Black History Month and the Precarious White Identity

We are now in the final week of Black History Month.* During this month long observance, Americans call to their consciousness the many contributions of black Americans in our society. Or at least that is what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to remember people like Frederick Douglass, Ida B Wells, W.E.B Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, Shirley Chisholm, Nina Simone, and Maya Angelou. We are supposed to remember heroes and heroines like these, who changed the course of American history by refusing to allow the dictates of a racist society to keep them in their place. We remember these as inspiration for moving forward in our present day, drawing on their example in today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

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The reality is that for many Americans, Black History Month is a sore spot. Many Americans, mostly white, cannot wrap their minds around the need to dedicate a whole month to appreciating black Americans because of their inability to affirm and recognize our humanity. This is because they have so distanced their identity away from blackness through suppression and exploitation, to the extent that any affirmation of such feels like an unforgivable insult to who they are. 

This is so much so that in the face of our nation’s changing demographics, white people seem to be experiencing a certain existential crisis. By 2050, people of color and immigrants will be in the clear numerical majority which expands the American identity from just white, or rather, European Americans, to people who look a little more like me. As Langston Hughes said, I, Too, Am America. And with those demographic and national changes, the pool of people who are able to work, lead colleges, serve in political office, run companies, and govern our nation, looks much more black and brown than it does white.

These changes are threatening for white Americans. At least, that is what I assume based on the rhetoric coming out of the 2008 election of our nation’s first black president. “We need to take our country back.” “From whom,” I ask rhetorically, knowing that the answer is from black and brown people who also now hold power. The idea that a black man could sit in the highest seat of authority in the land is baffling to the white identity. This shows that there is also a shift in the social-political landscape amalgamated with our changing demographics that is sending folks into a tailspin.

As a result of this crisis of identity, the pushback against black Americans has been ridiculous. Police brutality and race-based terrorism are all symptoms of a people furiously looking for a means to maintain their identity, and unfortunately all of which get codified into an twisted, ideological belief system that supports the centrality of the white American identity. This is predictable, actually, it is not an aberration to the black experience in America at all.

What is a departure from the norm, at least, now it is coming to light, is what is going on in the white community itself. A recent Princeton study authored by economists Angus Eaton and Anne Case, highlights the dramatic increase in the suicide and drug overdose rates in middle-aged white Americans. This spike is particularly unique to this group as other racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans, have seen their mortality rates for all reasons go down.

American Dream over

The reason for the rise in mortality rates? In addition to the challenging demographics, things such as the economic crisis, prompted by the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers and the housing market, in addition to the closure of working class manufacturing jobs has threatened the economic security of white Americans who have long thought that if they worked hard enough – and even believed in God – that they could achieve the American Dream. Now it is clear that this is simply not true. For all intents and purposes, white Americans are losing the narratives of their lives.

But you know, white Americans aren’t the only ones in history to experience this crisis of identity. In fact, the Jewish people, as shown in our biblical text today, did as well. Let me set the scene for you: You have a people who built their entire existence around the notion of being God’s chosen nation. Because this idea went to their head, they started going about the world acting like they have a right to oppress, exploit, and kill others, even people in their own nation. Sound familiar? God got angry about this and punished them by sending them into exile. He then has mercy on them and allowed them go back to their homeland and rebuild the temple which takes us to about 519 B.C. But the next several hundred years were nothing but a series of false starts due to their continual disobedience, outside oppression, and the increased Greek influence on Judaism.

In the face of the shifting culture and socio-political environment, the Jews began to construct a new narrative about themselves. At a base level, this identity formation is good because it is important that we know ourselves in the context of other selves. However, when you base your identity on a culture of superiority and oppression, this is where the problem lies. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Jews did. They began to emphasize the centrality of their identity as God’s chosen people to the exclusion of anyone who did not fit their very narrow paradigm of acceptability, which demanded following endless strict moral and ceremonial codes. Something that only well-off men could do.

While this paradigm brought them comfort, Jesus called their pretense for what it was – a farce. Instead of validating their very shallow, shame-based identity, Jesus invited them into repentance which we see taking place in verses 1 – 17 of chapter 13. He challenged their understanding of righteousness and called them out on their hypocrisy because in their strict observance of the Sabbath day, they ignored the needs of others in their midst, including the hungry, the sick, and those who were political prisoners. The pursuit of justice got lost in the drive to secure salvation for ‘just us.’ Ironically, the very thing that they thought would bring them security was separating them from God.

The Jews were on the fast track to living outside of God’s Kingdom permanently. Ironically, the very thing that they thought would bring them security is driving them further away from God. But, wait, let’s look at those who are entering in. Verses 29, 30 say: “And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” In other words, it’s the Gentiles, the sinners, the prostitutes, the oppressed, the socially marginalized, who will be welcomed into God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul affirms this in Romans 9.30-32b, saying,

“What shall we say the? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.”

Those who the Jews were distancing themselves away from, the ones whom they were oppressing, the very ones whom they were saying were excluded from the Kingdom based on their socio-political identity, were in fact the people who would see themselves in the Kingdom of God!

It is at this moment, while Jesus was challenging the Jews on their identity in the context of the Kingdom of God, that the Pharisees came to warn him about Herod’s plan to kill Him. Now we know why. If the Jews really believed what Jesus said, it would change the way that they interacted with empire. Most likely, they would probably stop subsidizing it the way that they had. And most certainly, like Jesus, they would begin to speak out about the injustice inflicted by the hands of the empire. Perhaps, like Black Lives Matter activists today, they would begin to stage protests and other demonstrations to shame the empire into acting right.

But never mind that. Jesus does not concern himself with Herod at all. In fact, He completely de-centers him because he knows that Herod cannot kill him before it is his time to go. Instead, he turns his attention back to his original audience, crying:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD (Luke 13.34, 35)!”

Jesus’ heart broke for his people. He longed to rescue them, provide for them, in the same way that a hen cares for her children. Listen to his need to protect a people who simply cannot understand the impact of their choices because like children, they cannot see beyond their own primal need for survival.

But they refused. In spite of the sincere pleas to get it right, the Jews refused to let go of this false narrative that they have about themselves. In fact, they went to great lengths to maintain it, to the extent that they eventually handed Jesus over to the Roman Empire to be put to death.

Jesus, being the Son of God, knew this was coming. As he urged the people to get right, he also saw and understood that they simply wouldn’t. And so, exasperated, at least I imagine, he lets them have their way. Have it your way, if that is what you want. If you can’t let go of this one thing, this one thing that has shaped you but is destroying you at the same time, have it your way. But trust, judgment is coming.

Black people throughout our nation’s history have been the voice calling for white Americans and others whose basis of identity is the oppression of others, to change. Black history month, in many ways, offers whites the opportunity to surrender an identity based on 400 years of exploitation, rape, and theft, in exchange for an identity that recognizes and validates the humanity of black Americans. Essentially, it is an invitation for whites to stop hiding behind a culture of superiority, to face its history, and to commit to walking the path of anti-racism and justice in the future.

The process of redefining the white identity has to start with affirming the identity of black Americans and seeing black Americans as people who also bear the image and likeness of God. In that reframing, whites will begin to see blacks deserving of the same human rights and opportunities that are afforded to them. No longer is it a question of whether black children should have access to good schools and education, or whether they should be able to work livable wage jobs with health benefits, or if young black men are less deserving of the right to live and be free, or if black women have the right to speak out against their unique oppression. No. All of these questions become absolute when the white identity is reframed away from superiority and otherization. These questions and the need to define whiteness as something abhorrent to blackness dissipate because at last, you see our humanity. And in our shared humanity, we can walk forward together in peace to transform the world around us.

*This post has been amended from a sermon that I preached over the weekend at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights. You can listen to the sermon here. Please note that the sermon’s link also includes a brief children’s message before my own.*

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Black Women: Elevating the Neglected Voices Among Us

black women matter_resizeIn our American society, we pay the most attention to those who have a lot of clout. We tend to flock after those who have reputable degrees, have some sort of coveted expertise, or are for other reasons highly influential. These are the people to whom we ascribe value and importance, and as such, these are the people that we most readily listen to in times of crisis and confusion. Other voices, in particular those at the margins of our society – poor, uneducated, people of color, women, etc – often go ignored or are “otherized” so that mainstream society does not feel compelled to listen to them. This is especially true when said voices are speaking out against societies’ crimes.

No one embodies the complexities of this reality more than black women. Black women – as a result of the intersecting marginal identities of racism, sexism, and often classism (and more) – are disproportionately silenced and ignored when we speak out against America’s sins. When we call out racism and police brutality, our voices are stifled by white liberals who supposedly “get it” but demand a colorblind approach to the problems that we face. When we condemn oppressive gender roles and rape culture, we are often hushed by black men who insist that we are only out to hurt the black man. And when we critique systems of white supremacy and patriarchy that are so deeply embedded in our churches, we are often labeled angry, rebellious, and too emotional. Every moment that we resist our prescribed role as societies’ mule, our words are either torn apart or dismissed altogether.

The reality is that societies around the world have a way of making sure that those at the bottom, stay at the bottom. One of the most efficient ways to do that is to ensure that no one hears the prophetic cries of change that are uttered from below. As long as those voices stay unheard, there is no urgency to change systems of oppression. Yet God, as He always does, has a way of elevating the neglected voices in our midst calling for truth and justice.

An Ancient Example

Such was the case with Amos, ascribed author of the book of Amos in the Old Testament. Written between 793 B.C and 753 B.C., God rose Amos up to address the ongoing oppression wrought at the hands of Uzziah the King of Judah and Jeroboam the King of Israel, and inflicted on the most vulnerable. People were economically exploited, women were sexually violated, others were deported only to be brutalized and killed, and the unborn were discarded. All of these egregious things were done for the benefit of the empire who grew more prosperous with every single act of atrocity.

God was beyond angry over all of this and planned to deliver swift, punitive judgment. But like many things, He didn’t do this in the dark and wanted the powers of the state to be in the know, just in case they might repent and turn from their evil ways. God needed to appoint someone to deliver His word, someone who would be willing to speak truth to power and whose stomach wouldn’t turn at the mere thought of standing against the status quo. God’s mouthpiece for the moment: Amos.

But the thing is, Amos was not a prophet.
He had not been trained among the best of Judaism’s finest religious scholars and teachers. He also was not royalty, or a person in some position of authority within the empire, or even someone really famous for doing nothing, like the Kardashians. In fact, Amos represented the lowest of the low: a sheepherder. He made his living by following around dumb animals all day. But taking care of sheep didn’t give him enough income to provide for his needs, needs which most likely included feeding his growing family. To make additional income, Amos also was a dresser of sycamore trees, a tree which produced small fig-like fruit that wasn’t especially sweet but accessible to those who were poor. Like him.

In addition, Amos was fatherless. Unlike many of the other prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, and Jonah, no father is ascribed to him. Amos’ father’s absence from the introduction of his story tells us that he was either missing – dead or in prison – unknown, or that his family’s social location was so low that his father could not give him more credibility than he already had.

Though not theologically trained, a person of little to no influence, and fatherless, God used Amos to bring much needed judgment to Judah and Israel. According to Amos 7, other religious leaders sold out and their once prophetic words disappeared in exchange for the comforts that cuddling up to empire brought. While some prophets may have genuinely recoiled at the deplorable state of affairs, they were too afraid to say anything that could definitely be the case with the prophet Isaiah. Note that Isaiah waited until King Uzziah of Judah died before he began his prophetic ministry. Amos represented a fresh voice that was not only attuned with the Spirit of God but whose position in life gave him the experiential authority to challenge the systems of oppression that were common place in his day. Because as a poor, fatherless, un-influential man, he was most likely on the receiving end of much of that oppression.

I wonder how many people paid attention to his words. As is the case with most prophets, I am sure not many. But again, his social location further inhibited people’s ability to listen to his words. Whatever allowances were granted to other prophets who were able to get in good with the same empires they critiqued, like Daniel and Nehemiah, were not extended to him. Instead, he prophesied alongside the roads and in the streets, declaring the word of the Lord to whomever would give him the time of day. I suspect that not many did.

A New Vanguard

Like Amos, there are many black women prophesying the word of the Lord in our nation today. In the present day, black women are lifting up our voices to prophetically speak out against racism and state sponsored violence. We are leading the charge against sexual violence and exploitation, demanding that our bodies stop becoming the object of perverted male fantasies. And we are speaking truth to power concerning queer/transgender violence, wage theft and unfair scheduling, health disparities, unjust housing practices, mass incarceration, gun crimes, and disparities in education – all the while looking absolutely fabulous, I must say. Like Amos, we bear the complexities of our intersecting marginal identities but we refuse to be silent just because society insists that those in our social location should stay in our place. Through our words and our work, we are creating our own place.

Like Amos, there are many black women who are boldly challenging the dictates of empire – an empire which claims to follow God but who clearly does not. Instead of accepting the status quo, as if it were indomitable, black women are forcefully making society face its awful, racist past. We are critiquing our nation’s sacred policies and practices, insisting that these documents were not prescribed by holy men committed to God but men committed to growing our nation’s wealth through colonization, genocide, rape, and slavery. We are calling out the American church for its role in marrying empire and who has used evangelism and mission initiatives to justify this ungodly allegiance – in the quest to save a few souls, the church has lost many! The journey of prophetic critique is uncomfortable and seemingly inconvenient. Like Amos, we are protesting in the streets, the courthouse, places of establishment, the church, and wherever there appears to be a demonic stronghold over our lives and the lives of our people. The journey is also long but black women are committed to walking the long road of truth and justice, even if necessitates walking alone.

Like Amos, our liberation is bound up in our ability to critique a society that thrives off our continued oppression while also stirring the imagination within that same society – so that our futures will be different. It is not enough to draw attention to America’s crimes without also proffering a compelling, godly vision of justice and peace. We imagine and call forth a time when people – across race, gender, and class – are able to live among each other as brothers and sisters, providing love, hospitality, and care for each other in the same way that they are loved and cared for. We imagine a future where our babies make it home at the end of the day with their pockets full of skittles and iced tea, where our sisters are not forced to surrender their sexuality nor are they treated like unruly criminals for doing seemingly asinine things, and where our brothers and fathers grow big and strong and provide strength and love to our families until God calls them home. Full of the spirit of God, we see a space where no one has to work four jobs just to make ends meet. Instead, the community meets the needs of everyone and no one is exploited for their lack or inability to provide for themselves. Laughter and joy fills our lives instead of terror and fear. Together, our beloved community – which includes men and women, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated, able-bodied and disabled – reflects the love of God throughout the earth. This is shalom. This is what the fullness of God’s Kingdom looks like!

Courageous, spirit-filled black women are the new vanguard, lifting up God’s vision for justice in our midst. And we insist that this justice must be realized for all marginal identities and not just those most readily able to approximate white patriarchy. The question is: will empire listen? Will our government and places of power finally listen to the prophetic voice of truth and justice that has been crying out for nearly 400 years? Will our churches listen? Will our theology, at last, recognize and honor the voice of the suffering and move away from its bent toward triumphalism?

To date, our government and institutions, including our churches, have not listened well. But the reality is, you cannot listen to those who you cannot hear. This is why we must push for the continual elevation of the neglected voices of black women so that we may be fully and completely heard. The church can play a role in this by supporting more black women doing theology and leading our congregations. There have to be more on ramps for black women to be trained and supported in pursuit of our vocation which necessitates providing significant financial support, ongoing mentorship, and meaningful internship opportunities.

At the same time, there is already a multiplicity of trained, educated, experienced and capable black women voices out there calling forth God’s justice in every way that they can. And doing it well. Discover them. Research them. Follow them. Break out of the filter bubble that is so commonplace on social media and actively seek out perspectives that differ from your own. Plan conferences where black women are keynote speakers and not just an afterthought in order to diversify an otherwise white space. In so doing, the church will become an effective vehicle in normalizing the “otherized” while simultaneously rejecting the notion of whiteness as default.

Elevating the prophetic cries of black women is the urgent task before us. And as we elevate these voices, hear and listen, may we heed God’s Word so that we will not be destroyed: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you (Amos 5.14, NASB).”

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Is This Who We’ve Become?

Live togetherLast week, I received a call that no parent ever wants to receive – that there was a potential threat at my child’s school. After the police received information that there was a suspicious person outside of the building, the school was put on code yellow to ensure the safety of the children and faculty as well as to allow for more investigation. Fortunately – thank you Jesus – the police didn’t find anything and all returned to normal. Even still, the fact that there was a remote possibility of a threat sent me into an emotional frenzy and a slew of what-ifs.

What-ifs. I was here just a few weeks ago. As I came home from work and prepared to turn on my street, I noticed a cop car blocking most of the intersection. Determined to get home and start on dinner, I cut through the parking lot of a nearby CVS only to be met by a cop on the other end. After stopping me, the cop walked up to my car door, opened it and informed me that the street was closed. Unsure of what was going on, I explained that I lived on that street. When I disclosed the address of my residence, the cop informed me that there was a shooter nearby and that if I wanted access to my building, I would have to go the other way around, park my car, and walk. Not wanting to take chances, I decided to take my kids to dinner away from the area, hoping that by time we were done, all would be clear. But it wasn’t. For nearly three hours, we waited to receive word from my husband – who happened to make it home right before this charade unfolded – that the cops had opened up the street and it was safe to come back home. And with every minute we waited, I agonized over the sense of normalcy that have characterized things like this.

In our day and time, it is becoming increasingly normal to encounter acts of terror throughout our society. While we go throughout our day hoping and praying that the next attack won’t hurt us or our loved ones, we do very little to change the reality that violence characterizes our society. Whether that violence is exacted by the hands of the police, politicians ready to kill anything that moves contrary to their will, religious extremists, white supremacists, or lone gunmen who just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, the fact of the matter is that violence is the way that America does life.

Because violence dominates our way of being in the world, we also live in a heightened state of fear and anxiety. Fear over what someone might do to us. Fear of random strangers on the street who happen to cross our paths. Fear of those who look, believe, and act differently than mainstream white folks so that at every misstep we jump, ready to defend ourselves. And then, a loose cannon gets on television and tells us that the fear is justified. That those people over there are the root of the problem and not hundreds of years of U.S. domestic and foreign policy. And they insist that more guns and violence is the solution. ‘Arm yourselves.’ ‘Protect your family and your property.’ ‘Shoot first – ask questions later.’ As a result, everything and everyone becomes a target. I swear, we’d shoot the wind if we could.

Is this who we’ve become? Has our existence, our purpose in life, boiled down to this? Are we nothing more than strangers, and – I dare say – enemies, to those who don’t ascribe to our way of doing things? Will we continue to devour and destroy those who we fear poses a threat to our existence like wild, ravenous animals? Can we not find a way to move forward that doesn’t involve more loss of life and human connection?

I believe we must. We have to dig ourselves out of the deep abyss that we’ve created – the abyss which chokes out life and disregards our God-given humanity. While the U.S. has long operated under the guise that this mass of marginalization and death was for others – black and brown folks, the weak, those who were easy to exploit – the fact of the matter is that we’ve been digging ditches for our own burial. And the more we target and silence others, we compromise our own ability to breathe.

Nothing makes this more clear than the looming threat of climate change. We are now in crisis mode. Of a truth, communities of color and indigenous communities over the world are facing the most adverse realities of this right now as whole land masses are predicted to soon be under water and weather changes ruin crops and other resources. But the reality is the devastation will soon affect us all, which emphasizes the need for us to act as one human family, placing aside individual – and frankly monied – interests for the sake of the common good.

We are connected. We are one, big human family. The fear that defines us and the violence that characterizes us is not only a threat to marginalized groups at the bottom of the barrel, but all of us. The time has come for us to put down our arms, overcome our racism, xenophobia, and greed, and walk back toward one another so that we all may live.

*Quote is from Dr. King, link to image >

 

 

 

The Church as a Catalyst for Racial Justice

TheChurchHow can the Church of Jesus Christ
be a vehicle for change and racial justice
in a society that consistently
dehumanizes and devalues black lives?

This is the question that believers of the Gospel, need to ask in earnest as police brutality and white supremacist violence increasingly compromises black American’s ability to live and do life well. In 2015 alone, there hasn’t been one week that has gone by without us hearing about a black life lost too soon, or a black body being physically violated as a result of state sanctioned violence.

Names like Tony Robinson, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Dajerria Becton, Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Sam Dubose, Raynette Turner, not to mention the Charleston 9 – Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons Sr., DePayne Middleton Doctor – have become household names in black homes around the country, people who we never knew but whom we recognized as brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, play cousins and friends, as a result of the affinity we shared. As we mourn their lives, we demand justice for our own, chanting #BlackLivesMatter so loud that our cries shake heaven.

But as we mobilize, educate, advocate, and tweet, the Church sits quietly with its hands folded like a helpless child, often offering trite, wholly inaccurate explanations to the suffering. Persecution. Degradation of the culture. Video games. Black-on-black violence. Sin and immorality. Lack of personal responsibility. Drugs. Obama. And a host of other reasons, all which either minimize or ignore altogether the main issue – that black Americans, solely because of the color of our skin, are not able to fully access the opportunity to live and have our humanity fully embraced in the same way that our white brothers and sisters are able to.

Over the last couple of weeks, this is the point that I have stressed over and over again: that more than lacking access to economic opportunity, black Americans lack the opportunity to fully live. It’s been a hard truth to sell, it doesn’t go down easily. AND it can be a defeating concept to grapple with, I get that. But the reality that bears out, time and time again is that we are hunted and profiled and then assaulted for simply doing everyday, run-of-the-mill type things like walking down the street, asking for help, sleeping, traveling across the country, swimming, playing rap music, and worshipping our God.

As I have mentioned at great length before, I believe that the perfect combination of laws, science, and religion have gotten us in this mess. In my last post, I addressed the ways that law and science has been used to perpetuate racism and white supremacy but also how it can be used to undo it. In this piece, I want to examine religion and specifically Christianity in the same light.

The Church as a Means of Validating Structural Racism

Historically speaking, the Church has been used as a means to validate structural racism and white supremacy. Yet the roots of the Church being used as a vehicle for oppression do not begin on America’s soil, indeed they reach all the way back to 4th century when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Up until this time, Christianity posed a real threat to the ruling powers of the day to the extent that those who professed to be followers of Jesus Christ lived under the constant threat of having their property destroyed and being killed.

But Constantine changed this, which had some significant benefits i.e. no more persecution as well as drawbacks. Sharing power with three other emperors, he gradually began to position himself politically speaking so that he could rule the entire empire. Turning to battle in order to defeat the competition, he received a revelation of sorts which instructed him to place a Christian symbol on the shields of the soldiers, which most scholars understand to be the first two letters of the name “Christ.” Constantine then made Christianity the official religion of the empire and also stopped the persecution of Christians which had endured up until this point.

While some believe that this event represents Constantine’s conversion, it is important to note that after this ‘revelation’ he continued to worship the Roman god, the Unconquered Sun. Scholars and theologians alike call into question the legitimacy of Constantine’s conversion, believing that it was more of a political maneuver than anything else. And perhaps it was. Because while Christianity is embraced by the empire, it is also now controlled by the empire and becomes the de facto representation for state sanctioned oppression, exploitation and violence.*

Those in power now control what was once considered an organic, abundant expression of God’s grace and love in the world. Whereas Christianity was previously known for the love and hospitality that it showed to both those inside and without the Christian community, it was now associated power and prestige. The empire continued to operate as it has always done but now it did so with the validation of the Christian faith. And anyone who questioned it, or decided not to opt in, were either ostracized or killed.

This is the way that Christianity has operated for the last 1700 years, wielding a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. While the face of the empire has changed through the ages, the fact remains that it has long been controlled by the powers that be. And the empire, up until recently, has always needed it to be this way, as it has used the Church as a means for social and economic control. In his book, ‘Prophetic Imagination’ Walter Brueggemann explains:

“In the establishment of a controlled, static religion God and his temple have become part of the royal landscape and the sovereignty of God is fully subordinated to the purpose of the king…obviously, oppressive politics and affluent economics depend on each other. Nevertheless it is my urging that fundamental to both is the religion of the captive God in which all overagainstness is dissipated and the king and his ideology are completely at ease in the presence of God. When that tension concerning God’s freedom has been dissolved, religion easily becomes one more dimension, albeit an important one, for the integration of society (Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination: p 34, 36).

So you see, when those who wished to colonize the Americas looked for justification to do so, they drew upon a structure that was already in place. They were not so much inventing a new wheel as they were expanding the scope and functionality of it so that Christianity would now be used as a means to subjugate and dehumanize people based on the color of their skin. Slaveholders and others began to pick and choose scriptures (out of context) from the Bible which they believed supported their erroneous claims to the land of the Indigenous people and the bodies of Africans, weaving these disparate verses into a doctrine of supremacy.

While slavery ended some 150 years ago, white supremacy and racism endures. In fact, white supremacy never needed slavery to substantiate its claim to black bodies, what it needed was this Christian faith to legitimize its actions at every turn so that no matter the structure – slavery, convict leasing system, Jim Crow, segregation, war on drugs, mass incarceration, police brutality – it would endure.

The Church as a Means of Undoing Racism

In spite of it’s history, I remain hopeful that the Church can be a vehicle for change and uprooting white supremacy in our society as well as across the globe. My hope is twofold. One, I believe in Jesus Christ and the promise of the Gospel. And as I read this Gospel, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ is in the process of redeeming this world, including we ourselves, back to him. The book of Revelation declares:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Revelation 21.1 – 4, NET).”

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22.1 – 5, NET).”

Reading God’s Word, I am rest assured that the order of this world – and of the United States, for that matter, will one day come to an end. This is reason enough to be hopeful. Secondly, I remain hopeful in the Church because it is Christ’s instrument to announce peace, reconciliation and healing to a broken world:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24.44 – 49, NET).”

So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1.6 – 8, NET).”

After His death and resurrection, the Church was what God used to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and invalidate the Roman Empire’s faulty claim on eternal rule. While I believe that the Church will be what God uses to break the chains of white supremacy and racism in our time, drawing a nation’s consciousness back to the value of black life, it can’t from a place of power and wielding might in the way that it has done it before. Due to its deep, dark history of oppression, the Church will only point the way to healing and reconciliation if it relinquishes its relationship with empire and associate with the downtrodden and exploited in our society. Indeed, this is what Christ modeled before us, showing us that true transformation does not come through the power of the sword but through finding oneself in relationship with those society has cast off going to the point of sharing in their suffering and pain.

Fortunately, this is the opportunity before us now. Many statisticians are beginning to declare the end of the Christian era in America, as many churches are shrinking their budgets, laying off staff, or closing their doors altogether. Society itself seems to be moving away from defining itself by Christian values and doctrines. Indeed, we live in a time when Bible stories and concepts that were once considered well-known even among unbelievers, are foreign.

But if we look with spiritual eyes and stop licking our wounds, we will realize that what is really happening is that we are entering a post-Constantinian era. The hold that the empire once had on the Church is no longer necessary because the goals and morales of the empire function just well without it. White supremacy is so ingrained in our nation’s soil, and capitalism so much a part of our nation’s ethos, that it no longer needs Christianity; these things thrive just well on its own.

As the empire looses itself of the Church, let us likewise shake off imperialism and wholly and completely embrace Christ for who He truly is. Let the Church relinquish its claim to power and capitalism so that Holy Spirit can work through us in the way that He worked through the first century disciples – completely unrestricted, drawing a nation’s consciousness away from the deception of the Roman Empire to the enduring truth of Christ. In doing so, we will be able to join the chorus of black Americans crying for justice, chanting #blacklivesmatter because in seeking God’s truth, the Church will be able to tell an immoral world that our humanity is the truth. I will be waiting, millions of black people are waiting, for the Church to take its rightful place in proclaiming racial justice and restoration in this hour. Do not delay!

*See Justo Gonzalez’ The Story of Christianity: Volume I

The Role of Law, Science, and Religion in Both Perpetuating and Overturning Racism

Victory-GrillEvery day, it seems, I bear witness to the reality that rights to humanity are not afforded to everyone in this country. Every day as I face the world, I see life being snatched away from men, women, and children simply because they are black. This fate is no respecter of persons in that it does not matter how wealthy, how poor, how saved, how pagan, how educated, how uninformed one is – so long as you are black in this country, you run the risk of being accosted and harassed by the police or shot by unsuspecting terrorists in your own house of worship.

This is the point that I really wanted to establish in my last piece, “Opportunity Gap? The Only Opportunity We Lack is an Opportunity to Live.” So often I find that in conversations about racial justice, the discussion focuses on improving economic opportunity for black people. Don’t get me wrong, this is important! We need access to jobs, housing, education and so much more. However, the crux of this issue is not that we lack these things; the problem is that we lack the opportunity to fully live. In fact, it is because we do not have complete and total access to life that we sometimes lack the financial wherewithal to live well.

How do we undo this? Is it even possible to turn back the clocks of time and live as we did before blacks were taken hostage and brought to the American soil? Probably not, racism and slavery has left an indelible mark on each and every one of our souls – black and white alike – so that it very much defines and characterizes who were are as Americans. But, I believe that we can be healed so that our collective humanity as Americans is restored.

Our healing won’t come easy, true transformation never does. It will take us, all of us, looking deeply at the situation before us and accessing the damage that has been done. We must consider how we got here, what were the layers that went into crafting this false narrative of racial superiority and inferiority? As I previously indicated, the perfect combination of laws, science, and religion, were instrumental in creating the current conditions. If these things were what led to our current reality, they must also be faced in order to secure a future where blacks are fully embraced and humanized.

Let us first address the things that need to shift in laws and policies. Before doing so, it would be helpful to understand that laws are not moral documents but documents that limit and control the behavior of a particular group or people. I make this case in a recent blog post, the Irrational Politics of Law, drawing from the stories of Daniel and Mordecai in the Old Testament to explain how law can be used intentionally and unintentionally to discriminate against people:

In Daniel and Mordecai, we see how the law can be used to inhibit a people whose existence threatens the state. The law, in instances as such, is nothing more than a tool to ensure that the interests of the powerful remain intact. The law, therefore, is not a just, moral document. Instead, it can be a representation of pure evil, something to be fought against rather than obeyed.

As police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial profiling continue to rob our communities of our black men, women, and children, for wearing hoodies, asking for help, running away when sensing danger, selling cigarettes, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fighting for one’s rights, it is clear that the laws of the land are designed similarly to the ones of the Persian empire. The laws that are being erected are there, not to ensure moral behavior, but to severely inhibit black people so that we are either behind bars, dead, or so extremely poor and disillusioned that our existence does not disrupt the power structure of the state.

In America, laws have often been used to limit the ability of black Americans from moving and existing freely in the American society. The War on Drugs was one law which unjustly profiled, arrested, and sometimes killed black people for possessing small amounts of illegal substances. And in the most extreme, desperate cases, drugs were planted on people so that there would be an excuse to profile, harass and arrest. Yet the war was announced prior to there actually being a presence of these drugs in society. The plan was clear: cripple the vitality of the black community, restrict our movement, and silence our leaders. Time would fail me if I began to unravel the immediate and lasting effects of this war. What I will say is that living through the crack years of the 1990s was absolute hell. Laws like this do not need to be reformed but revoked all together in order to grant freedom and access to black Americans (and no, legalizing marijuana is not the answer here. Opportunists!).

Public policy, when designed and implemented with race in mind, can be a great tool in addressing the inequities that our unjust laws have produced. This is what much of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s aimed to do. Had this legislation been able to operate as it intended and lift the burdens of black Americans, society would look much different than it does today. But the beast of racism wouldn’t let it. In the words of the illustrious Malcolm X, ‘Racism is like a cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.’ The American society needs to commit itself to stop inventing new, more insidious forms of racism and allow the public policies that can reduce racial inequities to work.

While the work of Carl Von Linneaus was foundational in making the case for a hierarchy of races among humans, any scientist worth their salt knows that this is simply not true. And Bill Nye is certainly worth a lot of salt. According to Nye, there is no scientific basis that supports race whatsoever. In fact, as Nye so eloquently puts it, all of humanity originates from the same place – East Africa. The differences among us can only be attributed to migration patterns and the effects of ultraviolet light on the skin.

PBS documentary, Race: the Power of An Illusion, supports Nye’s thesis. The documentary which draws on the expertise of researchers, scientists and more, also concludes that any genetic differences between us are not based on the color of one’s skin. “85 percent of all the variation among human beings is between any two individuals within a local population…any two individuals in any so-called race may be as different from each other from any individual in another so-called race.” To substantiate this claim, a group of students representing various cultural and racial categories, tested their DNA to see who they were most like and who they were most different from. Prior to receiving the results, the students assumed that they would be most like their peers who were from their same racial and cultural group. Yet they discovered that genetically speaking they were as similar to those within their racial group as they are to those without.

In spite of the work that has been done to prove that the idea of race is not supported by science, American society operates as if it holds true. It is so ingrained in this country’s ethos that scientific data alone cannot put an end to this myth that has endured for centuries. Late last year, I had a conversation with someone who wanted my opinion on research they were conducting about health outcomes and differences between people of color and whites. I spent at least ten agonizing minutes trying to explain that the differences had nothing to do with genetic makeup or biology because race is artificial. But he kept going there, so clueless to the fact that the differences in health outcomes had everything to do with racial disparities, environmental injustice, and concentrated poverty. When I concluded our conversation stating that his research was faulty and unscientific, he blew me off. Facts alone cannot change hearts and minds. But I know something that can.

As I mentioned above, religion – and specifically American Christianity – also played a role in sanctioning slavery and the perpetual dehumanization of black bodies. The same documentation that made it theologically permissible to exploit and colonize Native Americans supported slavery. While this has historically been the case in our country, I am also convinced that true Christianity that is not marked by white supremacy and colonialism has the capacity to change attitudes, substantiate scientific research and lift up good policy that ensures that blacks, along with every other disinvested group, are treated in an equitable and just manner. Essentially I believe that the Church, through Christ, is able to reaffirm the humanity of black Americans and say to a sadistic society that racism has to end. In an age of colorblindness and #BlackLivesMatter, this is what we desperately need. In my next piece, I will explain how. Hang around!

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Forgiveness and the State of White Supremacy in America

Charleston2Yesterday, Mother Emanuel AME reopened its doors after experiencing such a traumatic ordeal Wednesday evening. The congregation lost nine precious souls that evening – Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor – when a white male opened fire aiming to start a race war. By holding service instead of keeping its doors shut, the congregants displayed the great capacity of the human spirit to forgive. It sends a loud message not only to the shooter, but to the American society as a whole, that racism and terrorism will not stop God’s people from moving forward. Instead of being defined and crippled by white supremacy, this community is demonstrating that it will conquer it through forgiveness.

Forgiveness. It’s a term that has been evoked since Wednesday’s shooting. Just days after the incident, Chris Singleton, the son of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was praised for his ‘poise and strength’ and ability to forgive the shooter for killing his mother. Similarly, Marcus Stanley, a gospel singer from Virginia, posted to the shooter’s facebook wall an incredible message of forgiveness and grace. These are the messages that have gone viral and that have been uplifted in the media. They are important messages which reflect such amazing grace and mercy, but on their own, they are incomplete.

You see a message of forgiveness is wholly incomplete without a message of repentance. In times like these, we not only need to hear the words of forgiveness but also words of confession.  As African Americans, who have experienced this level of terrorism in our communities for 400 years, we need to hear “we’re sorry” more than we need to say “we forgive.” Yes, forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel, but so is repentance. Indeed, we cannot even begin to receive God’s forgiveness until we repent. If this applies to our own relationship with God, why would we expect the arrangement to be any different in our own human dynamics?

Yet, if those in our society who tout the importance of forgiveness are honest with themselves and with us, we will begin to see that the urge to forgive is only masquerading as the gospel. In all actuality, forgiveness is being lifted up at such a critical time as this in order to disarm the grieving and silence the broken hearted. And as a result, the victimized are re-victimized again! In addition, demanding forgiveness without offering deep, sincere repentance, also leaves open the opportunity for such atrocities to happen again because it never deals with the wrongdoing.

Those in power must also be honest and admit that they are deftly afraid of black rage. As such, in rushing a wounded community to forgive they also demand us to put out the godly, justified anger that is welling up in our hearts and force us to quell our raging emotions. But once again, they fail to understand what the essence of forgiveness truly means. Reflecting on the murder of #MikeBrown nearly a year ago, Tracy M Lewis breaks the meaning of forgiveness down:

Forgiveness, and all the good it facilitates, is NOT the equivalent of blind allowance. Forgiveness does not mandate that I be silent. Forgiveness does not mean neutrality. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t rally around those who are the victims of violence or demand justice from the same people I know I must forgive. At some point, I have to think that a demand for compassion and forgiveness for those who hurt me or my children must somehow meet up with the demand for repentance and justice. While a demand for peace is certainly right, every action has a reaction. There are consequences–some of which will be meted out by those being commanded to be peaceful. This is especially true in a world that increasingly refuses God and His grace.

As Lewis states, forgiveness and repentance must meet. Together, these two powerful forces will bring about the change that our society needs. Although slavery was abolished 150 years as of this past Friday, the vestiges of white supremacy are still alive and well. The terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel AME this week is evidence of that. It is not an isolated incident but is connected to the larger narrative of dehumanization and marginalization of black life. Police brutality is also connected to that narrative, as is as mass incarceration, housing discrimination, unemployment, health disparities and the educational gap. We will fail in dismantling this horrific narrative if we do not raise repentance to the level of forgiveness.

Hand in hand, forgiveness and repentance will not only bring about change but it will usher in reconciliation. Reconciliation is when two individuals, groups or communities, that have been divided find their way back together, whole and healed. Reconciliation is of value because living in peace and harmony with one another is a worthy goal. We should aim to live in a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and no one is discriminated against on account of their skin color is our goal.

In reporting on the reopening of Mother Emanuel AME’s doors, CNN contributor Van Jones suggested that reconciliation had taken place. I understand the desire to want to claim this as a victory, we certainly need a win, but he was so wrong! Reconciliation was missing because repentance was not present. As Curtiss DeYoung states in his book, Reconciliation: Our Greatest Challenge, Our Only Hope, “reconciliation is impossible until an individual (or a group of people) takes responsibility for the polarization that exists and takes action to create a better future.” To this date, neither the shooter nor America’s white supremacist society have taken action to create a better future for African Americans as a result of this atrocity.

The question before us now is how. How might this society, so entrenched in white supremacy, confess and repent of its sins against African Americans? How might those in power, not just say sorry, but put some teeth behind that sorry so that reconciliation and justice can be a reality and not just some unattainable idea? Here are just a few ways:

1. Confess and repent. The shooter needs to repent. South Carolina needs to repent. Our government needs to repent. The American Church needs to repent. The entire society needs to repent of the ways in which it has perpetually dehumanized, exploited and exterminated black life. This is where we need to start. A verbal “I’m sorry” that goes viral would be nice. At a deeper level, however, this nation needs a process that gives space for public confession of wrongdoing similarly to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by Canada to address the crimes committed against the Aboriginal people (Native Indians).

2. Call this what it is. It is terrorism that was racially motivated. It needs to be identified as such and prosecuted the same. As much as I believe that gun accessibility needs to be addressed, this is not what this is about. And yes, hollywood has a lot of flaws but this is also not about that, Franklin Graham. It is also not about persecution of the Church, FOX News! It’s about the ongoing persecution of blackness.

3. #TakeDowntheConfederateFlag that flies over South Carolina’s state capitol. No seriously, it needs to go. It is a gross symbol of America’s history and justification of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. Tear it down.

4. Enact legislation that starts to uproot the remaining vestiges of white supremacy and that puts an end to policies that systematize the dehumanization of black folks including police brutality, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline.

5. Put your money where your mouth is to ensure: total employment of the black community, quality housing, good schools, access to healthy food, and other economic opportunities that redresses the long standing disparate outcomes in the African American community.

6. Develop and preach a theology of social and biblical justice. Here are two resources written by me that would be a great start: Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice and The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology.

7. Follow and learn from black theologians, scholars, sociologists, writers and thinkers including: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Charles M Blow, Brittany Cooper, Christena Cleveland, Brenda Salter McNeil, Drew Hart, Austin Channing Brown, Efrem Smith, Michelle Alexander, Lissa Jones, Cornel West, Claudia May, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kimberle Crenshaw. These are just a few, there are many, many more including amazing resources referenced in the #CharlestonSyllabus. Follow them. Learn from them. Support them financially. Just do not appropriate their wisdom or their work.

8. Teach your children about racism. We cannot believe, and we should have never believed, that racial justice and love is learned through osmosis. There is this prevailing notion that younger generations, millennials, are more racially tolerant and open than others. The shooter, who was 21 years old, as well as the students involved in the horrible SAE chant, and the three teens who purposely used their truck to run over and kill a black man in Mississippi, have proven this to be false! Be honest with your children about our nation’s history and ongoing battle with this. They can handle it.

9. Center black folks. Yes, #AllLivesMatter, but all lives are not being threatened. It’s the lives of black men, black women, black children, black clergy, black legislators, black youth, black LGBTQ, black Christians, and black atheists, that are being called into question. If America is serious about valuing all, it must then get serious about valuing those that it treats with the most contempt.

The road to reconciliation in America is long. It will be tough. And it will be arduous. But it is not impossible. If the nation addresses the sin of racism and white supremacy in the ways that I have just outlined above, I believe that we will see the change that we so desperately seek. Let’s not allow that process to be cheapened by inappropriate demands for forgiveness.

The Irrational Politics of Law

cropped-Law2

How does it feel to be a problem? This is the question that W.E.B. du Bois asked reflecting on the black experience in America. Or rather, how does it feel to be intentionally targeted and controlled by the rule of law? How does it feel to know that the laws that are being erected and passed off as just, moral codes, are only there to entrap, ensnare, and essentially eliminate you?

In truth, many people in our society have never harbored such feelings. In fact most, I suspect, go about feeling that the law is here to protect the wellbeing of America’s residents which in and of itself is a noble and very necessary goal. However, there are segments of our population who deeply understand the ways in which the rule of law has only been used to justify their perpetual maltreatment. While this can be said for many communities of color, today I want to focus on the reality of black men, women, and children in our society today.

As cities like Baltimore and Ferguson boil over continued police brutality against black bodies, misinformed talking heads dominate the air waves suggesting what black people need to do to ensure that they are not the latest victim: pull up your pants. Don’t run. Don’t carry anything that remotely resembles a weapon. Dress a certain way. Don’t go here or there. Get an education. Be a law-abiding citizen. Don’t resist, don’t question, don’t raise a fuss. Respectability politics all over the place without understanding that it has never really been about the law as much as it has been about the person that the law is targeting.

If we were step back in time, say several centuries, we would realize that this way of constructing laws isn’t new. Many empires throughout the history of our world have approached the law-making process with the aim of horrifying their subjects into submission, silencing them, or obliterating them altogether. Sometimes the targeting is toward a specific people group or nationality; sometimes it is toward an individual whose presence disrupts the stronghold of power.

Let’s look at two specific examples of this irrational law-making taking place in the Old Testament books of Daniel and Esther. In Daniel, we see a law targeting one individual, namely Daniel himself. Daniel, while in exile, rose to prominence in King Darius’ regime. The Bible tells us that Daniel’s extraordinary spirit caused him to stand out and above the rest of those who were governing affairs in the kingdom, so that King Darius planned to place him in the highest decision making seat in the land. But the commissioners and satraps who also governed alongside Daniel weren’t having it. There was no way they were going to allow a foreigner rule over them! And so they started looking for dirt on Daniel, in hopes of finding something that would tarnish him in King Darius’ eyes.

In spite of their attempts, the commissioners and satraps could not find anything on Daniel. He had that squeaky, clean image that most people love to hate. And so, they came up with a law that would surely trap Daniel, a law against his God. They approached King Darius and petitioned him to pass a law forbidding anyone to pray to any deity or person besides himself for 30 days. The punishment for breaking the law was death by a hungry pit of lions. King Darius, apparently the self-absorbed type, signed off on the law and the fate of Daniel was sealed.

Yet, Daniel refused to be frightened into submission. He maintained his posture before God even though he knew it might cost him his life. Just as he did every day before the law was passed, ‘he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously (Daniel 6.10b).’ And of course Daniel’s enemies watched closely by, anxiously waiting to report their findings back to the king who had no other choice but to throw him into the lion’s den.

Now let’s turn to the book of Esther, which is chronologically situated after Daniel. In the reign of King Xerxes (King Darius’ son and successor to the throne), a decree was issued to kill all of the Jewish people in the land. Their crime? Their religion forbid worship of anyone but God, and Haman the Agagite, who was recently elevated in prominence in the Xerxes’ kingdom, was offended by this. After Xerxes promoted him, he passed a law which demanded that everyone else bow and pay homage to him, which violated the Jewish law. Day after day, Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow to Haman. And when Haman learned of this, and learned the reason behind Mordecai’s refusal to pay him homage, he not only committed to killing Mordecai but the entire Jewish people as well.

For all intents and purposes, Daniel and Mordecai were law breakers. They were not outstanding citizens who obeyed the commands of the state; they were violators of those commands. But let us remember, these laws were designed in such a way that they would automatically be discriminated against. In the case of Daniel, we come across a law that was intentionally designed to kill him. It did not matter what Daniel did, said, wore, or ate, the commissioners and satraps were going to find a way to get rid of him. That was their aim!

In the case of Mordecai, we find a law that unintentionally targeted the Jewish people. I say unintentionally because while it was not specifically designed with the Jewish people in mind, it was still discriminatory because the Jews naturally fell victim to it which is called disparate impact. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, ‘disparate impact refers to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral, but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups.’ And while the initial law was unintentional, the subsequent one which would exterminate them for breaking it, was completely intentional. The punishment for breaking ‘the law’ was extreme, irrational, and unjustified.

In Daniel and Mordecai, we see how the law can be used to inhibit a people whose existence threatens the state. The law, in instances as such, is nothing more than a tool to ensure that the interests of the powerful remain intact. The law, therefore, is not a just, moral document. Instead, it can be a representation of pure evil, something to be fought against rather than obeyed.

As police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial profiling continue to rob our communities of our black men, women, and children, for wearing hoodies, asking for help, running away when sensing danger, selling cigarettes, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fighting for one’s rights, it is clear that the laws of the land are designed similarly to the ones of the Persian empire. The laws that are being erected are there, not to ensure moral behavior, but to severely inhibit black people so that we are either behind bars, dead, or so extremely poor and disillusioned that our existence does not disrupt the power structure of the state.

As the other ruling authorities felt threatened by Daniel and Haman felt threatened by the Jewish people, our mere existence – daring to breathe, daring to think, daring to imagine a different reality – threatens capitalism which only thrives if we are perpetually oppressed. Laws are passed to ensure this structure stays intact. This being said, it does not matter who is in the oval office, or who the attorney general is; the law of the land continues to function as it has always functioned, because in fact, this is the only way that our economy will continue to thrive and that the state will continue to exist.

Again, I ask, how does it feel to be a problem? How does it feel to know that no matter what you do or don’t do for that matter, that you will be treated like a criminal by the state that you inhabit? How does it feel to know that laws of the land are designed to ensure your criminality at every turn? How does it feel to know that your very existence is under constant monitoring, constant evaluation, constant measuring as those in power pass devise new ways to pass judgment against you simply to make a profit.

It doesn’t feel good. No, it doesn’t feel good at all. But these are the irrational politics of law.

Sidenote: Daniel didn’t get eaten by the lions – God held their mouths closed when he was thrown into their den. And the Jewish people were not exterminated by Haman – God used Esther to turn the heart of the King towards her people. This tells me that in spite of what the empire aims through the use of the law, God has the final say. Because God has the final say, there is always hope!