I shared this on Facebook earlier this week. I thought I’d also share it here for easier access.
“Welcome to America…”
These are words that I’ve been sharing the past week or two when many of my white friends have posted about recent events. I partly say it in jest, but I also speak it as truth. The world that they are just now opening their eyes to is the country they live in and what people who have a complexion like my own have dealt with since we were brought to this nation on slave ships. This is America. Welcome to America.
This morning I received a text message from my pastor. It came on the heels of him preaching a sermon the day before on Romans 13 and the Christian’s response to government. During his sermon he made mention of the events pertaining to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests & riots. He wanted me to know that I had been on his mind, was praying for me, and loved me & my family.
I appreciated the text and responded by letting him know how I felt. I told my pastor how exhausted and tired I was from everything, even as someone who was not actively engaging in any of it. My subconscious has overtaken my faculties. I can’t focus on the things I want to focus on. I want to be mad, but I have no anger left. I want to cry and my eyes well up, but I don’t even have any tears left to shed. All I have left is mourning, and I don’t even know how much of that I have left. I’m a pile of scattered mush and cannot make sense of my own thoughts. I’m tired and I don’t have the capacity to engage discussions on the topic, topics that have been had in some form for the past several years because of similar incidents.
To this I get a reply from my pastor. He asks me a question: if you had one or two things you would want your pastor (or any pastor for that matter) to know, and if different, what would you want your church family to know?
My immediate thought to the question was, “Didn’t I just tell him I don’t even have the strength to engage in such discussions?” and told my close friends as such in text message. I didn’t respond. Instead, I attempted to make sense of my thoughts. The rest of what follows is my attempt to answer that question. And because I was asked to address pastors & the church, that is what I will do. I will speak to them. My friends & acquaintances online have spoken well on the subject in general, so I will be specific to the Church.
Racism is Real
The first thing I want the Church to know is this: racism is real. It is alive and well, and it is probably alive and well in your own church, and possibly your own heart.
Many want to believe that racism died with the end of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. Others think it ended with slavery, which was so long ago. Do you want to know something? Neither of those is /that/ long ago. My parents and grandparents, even my great grandparents lived through segregation, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. I only just lost my grandparents a few years ago, my paternal grandmother just last year. What about slavery? That last grandmother who passed away, I knew her mom, my great grandmother. My great grandmother’s husband was the son of the first generation of my family to be born post slavery. My second great grandfather, Eldridge Staten, was born 3 years after slavery ended and lived until 1948. I mention him because he was a career gospel preacher and I named my youngest son after him. I say that to say slavery is not that far from us. My great grandmother (who died in 1998) knew family members who had lived under slavery’s oppression. We are not that far removed.
So, if I can personally know family who lived as late as 22 years ago who knew family who experienced slavery, it’s not that distant. And the opposite is true. People on the other side have family who hold deeply rooted racist beliefs and fought a war to keep their slaves. Those ideas don’t just disappear overnight. That’s why we had segregation and Jim Crow. That’s why we continue to have the inequalities in our society & justice system that we experience. It’s because the ideas that thought that blacks were nothing more than free labor and less than human still exist. Yes, it may take different forms now, but the seed is still there, especially in the south. That’s why it was a big deal, even in the 90’s, when pastors from white & black baptist churches gathered their churches for a joint worship service in the city I grew up in.
But how can I say racism is alive & well in the church? Look back at our own history, especially during segregation. In the same breath that pastors & churches are proclaiming the importance of having prayer in schools, they were the same ones who fought against desegregation of schools and refused to have their white kids go to school with blacks. Those kids who heard their parents spout such things, while raising them in the church, are adults now and attend your churches and have kids my age. Many of them believe like their parents.
I could go on, but racism is alive and well… believe us when we tell you.
Racism is a Gospel Issue
Today I frequent Reformed Christian circles. In these circles we like to talk things and whether or not they are “gospel issues.” I’m all for keeping the gospel at the center, but I also find that the church has done a poor job of being gracious toward those they disagree with. I grew up missionary baptist, moved to full gospel baptist (prosperity gospel), to full on classic dispensationalist, to the (mostly) Reformed positions I hold to now. As I’ve transitioned through each of those, I’ve noticed a severe lack of grace & love in how we speak about those brothers and sisters who believe differently than we do, even to the point of calling them unbelievers. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
I see much of the same happening today when we talk about race relations and those within the church who are fighting for social justice & racial equality. Those that don’t think that those things are “gospel issues” end up calling those people “social justice warriors” or “cultural marxists” instead of actually taking time to listen to what they’re saying. Instead, they are told that they are promoting a “leftist” agenda and are opponents of the true gospel, only stirring up division.
I would challenge you that race issues and social justice are indeed gospel issues.
I could quote most of the Bible on this, but I want to point to one passage in particular. It’s a familiar passage of Scripture and it’s one where we find Jesus speaking. The passage is Matthew 22:34-40. In this passage Jesus is asked what the great commandment is. Jesus says that it’s to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul. He says this is the first and greatest commandment. But, he doesn’t stop there; he keeps going. He follows by saying there’s a second commandment which is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus concludes by saying the entirety of the Old Testament scripture is summed up in those two commands.
If we were to summarize Jesus’ words, he said this: love God, love people.
Now, the Church has done a great job, at least in lip service, to the idea that they love God. We all love God, there’s no doubt about that.
But what about people? Do we love them? Well, that depends. When we ask that question, we’re often left asking the question, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” like the lawyer in Luke 10. In turn, Jesus responds with the parable we know as the Good Samaritan.
We all know the story, but we miss some of the more important details. You know those jokes that start off “3 guys walk into a bar…,” well that’s basically how Jesus is setting up this parable. It’s a familiar story telling device, and in such stories the Pharisee or religious leader usually ends up the hero of the story. Well, Jesus tells the story of a guy who falls into the hands of robbers and is left for dead. A priest walks past and does nothing, as does the Levite. The listeners are expecting the Pharisee to come in and save the day; but, no, Jesus flips the script. It’s a Samaritan who saves the day. Yes, a Samaritan, the ethnic and social outcast that Jews wanted nothing to do with. He’s the one that takes care of the man, indicting the religious leaders.
The narrative ends with Jesus asking the lawyer which man proved to be a neighbor. Obviously, it was the Samaritan. Jesus then tells him to go and do likewise. In other words, Jesus tells him to love people, even like this Samaritan.
So, let’s modernize this parable and see where it takes us. A black man is beaten by the cops. The first person sees the news story and feels bad, but keeps going about their business. The second person sees the story and wants to wait for all the facts to come out, because the black man was obviously in the wrong. A third person comes along and sees an injustice has taken place and speaks up and does whatever he can to seek justice for his fallen brother.
Where is the church in this parable? More often than not, the church falls into the first two camps. Even if they do speak up, it’s for a few minutes during a sermon on the Sunday after an event takes place, and a quick prayer of solidarity is said. Church members may pat their black brother or sister on the back and say they’re praying for them and wish they could relate with what they must be feeling. By and large, they want to forget it ever happened. A week or two goes by and it’s no longer headline news, and nothing substantial happens. As a matter of fact, it’s forgotten and the church never speaks of the matter again. They go back to business as usual while blacks are left wondering: 1) will justice ever be served, 2) how long before this happens again, and 3) will it be me or my loved one next time? Blacks are left hurting, wondering if our white brothers & sisters ever really cared. We wonder why the church won’t get involved like they do with abortion or trying to fight homelessness.
The church wants to be a voice for the voiceless and be pro-life when it comes to the subject of abortion. They’ll stand outside abortion clinics, protest, lobby politicians, go undercover, record movies, and so on. To save the life of a baby they will go to extreme measures.
When it comes to fighting against racism and social justice in all its forms all we hear is pushback. It’s not a gospel issue. Racism doesn’t exist. It’s just leftist agenda. It’s an isolated incident. Let’s wait for the facts. All lives matter, we can’t just focus on black people. Let’s talk about black on black crime and how many blacks are killing each other [aside: crime, statistically speaking, happens in proximity, and white on white crime is just as high, but no one wants to talk about that either]. You get the idea. It’s pushed aside as a trivial matter that black people can deal with and figure out on their own, the church doesn’t have to do anything. And if the church is going to get involved, black churches can handle it.
But let’s go back to Jesus’ words: love your neighbor. According to the parable of the Good Samaritan, your neighbor is the man laying there bloodied fighting for his life. Jesus said love your neighbor. How are you going to love your neighbor?
Let’s bring this closer to home. By all accounts, George Floyd isn’t just your neighbor, he’s your brother in the faith. Now how are you going to love your neighbor? Will you be like the priest and the Levite and cross on the other side like nothing happened and this doesn’t involve you? That was their brother in the parable, and they only looked out for themselves. It was the stranger that loved his neighbor, a neighbor who probably hated him just as much as the Levite and priest do. That, my brother and sister, is an indictment on all of us. It’s like my friend Curt Allen, pastor of Solid Rock church in Maryland says in his song called “The Gawspel.” In the song he states that many evangelicals like to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not even a believer, was a socialist and marxist; but, if that is the case, then it’s an indictment on the church that it took an unbeliever to end segregation.
We like to talk about “being on the right side of history.” Where will the church fall when it comes to fighting for justice for its neighbor? We want to be agents of peace in nations across the globe, but won’t lift a finger to fight against racism and injustice against their own neighbors because of the color of their skin.
Racism and social justice are indeed gospel issues. Our God is a God of justice and he hates oppression. The Old Testament speaks much of this. And Jesus summed it all up as “love people.” How can you say you love people, your neighbor, if you ignore their cries? Quite frankly, you can’t.
If I’m honest. I feel like I just wasted my time by writing all of this. I doubt much, if anything will come of it. But, I could be wrong. My God has done greater things with insignificant people.
Racism is real. It still exists. It exists in the church. What are you going to do about it?
Your neighbor has been mistreated for centuries, and the church has been complicit in their mistreatment. What are you going to do about it?
Don’t let George Floyd’s death be like all the rest. Do something different. Speak up. Be a voice. Fight for equality, justice, and change. George Floyd was your brother and we will stand next to him in glory. George Floyd’s death is a gospel issue.
Lastly, many people are more eloquent on these subjects than I am. One of them is my friend Curt Allen, who goes by the hip-hop moniker Curt Kennedy. Over the last 5 years he has recorded 6 albums spanning 137 songs & 10.5 hours on subjects such as these. It is called the /Frustrated Christian/ anthology. I would behoove you to listen to all 6 albums in their entirety (in order) and then let’s talk some more. If you need help finding those albums, let me know.
Until then, I’ll keep praying Marantha, Lord come quickly!
Curt Kennedy’s Albums
- Frustrated Christian
- Chapter II
- Chapter III
- The Appendix
- Feel-Os-Uh-Fee (Feelosophy)