I was asked the question: How do I feel? My response…
There is no unity or peace in spaces where my blackness is not appreciated; in a nation where Christianity is the summation of white, rich men who deem it their responsibility to make (a)merica safe. I awake every day with a crisp “Fuck You” on my mind which is manifested as a serene “Lord Have Mercy.” Knowing that most Christians will feel offended by use of f—k but have little concern for how folks are getting f—ed. We live in such a cynical world, “where cynicism is an unpleasant way of telling the truth.” But Maria Popova enlightens us that:
“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”
So, we are stuck in this cynical moment of reality, where hope is constantly being attacked by white supremacy. A time when the church has found pleasure and refuge in tropes and colloquial sayings while refusing to attend to the needs of the people. We find ourselves in a posture of resistance with the ever-present stench of fear looming: a fear entrenched by a hope that a racist country will do right by the people. We are not defeated but understand the road is less traveled; it is a road that is spoken about but very seldom walked upon.
How do I feel? I feel more like saying, “Fuck Trump” rather than saying, “Let’s pray for him.” There is no debate on whether it is right or wrong, you decide. But it is honest.
As Brian and I have engaged in this conversation about race, I have been challenged by some who question the benefits of engaging in this conversation. My role as a United Methodist pastor has been put forth as a leading reason for me to disengage from talking about race for fear that my position and opinions will create animosity. Racism has become a topic that is off limits even though we know it is still a problem in the U.S. Yet, we know that the only way to eliminate a problem is through meaningful discussion. This is a discussion that the church ought to be leading because we have the framework which allows truly open and honest discussion that creates the unity we seek without diminishing those who participate in the conversation. We have the cross of Jesus Christ.
American slavery and its legacy of racism seen through the power of the Cross is not about black victimization or white guilt. It is an example of resurrection. The Christian doctrine of resurrection provides the means by which we can discuss racism and how to move forward without assigning guilt or creating victims.
According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ suffered a terrible death on the cross. He was beaten and abused but he is not a victim but a conqueror. Jesus died on the cross but his death is not final. American slavery and the racism that followed created death in so many ways for people of African descent but this death is not final. African-Americans have come through the suffering, pain, and literal and figurative death of slavery and racism to not only survive but live. The experiences of African-Americans brought life to this country. There are many achievements that occurred during and following the suffering and pain that slavery and racism imposed on people of African descent that affirm this point. Viewed through the power of the cross our discussions about racism must not focus on black victimization but rather must focus on the faithfulness of God to bring light out of darkness; joy out of suffering; life out of death.
Likewise, Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Immediately preceding this verse, Paul writes about how he wants to do right but evil is close at hand. He writes about the wretchedness that he feels; a wretchedness that he likens to death. It is in the cross of Christ that Paul finds relief and is free of the guilt that comes with sin. So it should be that talk of the sin of slavery and racism among Christians should not lead to condemnation and feelings of wretchedness. Instead, white guilt is replaced by the saving grace of Jesus Christ so that we know that the law of sin is overruled by the law of the Spirit. Paul does not refuse to talk about his sins but he also does not give sin the final say. Our conversation is not centered on the death which comes from sin but on the life found in the Savior.
An understanding of the cross as the source of redeeming suffering and atoning for sin opens the way for the final and complete end of racism, at least among those who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The power of the cross is greater than our sin, guilt, or suffering. Looking to the cross, let’s start the conversation!
Religion is a space where the boundaries of God are fortified through tension and reified through reformation. It avails itself to a strong critique while offering solutions that are filled with active love. Oftentimes, this is not the picture that is painted by the Christian church. Walter, in part 7, introduced the notion of a space where Black people are given the freedom to be, inextricably, themselves. One of the few spaces where black people can relive their liberation is the black church. The black church has provided black folks with a liberating space where their visibility and presence is honored. Racism loses its power within the midst of this fictive kinship.
Racism is a retardant that hinders sound judgement from processing. The oppress are influenced to look past their oppression and reinterpret it as security, instead of seeking freedom. Racism discourages freedom because freedom fuels intellect. Consequently, it is hard to keep intelligent people oppressed. No longer can the plight of white power and white privilege be held as doctrines of a constructed god, who dehumanizes and beguiles black people into believing that oppression is acceptable and godly. When the oppressed start to rebel against the oppressor, their words against oppression are labeled as radicalized hatred. James Baldwin declares this is when
“white power is broken.”
Baldwin also proclaims that when this white power is broken:
“an English man can’t tell an African what it means to be African and he believes it; a white man can’t tell a negro what it means to be a negro and he believes it, anymore.”
The black church has been the space where our humanity is unquestionable. It has been the sacred site of resistance where beauty emerges in spite of pain and trauma. The black church, constantly reconstructing herself as the avant-guard against this constructed, neo-liberal god that sanctions racism. The black church is a complex institution, constantly on the front-lines fighting against racism. It is a creative space where black genius reclaims the identity of Jesus. A Jesus that racism refuses to accept or serve.
In his last installment Brian writes, “we must be extremely clear of the danger of entering into spaces where your skin color has (been) weaponized and framed you with a malicious intent” in response of my reference to Luke 17:11-19. I refer to the ten people with leprosy being forced out of mainstream society and out to the borderlands as a parallel to the treatment of people of African descent in this country. I may have erroneously indicated that people of African descent have an option to stay in the borderland in relative safety. However, that was not my intent. The point I intended to make was/is that people of African descent are keenly aware that there are no safe spaces in this country for us. History has shown time and again that not even the church is a safe space for us. As a people, we have learned that even staying in the spaces where we have been pushed and limited to occupying does not ensure safety. We have also learned that staying in the borderland is not an option.
A Tribe Called Quest has just released their last studio recording and one of the tracks is titled “The Space Program.” This track speaks to the notion of making space for people of African descent in this country. Using the recurring hook, “ain’t no space program for niggas.” As much as I detest the word “nigga,” I felt its use here is appropriate and would pray that my inclusion of this word does not sidetrack the conversation. For in many ways debates about the use of the word “nigga” or other side debates take the focus off of the real problem that the Tribe is addressing. This track calls us to understand that space is not limited to physical, geographic space but rather refers to social, cultural, and historic space. People of African descent are often denied space in this country. The teaching of African American history has faced opposition and hostility even in school districts that are more than 80% African American. The use of the name “African American” itself ignites debate and hostile opposition. People of African descent are often invited out of the borderland to sing, dance, and/or play a sport with the understanding that no space will be made for you. African American culture is often co-opted, from rock and roll to hip hop, from soul food to spirituals. There is no space for people of African descent.
Yet, we survive. We continue to exist and that existence cannot be denied. It is the denial of our existence; the lack of space being made that continues to fuel the conflict. We are here and we are not going anywhere. The simple but complex answer to our racial problem in America is the creation of a space program for people of African descent.
The road to integration is an unforgiving assault on the hearts and minds of black clergy that serve in predominately white denominations. The continuous reshaping to make one’s authenticity fit into another’s warped shape of the Gospel becomes a perpetual task that tries to hijack one’s sense of being. The tragedy of being present, in spaces, where my humanity is only confirmed by my acceptance to assimilation is a solidarity to injustice, which I refuse to accept.
It is clear that the many within the ELCA camp voted for Donald Trump. (Lenny Duncan wrote a good piece about it) I am left to wrestle with this problem, “Why I am in the ELCA?” Why do I continue to connect with people who are so opposed to equality, equity, and justice? I used to say it was a sense of calling to the mission fields of whiteness but now I stand bewildered beyond reasonable thought. The constant awareness of having to explain your presence is insulting. I was assisting with the officiating of a funeral at the church. It was a very small funeral so there were no ushers. I took the liberty to greet friends and family as they arrived. Well, as I was opening the door, a lady comes to the door and says, “I almost ran when I saw this big, black man standing at the door.” Why am I in the ELCA?
Every day, it feels like the very essence of my being is sucked out of me. There are a lot of good people in the ELCA but there is no emotional safety. The task of naming and eradicating racism has been co-opted as racial reconciliation: the place where Black and Brown must become like us (white) instead of us becoming like them.
There were moments, when I thought that being in the ELCA was an honorable journey. I understood that it would be a hard road ahead, but I never considered the theological racism that masks itself as legacy and doctrine to be such a high mountain to climb. My faith has run out of faulty forgiveness that amounts to more opportunities to be dehumanized. I am tired of hearing that this is just how Lutherans are…The truth is that a Lutheranism that is still steeped 1517 rhetoric and liturgy never really had me in mind from the beginning.
Why am I in the ELCA? Well….