I am a history nerd. I realize there is the history I learned as a kid; then that I relearned as an adult. As an adult I have learned how the United States was built on a foundation of structural racism; where various institutions government, education, even religion enforced and reinforced white supremacy.
When I think about key times in history- genocide of Native American, enslavement and chattel slavery of Black people, abolition of slavery, Japanese Internment, the civil rights movement. I ask myself where were Christians?
There were Christians that colonized Native Americans stripping them of land, culture and humanity. There were Christians that owned slaves. There were Christians that were active in the KKK and the enforcement of Jim Crow laws.
There were Christians that were in the abolitionist movement.
There were Japanese Christians that were interned and lost everything.
There were Black Christians that were bombed, hosed, and jailed fighting for civil rights.
Today, there are Christians who seek to excuse themselves from the dialogue of Black Lives Matter relegating it to a political issue. There are Christians who show up to Black Lives Matter protests singing worship songs and seeking to evangelize those participating.
There are Christians who spiritualize the issue of racism asserting that if we followed the principles of Christianity then racism would somehow cease.
Each of these is problematic and inadequate to the calling of being a Christian.
Christians are to bear one another’s burdens. When one part of the body of Christ is hurting, being murdered in broad daylight and grieving the rest of the body should stop what it is doing and respond in empathy and solidarity. Our divisions as Christians are wedged deeper when we distance ourselves from each other because it is inconvenient to our political leanings.
Evangelizing at protests and spiritualizing the issue of racism is problematic because it is laden with assumptions. There are assumptions that those that are protesting are “lost”. What if in fact many of the people protesting are believers in Christ and are spurred by their beliefs to seek justice and mercy for those being harmed. Protesting is not anti-Christian.
Spiritualizing the issue of racism is when Christians state that we need to “love each other more”, “pray more”, and “be one as the body of Christ” and that as an effect of those things racism will cease. These practices are good, but the reality is Christians in America have been doing these practices for hundreds of years and racism is still in our midst. These practices alone will not lead to the societal change that is needed without addressing white supremacy and how religion has been used to sustain it.
The good news is that there are also Black Christians both in history and now who are leading the way, engaging in dialogue and organizing. By their words and actions, there are Christians who are showing that a love of justice and mercy is the Jesus way.
An example of this is civil rights hero John Lewis who recently passed away. When asked about his experiences as a young man engaging in sit ins, he commented, "But I felt when we were sitting in at those lunch counter stools, or going on the Freedom Ride, or marching from Selma to Montgomery, there was a power and a force. God Almighty was there with us."
God is not neutral. God is on the side of the oppressed. God is near to the broken-hearted.
I hope that Christians can unite in solidarity and be allies. I hope that the church be a place for healing and not further harm. It is my faith that spurs me to compassion; to give until it hurts to not give up hope even when the situation seems hopeless., and to not be silent in the midst of injustice.
John Lewis: www.cnn.com/2020/07/17/politics/john-lewis-dead-at-80/index.html
Japanese Christian Internment: www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/508967/
Role of Faith in Civil Rights Movement; https://blog.oup.com/2017/02/civil-rights-movement-religion/