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

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