I’m in Alexandria, Virginia with Rebecca Karcher and Makayla Tedder for a conference on electronic/digital ministry and communication. We got here early and went in to Washington to see the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both are fabulous museums, both are examples of everything that modern museum is supposed to be; interactive with artifacts and technology. They don’t simply show you old things, they immerse you in a story. The story each place immerses you into is not an easy story to listen to. The story of African-Americans in the United States and Jewish people in mid-20th century Europe is hard to hear and see.
A lot of stuff leaps out at both places. For me, these included these: it’s really easy for humans to dehumanize other humans. Frighteningly easy, in fact. It’s really hard for humans to recover from these things. Really hard. It’s hard to know that the sort of things you see in these museums lurks in the hearts of humans. Somewhere, in the depths of the souls of human beings, lurks the ability to deny the humanity of other people. When that happens, it’s really ugly in almost indescribable ways.
What is also shocking is the near-absence of the church in both stories. Yes, both African-Americans and European Jews will find strength in their religious communities and, yes, individual Christians will act in courageous ways to live out their faith. As an institution, the church is frequently silent.
Part of the purpose of a museum is to help us learn from the past. We may have ignored the pain of others in the past, we may even have caused some of it. But we don’t have to be those people. The church is the carrier of a story of people who are changed by the story of Jesus. The forgiveness of Jesus helps us find our humanity and the humanity of everyone else as well.
Part of the story of these places is the hope of “Never again.” That’s the same hope in the forgiveness of Jesus. We can be new people. We can see other people as, first, human beings valued by God. We may have missed it in the past, but each day holds the promise that the church, that each of us will be able to see the God-given humanity of all people. And we will be willing to work for that vision.