Lament Song


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I woke up Wednesday morning feeling lost and confused, remorseful over the events of the night before. So much shame and a deep feeling of wantonness filled my chest, comprising the air circulating in my lungs trying to keep me alive. My head ached, my body was sore, and I wanted to vomit up the evils that threatened to overtake the dark-skinned body that I inhabit, telling me that I don’t belong.

For years, I have felt this though sometimes in less subtle ways. Being a product of the 80s, my grandmother’s realities were not my own. After all, I have always lived in the progressive north and was born after monumental civil rights legislation was passed. At the same time, racism has always been part and parcel of my life’s experience, whether I lived in the hood or the burbs. Mass incarceration. Rodney King. Massive unemployment. Displacement and gentrification. Police Brutality. And discrimination. These are all daily realities of living in this black body, here in this country that claims to love God so much while it despises God’s very creation.

But Wednesday, Wednesday the day after that night that we have all been dreading more than 18 months, further intensified what I have always feared. In many ways, it made the covert nature of racism more overt as the nation elected a fascist, white supremacist for president. This man was clear about his intentions for people that represent any difference from the cis-gendered white male identity, you know – Black, American Indians, Asian Pacific Islanders, Women, Differently Abled, Queer and Gender Nonconforming folks. 

And his people salivated for it, no matter how much we tried to reason. They ignored our pleas and appeals to the higher conscious and Christian morality. They so much lusted for the power of days gone by when it was okay to call people Nigger and lynch them in the next moment. They craved the freedom that comes with male patriarchy and treating women as sex objects with no personal ideas and inclinations. To them, this was liberation, they only felt secure in their humanity when they stripped others of theirs. They denied the image of God in people who look like me, insisting that in a world of 7 billion people their’s were the only lives who truly mattered. So they refused the call of the prophets and priests and the saints among us, quenching the spirit of God begging to break forth in themselves in order to satisfy the depraved yearnings of the flesh.  

So now. We grieve. We lament. We the black ones whose lives are already under attack every single day. We the American Indian ones who are fighting to hold on to the last bit of land we have and save our earth. We the undocumented ones – Asian, Latino, African, and Caribbean – who fear instant deportation, whose children are too scared to go to school, who are afraid to even comprehend what it is to go back to their own countries of origin that have been decimated through US foreign policy, trade, and war. We the queer ones, whose bodies people just won’t allow to exist. We the Muslims who’ve been called unworthy, who’ve been labeled terrorists, who are stopped and profiled before we even leave our homes. We the women, who already experience assault, whose bodies are already over sexualized, whose voices are already silenced because no one dares to believe our stories are real.

We are the voices calling out from the margins, raising our voices to denounce America’s sin. We weep because you have chosen the fleeting pleasures of whiteness over our existence. We wail because you used religion to cover up your hatred of us, insisting that this was about God when in fact, you denied him over and over again. We shake our fists in rage, fearing what may happen, agonizing over what has already happened to our babies, our folks, and our kin as the hoods come on and the racists, who we’ve always known to be racist, come out of hiding to denigrate our existence. 

And yet.

We forgive you. And we will resist you. Our liberation and even yours, is tied to our resistance of this great evil that eats at your soul.

We love you. And we will rebuke you. For if we do not rebuke, we do not love.

We wish to be reconciled to you. And we will protest you. For reconciliation cannot occur without a prophetic telling of our pain and suffering. If Christ could not reconcile us to God without calling us into repentance, you should expect nothing less from us. We call, no we implore you to repent and be delivered from the sin of white supremacy that steals our land, kills our bodies, rapes our women, and denies our sons and daughters the opportunity to be free.

In our liberation, you will find deliverance.

In our liberation, you will find deliverance.

In our liberation, you will find deliverance.

Salvation

There is no power gained by oppressing others.
No glory.
No honor.
No peace.
No joy.
Only terror, the terror of living under the tyranny that your own hands have wrought. The agony of your own oppressive behavior released upon the earth, threatening breath, air, water, land.
Us.

Be delivered from the memory of your tyranny that haunts your bones and that keeps you awake. That chills your soul.
And step into the light with the rest of us.
Where goodness flows like milk and loves tastes as sweet as honey.

This is where salvation is.

White Reform

*Warning: This post is mostly satire, aimed at challenging (and changing) pervasive and destructive narratives that are applied to people of color while ignoring and even downplaying violent behaviors in whites. While written in jest to expose the level of hypocrisy and hatred embedded within white supremacist ideology, something must really be done to dismantle a system that kills black and brown bodies around the world. We need a collective movement, comprised of various strategies, people, and ideas, including new, liberating theologies centered on the experience of people of color, immigrants, and women, that will shake the beast that is white supremacy to its core, freeing us all from it’s grip.*

I try not to listen to anything Donald Trump says. Everytime I do, I walk away with a severe headache and a profound sense of hopelessness for our nation. And so, for the sake of my sanity, I mostly tune his rhetoric out. This week, however, my strategy has proved to be futile as news outlets and social media focus in on Trump’s latest mumbo gumbo. The unfortunate target of his vile, hate speech this time? Muslims.

It is no secret that Trump has a deep disregard for people of the Muslim faith. On the campaign trail, he has expressed a desire to essentially stomp out Islam and those who are connected to it, in order to purge the world of ISIS. Since the San Bernardino shooting last Friday, where it is suspected that Muslim radicals engaged in a mass shooting that killed 14 people, Trump has only doubled down on his rhetoric going so far as to insist that Muslims be banned from entering into the United States.

In one speech, Trump targeted all Muslims to address the actions of a few. Although people from both aisles of the political divide are denouncing his actions, this is something that will likely yield disastrous results in the Muslim community – both in the U.S. and around the world. Missing from his speech, of course, was any action directed toward the other mass shooters in 2015. By some estimates, there have been 355 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including one on the same day of the incident in San Bernardino, the shooting at Planned Parenthood several days prior, an incident in Minneapolis a few weeks ago when five people protesting the execution of Jamar Clark were shot, the mass shooting in Oregon in October, and the shooting of the Mother Emanuel 9 in June. Most of the suspects in these cases have been white men. And yet there hasn’t been any speeches, by Trump or others, calling white men in.

In addition to the mass shootings, there have been other ongoing acts of violence by white men in our society. In 2015 alone, 1,109 people have died at the hands of the police, exceeding 2014 numbers before the year has come to a close. Overwhelmingly, the officers in these cases have been white. And in 100% of these cases, no officer has been convicted – though more officers have been charged in recent years due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter and others raising this issue in the nation’s consciousness. Of course, these numbers do not take into account the number of people who have been brutalized by cops without death nor the number of women who have been sexually violated by police officers. Nor do these numbers consider the ways in which practices and policies – so often passed and implemented by white men – make life a living nightmare for communities of color and indigenous communities around the world, contributing to a slow, agonizing death of sorts that seldom makes the evening news but is just as deadly, and far more prevalent than guns.

Of course, not all white men are mass gunmen and not all white cops are would-be killers of black and brown bodies. Even still, these occurrences, suggest that there is something at play that goes beyond gun control and police reform. The deeper issue is the culture of violence that is pervasive among white men, violence that often goes unchecked because they are white men. Besides the increased presence of police cameras, which has not seemed to pay off like some said it would, police are not held accountable for their sins against people of color. And mass shooters, if they are white, get escorted to the nearest Mickey D’s and get off on mental health charges instead of having to seriously deal with the ways that they have terrorized the American society. Vigilantes like Zimmerman often go scot free, and if they are charged, it is often for a lesser charge in order to ensure that they are not actually punished for acts of terror and white supremacy.

How will a society, no a world, that is terrorized by angry white men find healing and wholeness? What can we do to ensure that these disastrous things come to an end, and that when they do happen, white men are actually held accountable for their actions?

I propose something called White Reform. In the same way that our country passes policies and programs to address problems in communities of color and indigenous communities, it is time that we flip the script and put white people under the microscope for once in order to get at these tenuous social ills caused by white supremacist ideologies that exploit the life and liberties of others to satisfy the blood hungry appetites of white men. Below, I have briefly outlined a few bold steps that can move us forward today:

  1. The government should start a new initiative focused on improving the outcomes of white men in our society. Call it, “My Whiter Brother’s Keeper,” if you like. Invest millions of dollars in the initiative and award local municipalities who come up with the best strategies for solving the white problem. Emphasize the need for mentorship in order to address the fatherlessness problem that exists in white single-parented households. Challenge and condemn promiscuity among white teenagers; blame white musicians and sexual icons for their role in increasing violence and other inappropriate behavior.
  2. Commission a report that will study the extent of the white problem and put forth a call to action that will outline tangible and measurable steps to get to the bottom of the culture of violence in the white community. Nonprofits should start hiring organizers who will work in the white community. Foundations should invest money to support the efforts of these nonprofits. Invent lots of programs, throw money at them, but make sure that the actual money stays in black and brown communities. Audit and scrutinize organizations run by white people because they might not use their limited funds correctly.
  3. Invest in social services and other medical interventions to figure out why so many white male shooters are mentally unstable since guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Conduct focus groups and listening sessions where people of color do all of the talking and are the experts, but be sure to have a few white people in the room who won’t challenge what is being said, to analyze the factors that contribute to the mental instability.
  4. Early childhood education, all education for that matter, must explicitly teach white children to not be racist. Teach real American history, lifting up the true narratives of American Indians and African Americans. Reveal this country’s practices and policies that have cut people of color and indigenous communities out of opportunity, and let children know that these practices have taken root not only in the south but in the so-called progressive north where liberalism and tolerance abound. School districts that have comprehensive lesson plans that yield results should be awarded with dollars to improve their education programs.
  5. White parents should send their children to inner city schools to make sure they get a good education. Simply being next to black and brown children will improve their life outcomes.
  6. Train educators how to handle white rage and misbehavior. If they teach in Minnesota or other Northern states, they should take note that the rage will be more passive in nature and appear less dangerous but it is just as harmful as in your face, overt racism. Social workers and psychologists must learn how to best work with these people. If all else fails, tell their parents they have a learning disability and insist that they take harmful drugs so that they sit still in class.
  7. Equip all of the suburban and rural schools with medical detectors and security guards. Ensure that no white student or adult walks through the doors without being screened to make sure they are not in possession of a firearm or other explosive. Do not tolerate the slightest incidence of misbehavior from white children; use suspensions as a disciplinary method.
  8. Universities should start offering White Studies at a bachelor and master’s level. The programs should emphasize the social ills created by whites living away from people of color for so long. Black and brown students should be admitted into the program as well. They should become the experts in White Studies, even though it is the lived experience and daily reality of whites.
  9. Take a paternalistic approach to all policymaking, programs, and other efforts aimed at solving the white problem. After all, people of color know what is in the best interests of whites and can even speak for whites if they have one white friend, family member, or grew up living next to whites.

Of course, not all white men need to be reformed. There are many, outstanding white citizens who are a testament to their race who are nonviolent, anti-racist, and simply fantastic human beings. Use these men to be the models for the rest of them. Bring them on talk shows, news outlets, and quote them addressing the white problem so that others in the white community can be influenced by their good behavior. However, use disagreement among these leaders in the white community as an opportunity to humiliate them and discredit their movement. Write articles and op-eds pointing out the inconsistencies in vision and approach as a means to justify their continued marginalization.

Is this plan discriminatory? Perhaps. But something must be done to get at the culture of violence exhibited by angry, white men. Our society must be rid of white oppressor behaviors that continue to steal from our children, rape our women, and kill our men. Contrary to white supremacist ideology, we must take a collectivist approach here and prioritize the needs of the community over one, lone individual. And until we have a handle on the problem, perhaps we should pass policy reforms that will keep white men from voting and achieving political power over people of color and indigenous folks. Relegate them to certain neighborhoods, separated from the rest of us so that they cannot harm others. And if they still do not get in line, threaten stricter social reforms, mass incarceration and deportation.  

On Kindergarten and Little Black Girls

diversepreschool-585x296My daughter started kindergarten last week. And it was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was excited to see her transition out of daycare into the formal system of education – a transition that clearly indicated that my precious five year old, the one who I carried for 9 months, nursed for 2 years, and with whom I have spent untold hours reading to, potty training, and you know, general caring for, was growing up. On the other hand, I was a nervous wreck because for the first time in her life she would be under the instruction of a white teacher within a white institution, and I would not be able to be present to protect, love, and guide her through it.

I have heard the stories from parents and educators alike who have witnessed first hand the intrinsic racial bias that is displayed towards students of color. While this bias may not be overt, meaning that it is often not intentional or done from a place of malice, it operates in such a way that targets students of color, limiting their ability to be well and flourish in the same ways that their white classmates do. It does this by drawing on stereotypes about people of color to form conclusions about behavior, culture, and values – conclusions that are inaccurate because the premise from which they were formed assumes that children of color are either always in the wrong or in the perpetual need of white saviors. These negative assumptions are more than simply wrong but absolutely destructive to students whose young minds who are so malleable.

As I mentioned, one of the things that shows that racial bias is evident in the system of education is the high rate of suspensions among black and brown students. In Minneapolis alone, where my daughter is enrolled in school, 400 students from kindergarten and first grade were suspended in the last school year up from 246 in the previous year. And the racial disparity in these suspension is significant. Data from the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership reports that “in 2012, the suspension rates for white males, who make up about 18% of the enrolled student population was at 3.4%. But for African American males who make up about 19% of the enrolled student population, similar to their white male counterparts, the suspension rate was 18.7%.” The disparity between white and black students suggests that there is significant bias when interpreting the behaviors of our youngest scholars. Things that are seen as misdirected but innocent behavior in white students are seen as disruptive and maladaptive behaviors in students of color.

But inappropriate disciplinary action is just one evidence of racial bias in the education system. Racial bias also exists in the macro and micro slights that occur on a daily basis, gradually chipping away at the esteem and confidence of students of color. It’s in whom students are perceived to be before they even walk through the door. Depending on racial or cultural background, some students are treated as if they have a handicap or are in need of some tailored approach to learning simply because they do not possess a ‘traditional’ American name. My daughter and I experienced this last year when we went in to assess her kindergarten readiness. For some reason, the student placement center thought that she was Somali (even though I told them she wasn’t) and issued her an assessment test geared for Somali students. Even after I fought hard for them to change it, they were slow in doing so.

It’s also in the curriculum that is taught and the books that are read and offered to the students. For the most part, black and brown faces are missing from these stories but when they are there, they mostly defer to some racial and/or cultural stereotype about who we are. Such is the case with the books being offered by Reading Horizons, a Utah-based company that specializes in literacy training which Minneapolis Public Schools has a contract with. The books project highly offensive narratives about people of color, immigrants, and women as well (thank you teachers for standing up to that nonsense)!

Lest some misguided reader suggest that the problem lies in Minneapolis’ Public Schools or in public schools in general, let me assert that racial bias in education is vast and widespread. It Racial bias in education rears its ugly head in private, charter, faith-based, and alternative schools across our nation. And yet, America’s system of education is just one tool in the hands of a white supremacist society, perpetually committed to minimizing, silencing and destroying the lives of people of color for profit in order to benefit wealthy white men.

Now, I guess, one can probably understand and perhaps sympathize with my fear in sending my daughter off to school. Over the years, her father and I have gone through great lengths to ensure that she has a healthy understanding of herself: we’ve affirmed that she is beautiful, valuable, intelligent, curious, funny, and so much more. We’ve taught her the beauty that is inherent in her skin color and the curl pattern of her hair which is prone to much shrinkage. We’ve told her that she can achieve anything that she puts her mind to and that she should never say ‘I can’t do it’ but rather ask for help. She is learning that she has a rich cultural history spanning two nations – America and Nigeria and she is thoroughly interested in learning Yoruba, her father’s language. And we’ve told her times without number how much God loves her and how much God delights in her and how much she is fearfully, wonderfully, and beautifully made. This she knows. But I know that she has just entered a system bent on telling her the exact opposite of all that I’ve worked to instill in her.

Perhaps I should take an act of faith. Maybe I should be more trusting and less skeptical. Probably. There are individual schools and teachers who are doing an amazing job and who are intentional about providing the best level of education to all of their students regardless of race, culture, or socioeconomic background. I believe my daughter’s school is one of those schools which is one of the reasons I was intentional in my selection process. These are rare, shining examples which deserve to be praised, uplifted, and modeled. Even so, the system, in spite of the great schools, the outstanding curriculum, and the award-deserving teachers, is flawed, and mostly so for students who look more so like my daughter. The individual stories of success get lost and are even severely impacted by a system bent on destructive – which is highly financed and politicized, further impeding the damage, another story for another day. 

So I don’t trust it. I can’t trust it. Having faith in the school system to do right by my daughter and all of those who look like her is like having faith in white supremacy to do the right thing. It just may not happen (soon). The burden of proof is in all of the students of color who walk through the doors of education and leave broken and wounded. So I am not hinging all of my faith here. That would be lunacy. Instead, I stay informed. I stay vigilant. I re-educate and supplement whatever the teacher is teaching with material of my own, books of my own, knowledge of my own. And I resist, I resist the notion that our kids can’t learn, that they are not up to par, that there is something inherently wrong with them because I know that is not true. And everyday, I make sure my daughter knows the same.

And if all else fails, there is always homeschooling!

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

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

blackchurchesBlack churches are burning again in America!

By rough estimates, eight black churches have been set ablaze since the horrific #CharlestonMassacre two weeks ago. As an African American whose spiritual roots are connected to these institutions, I cannot explain the absolute horror that I feel inside. You see, I first caught the Holy Ghost in my grandfather’s church, a Baptist church in Milwaukee, when I was maybe 9 or 10. Before he was placed in a nursing home in my early teens, he took me and my sister to church most Sundays. It was there where I discovered that I could sing, got baptized, and started to develop my love for God.

It was in my grandmother’s church where I first got saved, over 20 years ago now. And at my mother’s church, where I was discipled. Although both of these churches were a part of the Assembly of God, a historically white denomination, it is because of a black man – William Seymour, that the Assemblies of God exists. Seymour, who became born again at the Simpson Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church and was later greatly influenced by the Holiness movement, was the leading figure in the Azuza Street Revival from 1906 – 1909. Walking in the Holy Ghost, God used him to bring whites and blacks to worship under one roof until racism tore the movement a part. At this point, whites separated themselves and created the Assemblies of God; many black congregants joined the Church of God in Christ, the first sanctioned Pentecostal assembly in the United States.

My Assembly of God experience over the last two decades has been greatly influenced by the black church. I have sat under the leadership and discipleship of two godly black pastors, in both Milwaukee and Minneapolis; without their influence and presence in my life, I would not be where I am today. Seeing them lead in the pulpit week in and week out was affirming in a society that consistently demonized blackness. So you see, I am tied to the black church. I owe my salvation to the black church. For me, the black church represents a place of refuge in a nation that insists on terrorizing us.

Yet, black churches are burning again in America.

Unfortunately, however, there are people in our nation who do not look at the black church through the same pair of eyes that I do. The very things that mean safety for me, are the things that cause others to tremble because of the black church’s enduring stance against white supremacy. Indeed, the black church was founded in response to blacks being forbidden to participate in the life and worship of the white church. Our coming together was not only characterized by worship, but a deep commitment to overturn slavery and racism in this society.

Power structures in this country could not allow this to be. Whites who were also committed to maintaining slavery could not allow the black church to be the institution that we needed it to be. Whites who were proponents of Jim Crow and segregation simply could not allow the prophetic voice coming out of the black church to endure. And so they terrorized them, hoping to silence the prophets and invoke fear in the parishioners – taunting us with the notion that not even God could save us from the horrors of white supremacy.

But catch this. The same whites who attack our churches and mock our God, also claim to worship this same God. Remember that the black church was born as a result of not being able to participate in the white church, and so, historically many of the whites who have committed these atrocious acts are also following Jesus! They are reading the same Bible that blacks are reading. They are eating from the same communion table that blacks are eating from and bowing their heads in prayer to the same God we pray to. Then they hold up God’s Word as a justification for assaulting black life.

Thusly, the same cross that white supremacy hides behind to sanction violence against black people is the same cross it attacks to further this violence. Such proves that it has never been about Jesus, but evoking a gross caricature of our Savior as a means of social order and control. For the sake of white supremacy, Christ Himself is re-victimized and crucified all over again!

We may not necessarily know #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches in this hour. But we do know what allows such things to be: white supremacy clothed in a distorted form of Christianity. It is this form of Christianity that our nation claims is its foundation and that certainly may be. But so that we are clear: this American Christianity no more resembles Christ than does a cat resembles a car – the two are simply not the same thing! It’s time that we stop allowing our Savior to become the sacrificial lamb in order to bolster whiteness.

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.