes a bonanza for florists, greeting card dealers, candy stores and restaurants—and maybe a few other businesses as well. Yet, as we enter into February, it has also been designated Black History Month. For many predominantly Caucasian communities this designation will be ignored. The recent federal election reminded us again of how divided our nation really is, as President Trump only received support from 12% of black voters.
Why is there such a divide in our country? In my family of origin, I know my mother was extremely racist, though I’m not sure why. One time when our family was visiting, my mother made a racist comment, and I responded, “Mother, we are trying to raise our children not to be bigoted. If you continue to share racist remarks when our children are present, we’ll have to deny them access to you.” My mother cleaned up her act…
Hartford City, IN the town I consider my hometown, was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity 40 years before I was born. There was a state convention of the KKK held there in the early 1920’s, and the local newspaper published a picture of the Klan’s gathering on the courthouse square, where thousands of white hooded participants gathered. In 1930, just 25 miles west in Marion, IN two black men had been lynched by a crowd who hanged them from a tree on the Grant County Courthouse lawn. The two had been charged with robbery, murder and rape the night before. The crowd, armed with sledgehammers, broke into the jail and extricated the two men. The woman later recanted that she had been raped.
In a very recent Confirmation class, we were discussing Who Is God? Now, each of us has our own understanding and response to this question. However, we had to spend a bit of time dealing with 1 John 4—specifically these verses: Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. NRSV For many of us, if we were asked, “What is the opposite of love”, most of us would respond “Hate”. But 1 John gives us a new perspective—that the opposite of love is fear.
Fear is the motivating factor that feeds racism and the other “ism’s” that impact our world. John makes the most audacious statement—“Perfect love casts out fear”. It may just be our relationship with God that determines whether love grows inside of us or fear motivates us to act in ways that completely undermines the love Christ came into the world to show.
For me, Black History Month is an opportunity for us to overcome our fears by becoming a little more acquainted with ideas shared by our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. All of us are richer when we can pray the prayers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman, or Mary McLeod Bethune; to read the writings of Langston Hughes, James Cone, or Walter Fluker; to sing the hymns of Thomas A. Dorsey, James Weldon Johnson or any of anonymous writers of the Negro spirituals.
Even though the issue of slavery was at the heart of a schism in Methodism in the 1800’s, in the previous century, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, wrote the following: “…the African is in no respect inferior to the European.” And since poverty is often a systemic outcome of racism in our time, one other Wesley quote is important for us to consider: “…one great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that…one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it—and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”
Valentine’s Day and Black History Month should go hand in hand, because, for me, true love embraces the good that is implicit in all of God’s children, and helps us cast off the fears that keep us from engaging with others. I don’t know about you, but I still have a long way to go.