It’s one of our favorite American idioms. It’s been used countless times and in a myriad of ways. The elephant even often takes on several different descriptions. Nevertheless, “the elephant in the room” always refers to something that cannot be overlooked.

Instead, we ignore and avoid it because we don’t want to deal with the disruption and discomfort that will inevitably confront us when we finally engage. But this elephant is big and bold and brightly striped in black and white. And he appears quite bullish in that he’s not only “in the room,” but rather appears to be following us everywhere we go.

This elephant of ours is the prevailing racism, discrimination and bigotry that bombards our present culture.

If you turn on the TV you might as well invite it right onto the couch beside you. When you go shopping at the mall, it greets you in the parking lot (it happened to me just yesterday). If you’re invited to sit at the board room table, you’ll surely find our elephant there. And if you’re riding in your car, or standing on a street corner that pesky elephant will surely track you down. Even if you’re at the most sacred meetings in the most sacred spaces on Earth, that shameless elephant seems to squeeze his way in and find a spot to sit and stay. And if this elephant is so determined to follow us everywhere we go, we must, at the very least, identify and acknowledge it.

Furthermore, I believe that it is our God-given mandate and inescapable responsibility as clergy and followers of Christ to speak against all forms of evil and immorality…in us and around us.

It should give us pause that we live in a time and place where one of the clear frontrunners for the nation’s highest office is an unabashed bigot. There are hundreds (dare I say thousands) who have lost their lives at the hands of police. Most of the time the offending officer is white and the victim is black, but there are very few indictments; more less convictions. If you’re poor and black in Flint, Michigan, then you’re probably using tainted water. I wondered why the city didn’t try to save even more money by changing the water source in the affluent neighborhoods as well. But this kind of discrimination is not new, and our elephant is not finished. He follows us everywhere.

If you’re a black actor or actress, you can forget about receiving the highest honor in your field unless you portray a character of some despicable sort. If a white person says that they felt uncomfortable or that they feared for their lives, then they are usually excused of any form of molestation inflicted upon a person of color. If you’re a well respected, highly-educated, credentialed and qualified black leader employed at the denomination’s highest level, you can be easily reminded that you’re expendable. And if you work at a black Christian university, the parent denominational body can threaten to strip certain valuable entities, branch offices and resources while stubbornly refusing to share others.

This is our world. This is our elephant. This is racism.

Maybe you don’t care about the Oscars. Maybe you never attended an HBCU. Maybe you’ve never been mistreated by the police. But you still don’t have to look far to find the elephant. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Our churches are bastions of righteousness and justice. Our God is the righteous judge, and he inspires his prophets to call for “justice (to) roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”[1] It’s the responsibility of the church to “call sin by its right name.”[2] It is our duty to do everything in our power to point people to the antithesis of sin in Christ and the love of God that He so beautifully displayed before us.

So here’s what we can do:

  1. Call it out.
    • The absolute worst thing we can do is to perpetuate it by continuing to ignore that these types of racism and bigotry are effecting us. Refusing to acknowledge these types of problems for the sake of dealing with “weightier matters” like “present truth” or prophecy is an affront to God and a disservice to our people. What can be more “present” than the truth about issues that our people are faced with everyday and at every turn? We are constantly assailed with the charge of selling people a “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” because we are preaching as though our heads are in the clouds when they’re actually stuck in the sand…or maybe it’s the mud. When we see discrimination we must call it what it is. It was the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We cannot pretend as though these issues are not important any longer. We must admit it exists: in our communities, in the church and in our hearts. We must sound the alarm and identify it whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.
  1. Talk about it.
    • After we identify it and call it out, there is a need to talk about it. And this is not only for sabbath dinner discussions. These issues need to be addressed from the pulpit on Sabbath morning at the primary worship service in sermonic form. I want to be crystal clear about this. We need to preach that elephant out of the room! Furthermore, these issues are so insidious and subversive that it’s essential for us to carefully explore them from all perspectives and viewpoints. We need conversations “across the aisle,” or shall I say across the conferences to address these types of matters. We need to carefully explore how and why bigotry finds a place in our hearts. Then, we need to pray together that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit would root it out. Is that not what the upper room was all about? Is that not a requirement for the latter rain? God himself said that if we would humble ourselves and pray and turn from our wicked ways, only then would we receive a mighty visitation.[3] If we are diligent in our discussion I believe we might find the exact correlation between the sins of bigotry and racism and the very first lie that Satan told in Eden.
  2. Do something about it.
    • Maybe you’re like me and you’re not a big fan of marches. Maybe you believe that riots are immoral. Maybe you’re not sure what can be done to stem the tide of hate and civil unrest. But you can do something. The Apostle Paul said that Christ has given to us the work of reconciliation.[4] So I’m not sure what you should do, but if you belong to Christ, you have to do something. Maybe your church needs to organize a peace rally. Maybe you can invite the churches from other conferences/ethnic groups to come together for prayer. Maybe the area pastors need to get together and just talk. Maybe you and a few members of your church need to attend a rally, march or demonstration that another organization has already organized. Maybe you simply need to make it your business to reach out to that neighbor next door who you never talk to. Who knows? But if you belong to Christ, you must do something to take up the ministry of reconciliation. To my white brothers and sisters in positions of authority: maybe it means that you need to create space in your office and your budget for some gifted leader of another hue to have a seat at the table and a piece of the proverbial pie. Maybe you are in position to speak out against the closing of an office or the unfair distribution of resources. If so, it’s your responsibility to speak up and act.

It’s been said that elephants are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. I recently saw a documentary about how keen elephants are when it comes to solving complex problems. One study even proved that elephants have advanced self-awareness capacity.[5] This is a crucial finding which may explain why elephants demonstrate such strong relational systems. It’s obvious that self-awareness is essential to understanding how to relate to the larger group. Nevertheless, it’s a foregone conclusion that we (humans) are the most intelligent of all living things on Earth. And if elephants can demonstrate self-awareness and problem solving, then surely with the help of the Holy Spirit we can solve the problems that threaten to destroy our very existence. Surely we’re smarter than an elephant.

 

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[1] Amos 5:24 NIV

[2] E.G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1903), 57.

[3] See 2 Chron. 7:14

[4] See 2 Corinthians 5:18

[5] Think Elephants International “Mirror Self-Recognition in Asian Elephants” January 11, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EjukzL-bJc accessed January 20, 2016.

 

Christopher C. Thompson
Christopher C. Thompson

Christopher C.
Thompson

Dr. Christopher C. Thompson currently serves as Communication Director for the Southeastern Conference of SDA. As a pastor, author, teacher and church resource developer who is passionate about the spiritual growth process, he works tirelessly to develop tools to aid pastors and parishioners alike. Click below to follow him on twitter or visit his website.

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One Comment

  • Max
    January 29, 2016

    Excellent piece. I agree that it’s time to talk publicly and do something about this elephant in the room. While we do so let’s not forget to address the other elephant in the African American community – nationalism. In fact I would respectfully suggest that unless and until we’re willing to deal with our long history of nationalism in regional churches we’re not ready to deal with the racism of others.

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