With the recent events in Charlottesville our parish has been having a lot of discussions, be it about race, forgiveness, or fact checking Confederate generals. In the discussions there is one fact that never changes, and that’s that there is no room for racism or hatred in the Orthodox Christian Church (even being condemned in the 19th century). We can be worried, concerned, scared, or anything else but we must reject any kind of language that blanket blames any race or group of people. It’s certainly uncomfortable to consider that we have to forgive white supremacists or the violent antifa people, but if Christ can forgive the men brutalizing him then at the very least we can discuss forgiving hateful people.
There is also a lot of discussion here in the city, both physically in public and also on Facebook, most recently on a Black Lives Matter rally held at the Capitol. Some of the comments regarding rally on a news page make incredible assertions, ranging from blacks being lazy, to having too many babies, to draining all the welfare from the state, and so on. Some people rose up against those comments, but that particular page is just one example. And to be honest I hear a lot of these similar remarks in places that I frequent, from people I associate with through different activities or clubs. It’s astounding that in a state so heavily identified as Christian that I encounter so many people placing blame on black or Mexican people. Anyway, once I saw those Facebook comments about “all the babies” I did some poking around for census data to see what they have to say vs. how people perceive reality. Although I assumed a lot of what I learned, the numbers were pretty surprising.
No real surprise but West Virginia is a pretty white state. According to a 2016 census West Virginia is 93.2% white, with the black population coming in at 3.6%, an insignificant change from 2010 (about .2%). The most recent vital statistics say there were 20,928 births in the state, of which 94.8% were white and 3.5% black.
This brings me to my first point, which is by numbers alone it’s impossible to lay this blame on a the black community. Looking at disability alone (which is, admittedly higher than national average for good reason), if the entire 3.6% black population were enrolled it’d be less an a 1/4 of the enrollees. And considering that enrollment in TANF continues to trend downward, I wonder if maybe there is something else going on. I kid, there’s for sure something else going on.
How about a state that has relied on the coal industry saw it’s exports decline %40 in 2013, or that only 66% of our state’s 25+ demographic has a high school diploma? How about the coal industries systematic push to harm coal workers through fighting against safety measures or robbing retirees pensions under “restructuring”? We continually get either last or near last on all basic qualities of life, and we’re presently the leader on opioid overdose deaths. I don’t have enough time to unpack all of our challenges (this isn’t The Atlantic after all) but it’s not black people or white people causing the problem; it’s us.
We’re part of the problem when we scapegoat, shift blame, or allow our friends and family to do the same. We’re part of the problem when we refuse to, as citizens, to stand up against our elected leaders who are actively and openly colluding against us. We’re part of the problem when we behave parochially, worrying only about ourselves or being so pessimistic about our environment. But I think we’re especially to blame because we know there are things we could do but instead choose to say it’s not our problem.
But I honestly think the Church provides the foundation on which we can rebuild! Jesus Christ calls us to a radical transformation in himself. His message of salvation to us and the world is direct and clear. And if we wish to partake in that transformation it comes with a call to bear fruit through good works, through seeing every single person as Christ himself and acting accordingly. We have in Christ the most perfect example of behavior, and nowhere do we see him sitting around, despondently blaming someone for all their problems. He knew well the spiritual malaise among the Jews and its implications, and he called for a change of souls, hearts, and minds, by both teaching and acting. We’re not going to excuse destructive behavior but understand it. We’re not going to allow it but call people, in love, to better decisions. How we do that might look different to different people.
This isn’t to say we need to be out and about marching at rallies or doing weekly work at a soup kitchen, or that we have to throw a ton of money at any particular cause. Heck, there is a church in town that owns a food truck, which blows my mind. But we have to help according to our ability and according to our capacity because transformation in Christ calls us to. If Christ is to be any example to us we can see that a lot of “real work” gets done in personal contact. I’m really proud of what people in our parish are doing right now. One of my parishioners has been taking opportunities to help, with some physical aid and also counselling, a homeless woman who’s just so close to making the right decisions and turn her life around. Several of my ladies are learning more about how they can help needy or at-risk veterans who are in need of a wide range of instruction, from balancing a check book to cooking a chicken breast. I myself have been asked to come to a veterans day center and build some Leopold benches or a little arbor. We’re in the process of collecting underwear for one of our Orthodox sisters who is running a clothing closet, on her own, out of her classroom. There are countless others who quietly support financially those who are better equipped to serve.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to find a place where you can utilize your strengths. And one of the best places to plug in is in your local parish, where hopefully your pastor will have some idea of the needs of different organizations or particular people. West Virginians are a hardworking and tight-knit people, and blaming a race or economic group of people isn’t going to give us the solution we need. Our hope is in Christ Jesus, who calls us to holiness and responsibility, which will give us the power to love one another, to see real issues, and work together for a solution.