The Church’s Role in a New Racial Justice Movement

Last week, the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Leading up to this event, numerous blog posts and articles abounded which raised awareness around the fact that de facto segregation and racism is still very much alive in our society. Although many people in the United States believe that we live in a post-racial society (I mean, people are no longer getting lynched and we have a black president, right), the reality is that our nation is far from the ideals that Dr. King imagined of inclusion, solidarity and equality for all people regardless of the color of their skin. The proof: the high unemployment rate, incarceration, and health disparities that are more prevalent in communities of color in comparison to white communities.

In light of this, many activists, community leaders, and just plain old common people are starting to call for a new racial justice movement to move us beyond this point in our nation’s history. If we do nothing, we can expect that in 50 years things will look pretty much as they do now, or even worse. In recent years, it seems like we are treading backwards instead of moving forward on very pivotal issues. Voting rights have been called into question, the safety net for the poor has shrunk, and the racial undertone is more divisive than ever. In order to move past this and bring justice, equity, and healing to our nation, we have to imagine and then begin to construct a new reality.

A new racial justice movement must be all inclusive. The first one marginalized women and was largely missing the voice of other ethnicities. Although these communities still played a role in the movement, they organized in their separate silos. This division cannot be characteristic of a new movement; we need all hands on deck! A recent Colorlines article by Rinku Sen gets to this:

“We can and must get to the place where we all see ourselves as one movement, rather than as a collection of movements working in solidarity with one another. It’s a subtle shift, but one that would serve us well. Being one movement doesn’t mean we have to lose the specificity of our experiences and solutions, but it does mean that we can engage in a level of joint analysis, planning and action that would make the most of each community’s assets. I can tell you, the leaders and foot soldiers of a single movement talk to each other far more often than do the leaders and foot soldiers of allied movements.”

The vision that Sen lays out of a movement consisting of multiple players is beautiful and compelling because that is exactly what it will take to stomp out this evil. However, I strongly believe that the Church needs to be a part of that vision. When I say the Church, I am not talking about individual churches but the entire body of believers signing on, standing up, and locking arms with others who are already knee deep in the muggy waters of this thing. As a community of faith, we need to march, we need to fight, and we need to pray alongside of those who’ve been standing for far too long. We need to see ourselves in it for several reasons: (1) we have a role to play (2) we are all affected by it.

A Role to Play

The Church has a very clear role to play in a new racial justice movement, and that of spiritual warfare.  You see, sin and demonic oppression lie at the root of racism and only the Church is able to speak to that. There are many ways that we can do this, but the one that I want to highlight now is prophecy.

In Ezekiel 37, God leads the prophet to a valley of dry bones. Looking at the bones, God asks the prophet if the bones, which were dead and decaying, could ever live again. Ezekiel’s response – only you know Lord. God then tells the prophet to speak over the bones and command them to come to life again. And at Ezekiel’s word, the bones begin to come back together and regained breath so that they lived and functioned as the living souls that God had called them to be.

I believe that God is asking the body of Christ in this nation the same question that He asked Ezekiel, except the problem is not dead bones but racism – both individual and institutional. The question of the hour is whether or not we can ever get to the bottom of this horrid injustice, and by the Spirit of God, the answer is yes. In the same way that Ezekiel prophesied to the valley of dry bones, we as a community of believers need to call out to racism to hear the word of the Lord. We can begin to speak life to that which has represented death and demonic activity in this nation, and command life in its place. As we do, the very real stronghold that has held our nation captive in its grip for hundreds of years will begin to break.

We Are Affected, Too

I call this out as a separate reason that the Church needs to get involved because many people erroneously believe that what is happening in the world around us, has no implications on us. Such people also believe that staying in their little bubbles full of church activities and people who look like them, will keep themselves unstained by the “pagan” practices of the world. However, the Bible tells us to keep ourselves from conforming to the pattern of this world; it never instructs us to separate from it. That would pretty much be impossible.

With this in mind, it would behoove us to be concerned about the world’s state of affairs, and for the sake of this post, the state of affairs in this nation when it comes to racism. Every single person who lives in this nation is affected by its insidious consequences. When the people of Israel went in to exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah likewise instructed them to be concerned about what was going on there: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

Or stated another way: We do better when we all do better.

So now we understand why the Church needs to get involved in a new racial justice movement. The question that remains is how. Another post, for another day.

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