March 2015: Featured Post
lifeseek.org is featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
On December 14th, 2014 the Church of God in Christ, which is the largest African American Christian denomination in the United States, hosted “Black Lives Matter” Sunday. On this day the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner who both died at the hands of white police officers were remembered and honored. As an African American clergywoman, I was glad to see that churches around the nation were joining in on this initiative but I could not help but wonder, what will we do after Sunday morning; after we prayed, heard a dynamic message, remembered the lives of these men, chanted in unison “Black Lives Matter”, while pumping our fist in the air. How does the black church deal with the police brutality that plagues the communities our families live in? How can the black church deal with the racism and discrimination that permeates the fabric of the institutions we interact with on a daily basis?
Historically, the Black church has been making strides to tear down racist systems, laws, and institutions. It was in the “Invisible Institution” (the faith community of enslaved Africans, beyond the eye of the white slave masters) where African Americans were taught that “Black Lives Matter” and their freedom was a God given right. It was the Black church during and after the Reconstruction era that sought to infuse a sense of somebody-ness and community in the face of persistent oppression. The black church was the birthing center for the known and un-sung heroes and she-roes of the struggle who were willing to be a prophetic voice, speaking out against the injustices of a nation and putting their lives on the line for freedom.
As I think about the strides that were made by our fore-fathers and mothers, and the work African American faith communities must continue to be engaged in in order to eradicate the racist practices, ideologies, institutions and systems within our society; I am convinced that Black faith communities in the 21st Century must #1. Gain an understanding of our historical identity as agents of change and #2. Re-embrace our prophetic identity in this global society. As a prophetic force we must be able and willing to critique the ways in which our religious and political systems have held up the status quo and turned a blind eye to the cries of those who are targeted to fill up jail cells, who are racially profiled in the streets, brutally and senselessly beaten or killed by police officers, those who are turned away from job opportunities because of the name on their resume or blamed for their station in society without looking at the larger systemic issues that impact the chances of a person “getting ahead.”
Furthermore, as a prophetic force we are also charged with the task of holding our communities and institutions accountable to moral standards and ethics that recognize that all people have worth and dignity, and should be treated as such. It is written in the Declaration of Independence, “that all [hu]mans are created equal”…and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, yet we still struggle with the notion that some lives are more valuable than others. Needless to say, when this historic document was written even the drafters knew this “equality” was still an ideal not yet realized; because the only people allowed at the table were white men.
If the black community is to see change in how African Americans are viewed and treated on the whole, we have to come to the tables of influence (i.e. political, social, technological, business, economical, educational etc.) with an understanding of how African Americans are impacted by racism from the White house to the housing projects. Because the “Black church” is made up of people of color with diverse cultural, economic and vocational backgrounds, the church can become a place where conversations can take place about race and racism’s impact on one’s life. These conversations can then be brought into larger contexts. There also must be conversations that address our own self-loathing and beliefs shaped by societal messages that we are less than. There must be healing that takes place in our communities so that we can come to understand our identity, worth and purpose as God sees it.
Along with recognizing the worth and dignity of ourselves and of all humanity, we must also recognize our connection to all humanity. Howard Thurman, a prophet and mystic of his time, states that the core of religious experience is to recognize that “human life is one and all men are members of one another.” He believed that this truth and living into this truth is what allows us to “transcend the walls (of racism, violence, etc.) that divide” us. If we can begin to see our connection with those within and without our faith, national, and cultural communities, we can become more mindful of how we treat one another. We are also able to see that racism is not a “black problem” or a “white problem” but it is an evil that affects all those in the United States and even those beyond our shores. In October I visited India, and I was struck by the pale models I saw on billboards, amongst an array of people with brown skin tones in the streets, and some of the young girls who expressed to me that they wanted to be lighter. It was at that moment that I realized racism’s grasp at a global level. My plea to African American faith communities is that we wake up and speak up; not just for our own sakes but for the sake of others. Let us be that prophetic voice within this global community.
Questions for conversation:
What is your faith community doing to deal with racism and white superiority?
How do you think economic empowerment of African Americans can aid in the alleviation or the impact of racism and white superiority?