Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 3

My name is Walter Strawther and I am a married, 46-year-old, African American male. I am the father of two beautiful daughters. I was born and raised in the church. My daddy serves as a deacon at St. Peter’s Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Greenville, SC. We have always lived near the church and my daddy has been the deacon to open the church each Sunday. As a result, we were there each Sunday. The FBH denomination has been and still is one of the most conservative of the Christian denominations. We were once told not to wear any jewelry other than a watch and a wedding band. Women were not allowed to wear pants or serve in leadership positions, let alone pastor a church. Sundays were for resting and visiting after being in church for most of the day. I was taught that homosexuality is sin and that all who practice it are going to Hell. It is difficult to get away from your upbringing. It is difficult, even when you have evidence and experiences to the contrary, to incorporate a new way of thinking into your psyche. This is true of individuals and of organizations.

As I attended Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, I came into contact with people and teachings that challenged my upbringing and what I learned coming up in the FBH church. Some of the challenges to my upbringing were easier for me to accept than others. Homosexuality as a way of being instead of as a choice was and still is one of the most challenging concepts to my understanding of Christianity. I’ve experienced powerful preaching and exemplary examples of love expressed through people who are openly homosexual. These experiences challenge my notion of who God is and who God can use and I am reminded that I am not God. I am reminded that God is so distinctively other from me and any other human being that it is ridiculous to think that we can say definitely how God sees a group of people.

My views on homosexuality and the LGBTQIA community have changed over the last couple of years. Just as the FBH church eventually came around to ordaining women and relaxing some of the more restrictive rules based on a legalistic reading of scripture, I have come to understand that I am in no position to do anything other than what Jesus asked of Peter. Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative, Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus does not call us to place restrictions on each other. Jesus does not give any of us the power to determine who is in and who is out. Jesus does not command us to play gatekeeper by developing rules and regulations that we ourselves can’t even keep. Jesus simply asks each one of us, “Do you love me?” If we love Jesus, then our views on the other will change. If we love Jesus, then the death of any person will cause us to grieve. If we love Jesus, our hearts cease to be hearts of stone that accept this sort of violence against any group of people and will becomes hearts of flesh that seek to end suffering and pain in whatever form presented. If we love Jesus, we recognize that we too are sheep in need of feeding and as such we have no authority to label or condemn.

The church is going through an identity crisis. This is nothing new. Throughout the history of the church beginning with the New Testament church in Acts we see a constant struggle over what it means to be the church. This realization is a cause for celebration and a cause for sadness. We can celebrate because we know that the church has survived previous bouts with identity crisis. Indeed, it has often been the case that after a severe crisis the church has flourished and made the greatest impact on society only to sink back into a time of struggle. On the other hand, we are saddened to think that crisis seems to be the essential ingredient to get us to consider Jesus’ question of love. We are further saddened when brothers and sisters who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior deny the love of God to those suffering and being killed. The church is going through an identity crisis but the resolution of this crisis is found in returning to our love for Christ so that we might love each other.

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Racism and Christianity

The constant rehearsing of the trauma of racism has placed an indelible chasm in the soul of black folks. As we wrestle to understand, and, ultimately, try to reconcile: how other (so called) Christians can stand around as such heinous crimes were/are being done to black and brown folks. How can Christians care so little about the poor and alienated while condoning the evil rhetoric of a Donald Trump? Yes, I applaud Donald Trump for at least being honest about his politics but he is an evil man. How do Christians even justify that black and brown lives are not vehemently abused by society? If you call yourself a believer in Jesus and live out the tenants of the Christian faith, how do you reconcile with such evil?

Racism kills the very essence of love and confines perspectives; there is no growth or progression. You can’t say you’re not racist but sit idly by and not combat racism. You can’t say you’re not racist and think that it is ok, to allow poor education, and poor healthcare to ravage through black and brown communities.

Racism sucks the life out of organization. It demeans in order to tear down. There is no redeemable quality within racism. Racisms presents a subtle approach, but it comes with obvious and intentional outcomes –keep black and brown people in poverty. There is nothing accidental about racism. It is an intentional weapon used when the majority finds its status sleeping away.

The mere thought of racial reconciliation is laughable at best. What exactly would this reconciliation mean? Here the words of James Cone,

Reconciliation does not transcend color, thus making us all white. The problem of values is not that white people need to instill values in the ghetto; but white society itself needs values so that it will no longer need a ghetto. Black values did not create a ghetto; white values did. Therefore God’s Word of reconciliation makes us all black. Through this radical change, we become identified totally with the suffering of the black masses. It is this fact that makes all white churches anti-Christian churches in their essence. To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people.

Now these words can be easily misconstrued if read through the eyes of racism. But Cone is very simply stating that God is on the side of the” least of these.” Black is not a color but a place where “your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are.” To be Christian is to know what the underside looks like and to feel the pain of the margins. Reconciliation is not just a pathological response of forgiveness but it is a deep intrinsic reframing of one’s authentic God-self.

 I love the words that introduce Dr. Yolanda Pierce’s website,

“I am not interested in most conversations about equality. To whom would you like to be equal, given a broken and morally bankrupt system? Do you want to be equal to the persons, forces, and systems which generate the very terms of your oppression?  I am, however, interested in the weightier matters of law: justice and freedom.  How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?”

These words echo the sentiments of a generation that’s been disproportionately jailed, harassed, overlooked and abused because of the color of their skin. Honestly, the system is not broken, it is working exactly how it was programed to work. When corrupt people build a system, you can rest assured that the system is corrupt. America was established through corruption, theft and racism and those sins continue to wreak havoc on all people locked “in these yet to be united states.” Maybe KRS-One was right when he rapped,

“There can never be justice on stolen land.”

There is no simple strategy or words that can make things better overnight. But a collective sorry that is entrenched in justice is a good place to start.

“How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?- Pierce

The Revolutionary Act of Grace

The past couple of weeks have opened the eyes of many as it relates to race relations and reconciliation. Prior to the Zimmerman Trial, verdict many people believed that they did not harbor any prejudice/racist thoughts toward others. I, thought that I had dealt with previous prejudices and had deemed everyone the same…until that verdict came down-NOT GUILTY.The verdict put things in perspective quickly and emphatically.

My theological lens shifted, my anthropological lens zoomed in on the particular and my sociological lens aimed at the black community. Not surprised but yet still shocked, the outcome of the trial surfaced a prejudice that became unsettling. What it also highlighted was the impact of racism looms large in America. (When I say racism I am talking about the power structure that decides to oppress one group over another.)

What the Zimmerman Trial has done spiritually for me is open my eyes to the continual force of grace. Yes, my theology has changed but my understanding of God’s grace changed as well. Yes, I am angry, bothered, bewildered, and want to respond adversely but the grace that God extends keeps me at bay. I was attending an all white congregation (my family were the only blacks in the Church) prior to the Zimmerman Verdict. It was a great church, with great people but after the verdict, I could not see myself going back to that church. Not that I thought that they all were racist but my theological lens had shifted to a point that our vantage points of the Gospel were no longer aligned. My daughter actually loved the church but I know the tension that I would have felt would have been noticeable. They would have gone out of their way to make us feel more at home. The problem was not there response but my reality. The reality that this will happen again and it is hard for you to really see where I am coming from-and vice-versa.

The church as a whole is reluctant to redefine the process of race reconciliation because it really does not think that there is a problem. Grace has been used as a mask to hide prejudice/racism instead of the balm to heal from it.

It is amazing how such a beautiful word,– Grace has the word race embedded inside.