This past Saturday, the San Gabriel Mission was reopened, three years after it was nearly destroyed by an arson fire. A news article written a few days before the opening bore the title, “A Restored Mission San Gabriel Casts New Light on Southern California Indigenous History.”1 The writer reported that in restoring the on-site museum, great efforts had been made to tell the whole truth about the Franciscan missionary program, which began under Fr. Junipero Serra in 1771,2 to convert the native Tongva people to Christianity, as well as to European culture and values. Five thousand Tongvan graves are located at or near the Mission, reminding us that their subjugation was not voluntary and was often abusive.
Also, last weekend, Judy and I spent an evening with some friends we’ve known for over sixty years. They’re Japanese-American, and they told us about meetings they’ve been having with a group of friends who shared similar World War II experiences of being in Internment Camps.3 Now approaching their twilight years, they’re all trying to pool their childhood memories of seeing their families lose their homes and businesses, trying to make the best of life behind barbed wire, and rebuilding from nothing when they were finally released. They feel they need to pass these memories on to their grand and great-grandchildren.
We went home and watched a documentary on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which resulted in the destruction of the entire Greenwood District of the city, known popularly as “Black Wall Street” because so many affluent African-Americans located successful businesses and built impressive homes in that part of Tulsa. White resentment of these uppity Blacks led to a vicious two-day police action, supported by “deputized” White mobs and even attacks from the air. Thirty-five blocks of commercial buildings and residences were destroyed, and 10,000 African-American people were left homeless. The number of deaths is still being debated, but is probably more than 300.4
I had hardly caught my breath before I heard a news report that an anti-Semitic 19-year-old in Lansing MI had just been indicted for making social media comments about plans he had to attack a specific synagogue on a set date and kill every Jewish worshiper he could. The police had been investigating him for several days, had found significant amounts of weaponry and detailed plans in his possession and had taken him into custody. Ironically, this young man’s indictment happened the same day as the jury decision came down finding Robert Bowers guilty of 63 counts in his 2018 attack on worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Detroit, in which 11 were killed and the whole Jewish community was traumatized.5 It seems that there’s always another hate-filled shooter waiting around the corner.
There are some voices in our society who tell us that the best solution to the problem of racism is to forget about it. They tell us we shouldn’t teach our children about slavery, about institutional racism, about the Holocaust, about how the people in power have always used their privilege to gain more control and keep others “in their place.”
But what does the Bible say? The story of God’s salvation begins in the Old Testament, with God’s call of a special people, Israel, to represent him in the world. After they had suffered as slaves in Egypt for four centuries, he miraculously and dramatically intervened through the Exodus, the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and their survival in the wilderness. Now, as they stood on the east bank of the Jordan River and looked over into the Promised Land, God said to them through their leader Moses:
“Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how you once stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth and may teach their children so’. . . .
25 “When you have had children and children’s children and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything [including pride in your specialness], thus doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it but will be utterly destroyed. 27 The LORD will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the LORD will lead you. 28 There you will serve gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:9-10, 25-28)
If we as Americans don’t tell our children and our children’s children the truth about the past, God will probably allow us to follow our own “wisdom” (pride in our specialness) into destruction.
– – Pastor George Van Alstine