January 21, 2015 by Kyle
“…You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative…” ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ – MLK
I must admit that I love the audacity of the young people who have led the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest over the past few months. There is an inherent boldness in declaring the truth that the bodies of American blacks are not an extraterrestrial presence among ‘us’. A few weeks ago I walked alongside protesters half my age and they understood what was at stake. They took to the streets to raise awareness among the populous about the injustice of brutality against unarmed black men and women. They stopped traffic, blocked intersections, shouted, pointed, agitated and all within the parameters of the law. As expected, there were folks who did not have the capacity or empathy to understand these happenings and they bristled at the audacity of the unorganized masses disrupting life. Many redefined protest as violence and brutality as self preservation. These peaceful protest were put through the grinder of majority culture and what we found on the other end was something more palatable for the masses—a collection of tatted, shirtless thugs looting and creating civil unrest in the streets of America. What was produced was something that majority culture could label and understand.
Protests are meant to disrupt the norm in order to bring attention to the absurd. The powerful among us are holding onto an America void of disruption. Traffic flows, commerce continues and money accumulates, but those within the underbelly of society remain hidden in the corners of until diversity needs a token. The march is about calling attention to those who are invisible as well as the visible structures of inequity. In the book, Divided by Faith; Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, authors, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith state the following, “White conservative Protestants, it appears, are more individualistic and less structural in their explanations of black-white inequality than other whites.” A chapter that is worthwhile reading explores various reasons why many within White Conservative Evangelical circles understand so little about marches and themes like, #blacklivesmatter.
Many exist in a dystopian world and the act of protest becomes as important as prayer—in fact they are inseparable. God create man, yes,to be more specific, God created a black man and woman in His image. To be seen as human is where we find ourselves—we thought we were further along, but many of us are not and we must go back theologically and establish the ‘Imago Dei’. As a pastor, I’ve come to the realization that theological truth can miss our hearts on the way out of our mouths. It is also true that truth can miss our heart on the journey from our ears to our brain. We must rediscover the humanity of those around us and be comfortable with sounding liberal to the theological gatekeepers. An easy to ignore casualty of living within a pseudo-utopian world is the pain of those in distress.
We must look on evil and resist it. This is gospel living. The gospel must be more than something observed and forensically dissected. If I preach good news but oppress my brother then my message rings hollow and no amount of contextual reassessment can undo my sin. I pray that God’s mercy rest upon that individual who carefully crafts a theological treatise only to destroy another’s humanity. A disconnected or unrealized gospel can lead to a kind of self righteous laziness. During the past couple of months I have heard, “the Gospel” as a rejoinder from many well meaning Anglo brothers and sisters. This response is their solution to 400 years of race inspired oppression. Many of the responses were void of an understanding of the issue facing those within the underclass. I wish someone would just say, “Spurgeon says…” it actually would have been more relevant than some of stuff left in the comments sections of blogs, FB walls, etc. Utterly detached and unsympathetic would describe the collective stubbornness to admit that structural and systemic racism exist.
Add insult to injury would be the onslaught of evangelical institutions sending out publications with articles about engaging the culture for Christ. Most articles in these publications ignore one of the most urgent issues of our time–a racialized culture. The reality is that most of the ‘cultural engagement’ happens within circles dominated by non-persons of color. No real cultural engagement outside of white evangelicalism. Yes, preach the gospel, but one must go beyond simple discourse in order to rectify injustice. Many discussions on race within evangelical circles starts and ends in Ephesians 3 and John 17, but are hush on the topic of justice and the systemic results of racial oppression. (Jeremiah 22:3; James 1:27; 2:14-19) I have nothing against multi-ethnic churches, but the reality is that a multi-ethnic church without a commitment to root out injustice and systemic oppression could be yet another photo-op. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. (John 1:14) The real work of reconciliation is exemplified in the One who came and reconciled.
As the church, we must be very careful chastising folk who march and protest against forms of injustice. In a sense, demonstrating and declaring the gospel is a protest against the system of evil within society. The softened Christianity of the West seems more comfortable creating fences around our culture and establishing as doctrine the uninspired traditions of men. I applaud those who march and I join with them because it is godly to resist evil.
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3
. Emerson, M. O., & Smith, C. (2000). Divided by Faith; Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. New York: Oxford Press. 96