My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion – Psalm 88:19
Today, I woke up and said my prayers. It was a daily office type of morning. I left it to my wife to get the kids ready for school. I granted myself that privilege.
Last night, in the moments before I went to bed, another video made its way onto my timeline. A hashtag followed in quick succession, and our long national nightmare began a cycle that we know quite well. But last evening, I couldn’t afford to research or to detective my way through yet another tragedy. Tuesday would be a full day. I had lectures to prepare and a dissertation to finish. So while a family mourned, and black people in the United States were again left to wonder about their place in this country, I went to sleep. Then I woke up and prayed the morning office as I do on most days. I wish I could say that I prayed for my country. I didn’t. I read the prescribed prayers and biblical texts as called for in the Book of Common Prayer. I sat in silence hoping to hear from God. Nothing came, and so I began my day.
I am not sure that people realize how difficult it can be for African Americans to go to work on days like this. We are forced to smile and to do our jobs when so much history weighs down upon us. But we press on because life demands it of us.
So I began my work. I revised a lecture on Joshua and Judges. I posted a few Anglican articles to Facebook. I tried to focus. Then the sadness, the inevitable sadness hit. So I stopped working for a while and began to write my way towards hope.
I remember, a few months ago, sitting at a nice dinner party. The people were kind, the food was good, and the conversation was casual. Then someone, who had read my writings on racial reconciliation, asked me what I wanted. They wondered what I hoped to accomplish by writing about race and justice. The question came unexpectedly, and I was not sure how to respond, but I have thought about it often ever since. What do I want? What are my hopes?
I want black people in America to be free. I want us to be free to raise our children, to buy homes, to move into safe neighborhoods, to browse in nice stores, to obtain a quality education, to drive to and from work without being afraid that at any moment the long history of racism will bare its teeth and snuff out our dreams or even our lives.
I want us to be free– just long enough– that I have time to tell my brothers and sisters who do not know Jesus about a deeper and wider freedom. I want to tell them about the truly good and free one who came to liberate us all, not only from the ongoing legacy of racism, but also from the brokenness that traps us all in our sins.
But that message is hard to hear when you are afraid and discouraged. That message becomes nearly impossible to appreciate when you turn to Christians for help only to be told that your complaints are an exaggeration or are rooted in your own sin. It is heartbreaking to be told that you must earn the right to be treated like what you are: someone made in the image of God. When God’s people don’t love us, it makes it harder (humanly speaking) to hear and properly respond to the Gospel.
The Black Christian, then, grieves not only for the loss of life, but also for the fact that a calculus is consistently being made in certain sectors of Evangelical Christianity. We feel as if people are always wondering: Do I side with African Americans who are mourning or do I decide not to offend the far right of Evangelical Christianity that sees any affirmation of the claims of Black folk about injustice to be an attack on America, the police, or the military. We just want to be free, but we lose every battle for the church’s attention. We lose to abortion, gay marriage, small government, opposing the Clintons, refusing to kneel, or whatever issue that arises which allows people to push the issue of racism to the side. When will the church say that our issues are worthy of attention?
But the time for persuading people about the importance of these issues has passed. Instead, I want to close by highlighting two organizations that are attempting to provide an alternative to the assumption that Christians have to choose between biblical faithfulness and social justice:
Both these organizations deserve our time and support because they are attempting to articulate and implement a full and robust Christian ethic that will help us move from tears and sadness to the freedom that seems so elusive to black and brown people in this country. They are an example of what is means to be for freedom. May their tribe increase.