Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thoughts for Sunday: Why Protest?

In an age of inequality and silent oppression, protest is necessary. But it is easy to think that protest is something for other people to do. You know, the young and adventurous types with nothing to lose. It is true that protest isn't for everybody. But it can be for anybody. You don't have to be a certain kind of person to protest.

Are you introverted? Me too. Are you conflict-avoidant? Me too. Are you temperamentally conservative? Me too. Are you a natural rule follower? Me too. Are you traditional in your morals? Me too. Are you made uncomfortable by any yelling or displays of anger? Me too. Are you a White Christian? Me too.

But we can still protest. This is all the more true when we realize that "protest" for you might not mean being out on the streets. Your "protest" might be at your dining room table. It might be at your church. It might be in conversation with colleagues at work.

The first thing we need to remember is that the act of protest is not about us. It's not about drawing attention to ourselves or becoming leaders. It's about supporting and centering Black voices. So it is ironic that I'm a White Christian writing to other White Christians, apparently doing the very thing I claim we shouldn't do. But some of us need to wrestle through our own identity before we can protest effectively. And we need to recognize that it's not so much that Black people need us to protest; it's that other Whites need us to protest. The fact is, some Whites will give us a hearing that they would not give to a Black person. Those people need to see White people protesting. Now, we can't let them stay comfortable in their double-standard. The racism embedded in assumptions about who has credibility and who is worth listening to must be challenged. But maybe we can be a wedge opening up new ideas for people who are on the road to being able to listen to Black voices.

So why do we protest?

We protest because racism is evil in the sight of God.

We protest because millions of people tell us they experience racism and discrimination, and disbelieving them is arrogant.

We protest because God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation and the mistreatment our brothers and sisters face prevents reconciliation.

We protest because the image of God in every human being is equally sacred and glorious.

We protest because our country was founded on a denial of this theological truth, and still does not practice it today.

We protest because we do not bow down to the idol of nationalism and thus do not fear implicating our country in humanity's sin.

We protest because silence implies acceptance of evil.

We protest because of the overwhelming weight of historical and sociological evidence demonstrating that the sinful invention of Whiteness is privileged in American society.

We protest because God is unequivocally revealed in scripture as being on the side of oppressed. We protest to expose the theological error of the evangelical church, which falsely claims middle-class values for our Lord.

We protest because we are commanded to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The violence imposed on Black lives is not God's will.

We protest because Jesus announced the coming of his kingdom as good news to the poor and the imprisoned.

We protest because we are not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. A Gospel that can save depraved human beings for all eternity but can't address racial discrimination and police brutality in a particular historical moment just doesn't ring true. It's not even biblical.

We protest as an act of solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters who are in pain. We protest because we can't claim to be ministers of the Gospel but then refuse to join others in their suffering.

We protest because the love of Christ compels us. Not because we want to. Not because it makes us feel comfortable. Not because we want attention. 

Remember, protest is not about us. Listen to the voices of others. Draw attention to them, and be willing to learn from people who are not like you. Here are just a few people I follow on twitter:

Deray Mckesson
Thabiti Anyabwile
Austin Channing
Drew Hart
Christena Cleveland
Shaun King

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Black Lives Matter" --Jesus

We are in the dreary doldrums of winter, the continuing protests are small and mostly beneath the media's radar, and the collective weariness of the American public is palpable. It is time to move on, isn't it? Haven't we made our point? And haven't the majority of Americans just as strongly pushed back, making clear they are not interested? Haven't we had our moment of catharsis? Isn't it time for regularly scheduled programming to resume?

Of course not.

Nothing of any substance has changed yet. We are still living in a country where Black life is devalued every day. Many Americans claim not to see it, but they see it clearly enough to know which neighborhoods to avoid. Funny how that works.

I grow weary of the debates about why things are the way they are. People will continue to debate the role of culture, discrimination, government programs, globalization and more. Most White Americans are likely to continue to place an overwhelming emphasis on culture. As a historian, I think that is terribly mistaken, and much of what passes for reasonable points in these discussions is often racist or irrelevant. But the debate is important, and it's one that I'm sure I will continue to engage in at the appropriate time.

But I grow tired of it, and here's why:

The Christian's responsibility is much the same regardless of what side you take in that debate. If we want to join our life to God's Kingdom work, we don't stand on the sidelines debating the causes of marginalized peoples' suffering. We go join them. Any attempt to grapple with the problems of the poor and the oppressed apart from our own personal engagement with them at the level of our spiritual poverty--recognizing the upside-down way God has ordered the world--is bound to be paternalistic at best, downright destructive at worst. God has chosen those who are poor to be rich in faith (James 2). I and most of my readers are winners in one of the most materialistic and prosperous societies in global history. As such, our impoverishment in the things that matter is profound.

Even more upsetting to the tiring debate about Black disadvantage is the fact that we serve a God who takes sides. Over and over again in scripture we see God identifying with the poor, the oppressed, the needy, the marginalized. It's not hard to figure out who these people are in our society. It's African Americans. It's Native Americans. It's illegal immigrants. It's poor Whites left behind in nowhereville Kentucky, with no jobs and no hope. These groups are not "those people" from whom we keep our distance. These groups are where God's attention is drawn in this society. They live in the places Jesus would be born if he came today instead of 2,000 years ago. They are loved by God. Not only that, they are identified with by God in an astonishing way. Their powerlessness is embodied in the powerlessness of Christ as a baby and their suffering is given its ultimate advocate in the figure of Christ on a cross.

Who do we identify with? The respectable. The educated. Business owners. Law enforcement. Celebrities. Religious leaders. People who look like us. People of our social class. And then, with this pattern firmly set in place, we claim to follow Jesus. Can't we see the contradiction? Amid our recent racial controversies, I've seen Christians firmly identify with White police officers while failing to muster even an expression of sympathy for the families of Black victims.

A consistent pattern of identification with our group at the expense of a marginalized group is evidence of a spiritual sickness. It is dangerous. God does not overlook it.

The poor are shunned even by their neighbors,
but the rich have many friends.
Proverbs 14:20

Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor 
will also cry out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13

Adonai brings vindication and justice
to all who are oppressed. 

Psalm 103:6