I’ve Been Thinking: Thoughts on Racism, Oppression, and the Kingdom of God

silhouetteI’ve been thinking…
…about how racism compounds the already complex nature of original sin. Of how, because of sin, humans already have a tendency to exploit and abuse one another. On our worst days, and under the right circumstances, we can all be lured into sin and take that which belongs to another. But racism validates it. Racism legitimizes it. Racism makes stealing, genocide, rape, and murder okay. Racism systematizes that oppression, making it that much harder to pinpoint and break. Sin, thus, is not only committed by racist individuals but by anthropomorphic structures that do not think or feel, breathe or feel in order to serve the interests of rich and powerful white men.

I’ve been thinking…

about how racism dehumanizes people of color in so many ways. We struggle to find employment and when we find it, it does not pay a livable wage. Without family sustaining wages, we fight to put healthy food on the table. No matter because we lack decent stores that shelve those healthy foods in our communities. And yet, convenience stores and fast-food chains line our streets along with the check cashing place. And if by chance, we ‘make it’ and get an education, buy a home out of the hood, and do well by the standards of this world, there is no guarantee that we or our children will not end up back in the place we desperately tried to escape: oppression. Someone else, usually white and most often male, feels the need to make decisions that should be ours to make. We cannot live where we want to live, send our children to the schools we wish to send them to, or stand up for ourselves without someone corrupting our narrative or taking the microphone away from us while we speak. At every turn, we seem to be duped and plotted against. Where does freedom exist?

I’ve been thinking…

…about how they keep terrorizing and killing us. Whether at the hands of a power-hungry cop or a self appointed vigilante, our bodies are under constant siege. It does not matter what we are doing, it does not matter what we are wearing, it does not matter who we are worshipping, it does not matter how old we are and definitely not how educated we are – on an hourly basis we are targeted and on a daily basis, we are discarded like waste. It’s maddening and it’s simply exhausting. 400 years of this. When will the storm end?

I’ve been thinking…

…about how much violence exists within our own communities. So much blood has been spilled of our own sons and daughters by our own sisters and brothers simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing coveted status symbols or for being connected to the wrong people. Internalized hatred and shame is trapped in our bones, and that hatred we can so easily project onto others, usually those who live, work, or play within proximity to us. We compete with each other, turn our backs on each other, shame each other, and even exclude each other from life and community even though, truthfully, we are all we have. How can we unite together, putting our differences and opinions aside, in order to go head to head with the demon that is racism? Together we stand, divided we fall. 

I’ve been thinking…

…about internalized racial superiority perpetuated by many white people. Many whites have adopted and hold on to an identity of ‘better than,’ one which they are willing to protect at all costs. In order to protect that identity, they label immigrants ‘illegal,’ Muslims ‘terrorists,’ black people ‘thugs,’ and anyone who dares to ask for help ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled.’ And then they pass policies to back up their rhetoric, all the while demanding their rights to free speech and gun ownership lest someone challenge their twisted ideology. Politicians race to say the craziest, outlandish thing in order to rile up their base ignoring the fact that if they did half of the things they promised, we would all be screwed. Truth of the matter is, none of us will be free, none of us will find justice, until whites themselves are free and healed from the lie of superiority that they have internalized for so long.

I’ve been thinking…

…about how in our pursuit for justice we are sometimes only really committed to our own personal liberation instead of the liberation of all of us. We want racial justice but are not willing to challenge capitalism and corporate greed because as much as these systems hurt us, they benefit us, too. We refuse to call the American Dream a nightmare because we still want a piece of it, believing that this is what justice means. However, even in a case where we had unrestricted access to that dream, who pays for it? Whose blood is spilled to secure it, whose family destroyed to maintain it, whose land devastated to sustain it? If not our own lives and our own families, surely those of our sisters and brothers overseas. Our foreign policy has devastated whole communities in lands far away, but what costs them much benefits us a lot. We cannot accept this, we must reject any notion that suggests we should.

I’ve been thinking…

…about what it will take to dismantle racism and white supremacy. We cannot move into a future free of oppression and pain, using the same tools and the same tactics that have gotten us here. We cannot keep building on a foundation that was designed for our failure; instead we need new governance, new theology, new economics, and new sociology. The time is now for new wineskins in which to pour the sweet wine of justice, peace, love and solidarity.

I’ve been thinking…

…about what is the spiritual moment in our nation. As much as racism is a political strategy it is also spiritual. What is going on outside of the realm of this world that we cannot see that is yielding the current results? What is the Kairos, or opportune, moment upon us? How will a deeper understanding into what the Spirit of God is doing in this season in our nation strengthen our ability to dismantle racism.

I’ve been thinking…

…about how we cannot dismantle racism without the intervention and power of the Holy Spirit. While we intend well, we simply cannot fight this intense battle without God. Because of our imperfections and our tendency to pervert justice, we need the Almighty God to go before us. We need God to empower us with the ability to prophesy against this evil system of injustice and call forward the fullness of His Kingdom, where death will at last be defeated and racism will finally be put to rest. That our hearts would rejoice and remain expectant for that day. Marantha! Come quickly, Lord!

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Ferguson: It Is a Sin Problem

TruthImageThere’s a Facebook post that is currently circulating. You know, the one written by football player Benjamin Watson. In it, Watson wrestles over his emotions regarding what is going on in Ferguson. While I don’t necessarily resonate with many of the points that he raises in the post, I do agree with some of Watson’s analysis of sin being the root of the problem in Ferguson. And so do other Christians, apparently. Over the last day or so, my Facebook feed has been full of peers posting and commenting on Watson’s piece, jumping on the sin bandwagon. Sin seems to be the idea that believers, who have otherwise been largely silent in Mike Brown’s death, can unite around. And so, since the idea of sin has come to the forefront, it is expedient that we take the opportunity to identify just what type of sin we are dealing with here.

You see, if we are going to have a conversation about sin we must be honest and forthright in our analysis. We cannot simply look at individual sins, but we must look much deeper into the soul of our nation and consider the factors, the history, and the values that have led us to this point.

Capitalism. This is really the sin that we are dealing with here. In the name of capitalism, America has done a lot of shameful things which include exploiting black and brown bodies. In pursuit of profit at all costs, the idea of race was created and used to justify treating blacks as property instead of people. Because blacks were not seen as fully human, it was okay to enslave us, beat us, and even kill us, with little to no consequence for any of these actions. In that construct, blacks were not only seen as inferior to whites, but were also labeled dangerous so that whether we are asking for help, walking down the street, or playing in the park, we are automatically assumed to be guilty without ever having a chance to be proven innocent.

The sins of racism and capitalism are, therefore, closely intertwined. In fact, capitalism cannot thrive without racism continually waging a war against black people in this country. Consider the war on drugs which disproportionately targets and imprisons black men, when in fact, whites use recreational drugs at the same rate, if not higher. Also look at the housing crisis; the homes of blacks were foreclosed on at higher rates than whites due to discriminatory lending practices. Blacks, regardless of credit and income, were steered into subprime mortgages and so were at a greater risk of losing them compared to whites.

And of course, Ferguson. Let’s look at Ferguson and the incidents of police brutality around the country. Data suggests that a black man is killed by a police officer or self-appointed vigilante every 28 hours. In the few weeks surrounding the death of Mike Brown, there were are least 4 other men who had been assassinated by the police. Now that Jim Crow is no longer legal, a practice that was set in place when whites started to feel threatened by the economic gains that blacks were making, the police force has become the de facto executioners of the state. Not only is this sinful; its downright demonic.

So yes, sin is the undergirding problem in Ferguson and America at large. But it is the sin of capitalism and racism that must be dealt with in order to move this country toward a place of healing, reconciliation and love. This is why we cannot allow the idea of sin to exonerate ourselves from dealing with the bigger issue here because if we ignore it, we will not only lose out on God’s peace but His very presence. While undoing racism is a big task (we are dealing with structural and systemic issues here), with God nothing is impossible. Here are a three ways to get started today:

1. #BOYCOTTBLACKFRIDAY: In the wake of Monday’s verdict, protestors, community leaders, and activists all over the country have been calling like-minded individuals to #boycottblackfriday and in fact, all related activity through Cyber Monday. Since it is capitalism that continues to allow people like Mike Brown to be shot and killed without being held accountable, capitalism has to take a hit. Stand with black people and our allies and proclaim before the world that #blacklivesmatter.

2. Preach about Ferguson this Sunday and the weeks to come with a deepened analysis around racism and capitalism. See the sin for what it is and bring your congregation, small group, or social media following through a critical and informed understanding of what is going on. This will require that you take the time to listen to what other people are already saying about Ferguson, but it will also demand that you start to educate yourself around racial justice issues.

3. Pray. And after you are done praying that God break this nation’s strongholds, join up with others to demand justice. This is a battle that will not only be won on our knees but with our mouths, hearts, and feet as we declare God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

*Note: It’s not about the rioting. It’s really, really not. It is because of CAPITALISM that some Americans value property over life.

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Is It Really About Race?

raceSince the Zimmerman verdict was announced a few weeks ago, there has been a lot of talk about race that has taken place. Many people, black and white alike, are up in arms about the results of the trial because they feel like race played a major role throughout this case starting with Trayvon’s unfortunate death. Yet for other people, this is all that Trayvon’s death was – unfortunate. It was not the result of racism or any other form of systemic oppression, but something that could have easily happened to any person wearing a hoodie and walking slowly on a rainy night.

For others, Trayvon’s death is evidence that we live in a sinful, evil society. Such persons argue that sin is the root of the problem and not race to which I wholeheartedly agree. Ever since Adam and Eve chased after their own lusts instead of staying committed to God, sin has destroyed us and is the root cause of every societal problem that we face. It is the reason why we steal and kill. It is the reason why we cower in fear over those who do not look like us or share our worldview. It is the reason why a jury would allow a man who took the life of another to walk away completely free. As much as we try to deny it, sin is our master and controls every move we make (Romans 6).

That being said, while sin is the culprit of this whole thing, race is a symptom of the sin. Though it is not the cause, we would be naïve to say that it doesn’t exist and that it doesn’t wreak havoc in our communities. We have to remember that race was created as a means to keep Native Americans and African Americans in their place during the days of slavery in the United States, and used as a means to justify their mistreatment. Those who made up this ridiculous construct proposed that people of certain races were less than human, and because they were not fully human, it was ok to enslave them, colonize them, rape them and even kill them.

Although race was created hundreds of years ago, these ideals continue to be deeply embedded in our society. Our homes, schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, governments, and yes even churches function in response to this demonic construct that was put in place years ago. All we have to do is look around the U.S. and we will see it alive and at work.

But that is not to say that it cannot be overcome. Indeed, it can be. All sin, because of the blood that Christ shed on the cross, can and will be dealt with. Although a lot of damage has been done, we can have victory in this area because of the victory that Christ accomplished in His reconciling us back to God first and foremost, and subsequently to one another. Out of our relationship with Him, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, which means that we as believers have a responsibility to bring people together across racial, gender, sexual, socioeconomic, and political lines (2 Corinthians 5.17 – 20). But it will take prayer – a whole lot of prayer – and a fair amount of intentionality to overturn these concepts and feelings in people’s hearts and throughout society. We have to have open conversations, repent, offer forgiveness and go the extra mile to get to the bottom of this evil.

Race won’t go away simply because we deny it or say that it does not exist. Though I wish it were that easy, we cannot be ignorant of the enemy’s devices. Race, like every other sin, cannot be ignored; it must be dealt with head-on! Until we take intentional steps to confront it, it will continue to divide and conquer our communities.