Saturday, December 20, 2014

Guest Post: Coming to Terms with Anger

The following is a guest post from my friend, Marcus Woods. Marc is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University. He shares his perspective on recent events as an African American male who is active in his church and community.

I’m angry.  I am so angry. I’m angry at our legal system. I’m angry at these grand juries.  But mostly, I’m angry at the church.  I’m furious at my brothers and sisters.   We’re supposed to be one body.  We’re supposed to be working together.  The strong are supposed to help the weak with their burdens.  And yet I sit here heavy and burdened, and I feel like the church has abandoned me.  There’s a deafening silence in the Christian community after the acquittals of officers in Ferguson and New York City.  I’m boiling over and seething with anger and pain and I want you to stop denying it.  I want you to stop telling me  not to be angry. 

In the past week I’ve tried to reflect on my own habit of placing my identity as a black man in front of my identity as a Christian.  I know that ideally, I shouldn’t do this.  I know that this body is just temporary and temporal.  When we leave these bodies and get to glory, ethnicities, colors, phenology, race, etc., surely won’t matter.  This is only flesh and I’ve been taught that the flesh is what separates and distances us from God.  In respect to things that are eternal and really matter, I know that this flesh ranks pretty low.  You know as well as I do, though, that this flesh can be a powerful thing.  While I know that God looks beyond my color and race, people don’t.  Everyday I’m confronted with stereotypes, inequalities, and injustices because I’m a black man.  Before people get the chance to see that I’m a Christian, my race has broadcasted who they think that I am.  So while it’s temporary and earthly, my race has very real implications for how I live my life.

At the same time, I also know that historically, the church has been silent or on the wrong side of many issues of inequality.  From slavery, to segregation, to Jim Crow, many from the church in America have been strangely silent.  This especially confuses me because when I read about Christ, I don’t see him as someone who supported the status quo.  He was an activist and a righter of wrongs.  Even when it was unpopular, he spoke truth in the face of lies and transformed those filled with hatred through the power of his love. In the past several days I’ve used that old middle school mantra of WWJD.  That’s been the most helpful exercise for me.  I know that He wouldn’t be in the streets looting, setting cities ablaze, and letting his uncontrolled rage damage a community.  At the same time, I don’t think that He would sit idly by and ignore the posts, comments, blogs, feelings, etc. of those who felt genuinely affected by racism that they encountered. Surely he would be somewhere in the middle, able to balance correcting inequalities and loving people.  He would be about connections and love.

There’s a way to fight equality and do it in a productive, Christ-like manner.  I aspire to be like Christ, like many of us probably do.  So yes, I should love my neighbors, even when they think I’m aggressive and a threat because I’m a big black guy.  At the same time, I have to stand up and protect those who are being crushed and oppressed.  See, Christ didn’t sit idly by and watch people suffer.  He took those that the world didn’t care about.  He took the widows, the diseased, the prostitutes, everyone who was broken and discarded and He embraced and love them.  Brothers and sisters, there is oppression in this land.  There are structural inequalities.  There are people whose rights are being stripped away and I challenge you to search your heart and see how silence and ignorance allows us to progress.  We’re supposed to be the light of this world and flavor it with our righteousness. We’re supposed to make a difference!

It boggles my mind that so many can stay silent in the face of discrimination and inequality.  I know that many have a hard time believing that the Mike Brown murder was about anything more than a thug who tried to attack a police officer.  They claim that race isn’t central to this incident, not respecting authority is. Let’s take a step back from this example and see that it’s just one example in the list of many.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to believe that Mike Brown’s death is about race, understand that there are many people in this country who feel that Ferguson and Eric Garner are proof that America values the lives of black men as less than others.  This isn’t an indictment against white people. Nor is it an excuse to hate, ignore, or blame them.  I try my hardest to approach friends of all colors and ethnicities to explain my disappointment and anger at the legal system in America.  Yet, my life is proof that black men are viewed as a problem. I feel like my life is expendable.  It’s as if the system doesn’t care if I die or not.  This pain is palpable!  It chokes me up to think that the system designed to protect and serve could see me as a threat for no reason. I could be one of those black men wrongfully executed and my character assassinated so that people could feel better about what happened. I’m angry and my anger isn’t a sin.  Even Christ got angry.   I choose to use that anger.  I’m going to use that anger to stir myself to make some tangible action of change.  Hopefully, I can stir you enough to do the same.

I haven’t forgotten that the actual church of God is bigger than race or ethnicity.  But as it is with a lot of things in scripture, it’s easier to recite God’s words than live it out.  On one hand, I know that I should “Bless those that despitefully use you” and that “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely.” At the same time, it hurts so much.  I’ve been stopped plenty of times in Philadelphia while not committing any crimes.  It’s terrifying to know that being a law-abiding citizen may not be enough to keep me alive. The situation in Ferguson is simply one example of a fractured system founded in a racist America.  We built this country on the backs of black people.  When slavery was abolished there was still another hundred years of Jim Crow and government assisted and supported racism.  In the last two generations, we’ve made amazing progress, but to assume that the past 60 years was enough to equalize the entrenched power imbalance and racism in America is absurd. It bothers me so much that so many Christians are willing to ignore a legacy of systematic and government supported racism that existed in our country for years.

I’ve engaged in peaceful demonstrations the past week.  While I haven’t been moved to anger or destruction, I can emphasize with those who are, especially those who aren’t bound by a religious or moral code that says violence is wrong.  People are angry and rightfully so.  They believe that the system of justice is skewed against them. What do we expect them to do? When going through formal systems can’t work, because the system is slanted and biased, then one has to go outside the system.  I understand their rage and discontent.  It burns slowly and intensely inside of myself.  I don’t judge them though.  While I may not think destruction is the most productive use of anger, judging is the last thing I feel like doing.  Because below that anger is a pain, desperation, and hopelessness.  That’s what we should be concerned with as Christians.  What about the pain and hurt that an entire group of people feel? Isn’t that what our Savior would have been concerned with?  I’m discouraged by the silence of the church.  One can show compassion and the love of Christ without picking a side.  While I can’t understand how anyone in America still thinks that racism on an individual and systematic level isn’t a problem, I’m not asking anyone to believe exactly like I do about race and justice.  What I’m suggesting is that regardless of your beliefs about race, the suffering and perceived injustice that black Americans are going through should stir something inside of us.  It should cause us to me empathic and sympathetic. 

I’m not calling on revolution or war, but I do not think that there is a problem with demonstrations against a system that doesn’t seem fair.  The recent protests in NYC are an example of how people of different stations in life are coming together in solidarity for the oppressed.  I was at the Millions March and was almost brought to tears by the diversity of ages, races, and ethnicities. On the way up, I sat behind a group of priests from The Princeton Theological Seminary. We got into a conversation and I was so inspired by their activism. They were all different ages, races, and genders. They all felt a need to change the world and help move America towards a more equal system. There was a sense of empathy and support for a generation of frustrated young men.  Sounds pretty Christ like to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Zero-Sum Game

Sometimes whites think about race relations as if it's a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game there are a certain number of points to be had and every point my opponent scores takes a point away from me. For example, in Scrabble, if I get the Q or the X or the Z and use them well, or if I use a triple word space, not only do I gain points, but those points are lost to the other players. Or in Monopoly, if I buy Boardwalk and Park Place they add to my game and take away from my opponents' chances to win not only because they will land on my hotel and owe me lots of money, but because they've lost the opportunity of ownership that will help them win.

Here's how this thinking works with race: if a person of color gets a scholarship, that's less money available for me as a white person.  If a person of color gets a job or some other opportunity, there's one less job or opportunity available to me as a white person. On the surface this seems to make sense, and zero-sum game thinking fuels arguments against affirmative action and in favor of a "colorblind" approach to race.

In a way, people who respond to "Black Lives Matter" by saying "All Lives Matter" are playing the zero-sum game. They respond as if saying that black lives matter means that white lives don't matter quite as much any more.

Recently, I heard another interesting example of zero-sum game thinking.  A friend was at a meeting with people involved in a specific, white dominated Christian organization. Someone at the meeting pointed out the lack of racial diversity within their ranks and suggested they think of ways to be more racially inclusive in the future. Since some of the fastest growing Evangelical churches in the U.S. are multiethnic/multiracial, this would seem to make sense. However, an older white guy who has been part of this organization for a long time expressed his dissatisfaction. Does that mean, he said (and I'm paraphrasing but this is pretty close, I think), that white people like me should take their gifts and callings and go elsewhere?

Hmm.  I wasn't there. I didn't hear the tone, I didn't see the body language. But I couldn't help but notice the immediately defensive and indignant posture of this person's response. No one at the meeting suggested he step down from his position.  On the contrary, I believe that this person is well respected within the ranks of the organization. No one suggested that white applicants be turned away or discouraged from participation in this particular ministry; they simply suggested that more people of color be recruited, as well. Yet in this white person's eyes, someone else's gain could only be viewed as his loss. Apparently there's only so much room in ministry and he needed to protect his spot. Of course, this is the opposite of the Christian doctrine I'm sure this person teaches, wherein there is "room at the cross" for everyone.  I wonder if he thinks that heaven will be populated based on the zero-sum game.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


The following is a guest post from my good friend, Dr. Debra Brown. Debra is an African American evangelical leader who lived near Ferguson, MO for many years.


As I gaze upon the starkness of winter, it reflects my heart over recent events pertaining to race, reconciliation, and truth. I feel bewildered. Is it conceivable that you don't get it? Please understand…

If you do not know what to say, it is preferable for you to state that truth.

I cannot see your eyes, your non-verbal communication. I see words that without context can be misinterpreted. defines cyberbullying and its effects. Christian cyberbullying is using religion as a justification.

When the Ferguson incident first happened, I searched out a colleague who is a white male evangelical former police officer to obtain his perspective. This enlightened my understanding. Have you judged without examining all the different perspectives?
Take the Berea challenge -- Acts 17:11: "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whither those things were so."

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, daughter, and an aunt to African American males who are law abiding citizens yet are subject to racial epitaphs, stopped by the police without provocation, and stereotyped simply because of the color of their skin. I hear their anger and frustration. I cry tears they will not shed for themselves. In moments of suffering, Jesus understands my pain!
Hebrews 12:1-3: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."

I do not adhere to the position that God is colorblind. I do adhere to the position that spiritual identity supersedes racial identity. Racial reconciliation is spiritual warfare. Reconciliation requires that you love me in word and deed. As stated earlier, I am hurting. When you, as a white evangelical person, hug me and express your love to me, Satan is defeated.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27: "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."

It is not my intent for you to feel guilty or responsible for the social injustices of this world because of your race. Nor do I expect you to agree with my perspective on recent events. I would appreciate awareness and conversation. These are the beginning steps to racial reconciliation.