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.