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Aside from a trip to Africa, the first time I was truly conscious of the fact that I was a minority in a situation was sadly just over a year ago. I drove to a part of Austin, TX that I had never been before to participate in a vigil for Alton Sterling and Philando Castille; two black men who had been killed just a day apart from one another by law enforcement earlier in the week. It felt strange to only just be engaging with this community. I was moving to D.C. a week later. It would probably be my last time engaging with this community and still, I felt that I had to be there. Even though it felt like it was much too late in the game.
I had sat back and commented from afar. I’d post #BlackLivesMatter. I’d talk to all of my white friends about these events and share what I was reading on Facebook. I wrote my own fed-up, angry Facebook posts. But after these two back to back events, that finally wasn’t enough for me. Watching the videos of these two men unjustly gunned down filled me with hurt and rage. I felt that I was being complicit in it all by just sitting behind my keyboard. Paul didn’t just write good letters. He spent his life on foot and in prisons standing up for that content and what he believed about others. I felt in my heart I needed to be with these people. I needed to be near the suffering. I needed to see it with my own eyes. I needed to challenge my perceived reality. I needed to face my own demons. So I drove, half an hour across town, and arrived to a community that was almost entirely black. Listening to the testimonies of black experiences in the city of Austin. Hearing the multitude of hopeful solutions. The desperation of “WHAT CAN WE ACTUALLY DO!?” Some men shared their anger at white people and how we let this system permeate. And a black women wrapped her arm around me and hugged me, thanking me for being present. It was a strange sense of feeling completely out-of-place and entirely in the right place. My mother was texting me, begging me to stay inside because, according to her news sources, violent outbursts were happening all over the country and yet I knew I was standing on holy ground. I was learning something important. Scales had fallen from my eyes and I was beginning to see anew.
It was this simple point that has connected everything else. What has happened is against God’s vision for the world and salvation looks like the transformation of these Hells on earth into Heavens on earth. People of God must desire liberation of this oppression and Justice of this injustice. May restoration be brought into these lives. Because “All Lives Matter” isn’t true until Black Lives Matter. I made a vow that when I moved to D.C. I would seek out voices that revealed injustice. That I would stand with the oppressed. That I would lean into the Judeo-Christian tradition of speaking truth to power.
This was all taking place during the rise of Donald Trump and the constant conversation of America turning away immigrants and refugees. Fear was winning over and Christians were forsaking the work of God’s vision for their nation and political party. Much like Jonah, we let our national pride turn us away from God’s redemptive plan for others. We drew lines in the sand about who was in and who was out. As if God’s children couldn’t be Muslim refugees or Mexican immigrants. We paraded around in the anti-Christ and revealed that we have become as my friend Devon Crawford puts it, “chaplains of the Empire.”
I began writing more material about this. I shared more and more posts about faith and justice.
And I pissed a lot of people off. This Jesus I was describing seemed foreign (no pun intended). How dare I rebuke a Republican politician! Or “I wish you wouldn’t be so political.” 2016 revealed in strongest way to me that Christians had lost the plot. That the Good News had been hijacked. People were championing Donald Trump as the next King David and cursing every last one of the least of these as moochers of our society as if the beatitudes never existed. Christians I had long looked up to and admired spoke words and defended actions in ways that felt like the deepest betrayal.
Many Christians felt as though to bring politics into the pulpit was to forsake the church. I couldn’t agree more with Rev. Robert Lee IV who recently shared in an interview that “the pulpit is inherently political.” To not feel as though we should talk about political things is to reveal our gross abundance of privilege. To be so unaffected by the chosen policies of our land is a privilege most people do not have. These things are life and death, freedom and chain, for so many others, especially people of color. Our systems shape the lives of others and any system that is bent against the Kingdom of God should come down even if that system is the American Government.
But may I say even more directly, this is our tradition.
Moses confronted the injustice of Pharaoh to liberate his people.
John the Baptist was beheaded for calling out the sins of King Herod.
Stephen was murdered for revealing the sins of the Jewish establishment.
The Prophet Nathan named the sins of King David and led him into repentance which named him, despite all of his wickedness, “a man after God’s own heart.”
Jesus the Christ was executed by the state, because he challenged the establishment and the Empire.
You can’t read a single one of the prophets, dare I say a passage of Scripture, without being slapped with the political.
Because politics effects God’s children and creation. Our systems reflect what we’ve decided we can live with in this world. This is why so many Christians were martyred for the good news. Because they couldn’t live knowing that their brothers and sisters received such gross injustice and so they put their lives on the line to do something about it. If we are complicit to systems that marginalize and oppress others then we have forsaken the good news and forgotten our first love. As Dr. King so simply put “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If you have never read his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” you must, must read it. In one part he shared words that have so deeply convicted me over these last few years:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”- MLK, JR.
Read those words, and then tell me that as a Christian, you wish to “not discuss politics.”
The entirety of Christ’s life was to name and confront all that enslaves us. He marched from town to town setting captives free. Whether this be a sickness or an identity. His movement was about liberating.
Salvation is about liberation. A liberation in this life.
The truth of the matter is, we are in a time where people’s humanity is being stolen by regressive policies that mimic the guise of fascism. By false categories of superiority championed by those who historically depended on the strength of others to place themselves into systems of power. The value of others is being destroyed for the sake of nationality or whether or not you have the right papers or speak the right language. Do you actually think any of that matters to God? Do you actually think those are the parameters by which we should love and serve another person? We still hide behind mirages of “law and order” built to name the “other” the criminal or the thug. There are literally bodies in our streets. Some of whom, like Heather Heyer, are those who chose to confront this evil.
We live in a nation that has only just begun to realize that we were built on the virtues of thieves who came here and stole, and killed, and destroyed to make this nation. Whether it be Native Americans, Asian Americans, or African Americans, we enslaved to be set free and acquire the liberties we sought for ourselves. There are entire books in the Bible that speak towards God’s wrath of peoples who have forgotten their story. The slaves of Egypt still found a way to enslave others.
We have and we continue to do a great work. With each generation we’ve seen the heroes who would so boldly stand up to their own nation and tribe to confront those powers of injustice. Many of whom lost their lives in the work. But their lives echo throughout history.
It’s the activists who get into “good trouble” who “pray with their feet” and who call out the injustice of this American Empire. That bring about the good news of justice and freedom for all. May we be the Moses that marches in again and again and again until all of God’s people are free. May we be the Stephen who would even face his own people, and loved ones, and speak ever so boldly:
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.”
To be continued.