We Cannot Be Silent

victim_collage

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

The church cannot be silent about the current situation. These days have especially brought into focus the reality of racial injustice and taking of African American lives made in the image of God and valuable to him, most recently with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

In our culture an insidious hatred toward others, often in terms of racism and white supremacy, has gripped us.  It has roots that go down deep into the very fabric of our society. We must say aloud that this has no place within the church of Jesus Christ, and that we must stand against it in our society because of God’s Word and our calling as people of the King.

We must repent of these things and not be silent.

We must change, stand together, and work for justice and righteousness, which are the foundations of the rule and reign of God (Psalm 89:14).

We must hold before us the beautiful picture of the church of Jesus Christ we see in Revelation 7:9 is one of “every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” equally heirs of God’s kingdom and equally loved by God.

So, church, this is the time to take our stand for the sake of Christ and the glory of the Gospel. Reach out to others you know, learn about the issues, join in with efforts like those of the Milwaukee Declaration.

Church, this is the time, to live out what we learned from the minor prophets, as it says in Amos 5:24, to “Let justice roll on live a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Pastors Forum on Race in America – part 2

Pastors Forum part 2

A few weeks ago my friend Kurt Owens reached out to me about joining a panel discussion of pastors from The Milwaukee Declaration discussing race in America in light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. With the killing of George Floyd nearly two weeks ago, the discussion became even more important than before.

We had such a positive response to that conversation last week, we decided to schedule a follow-up “part 2” of this conversation today at 11 AM via Facebook Live. We recorded it and now you can watch that here. This conversation includes Peter Borg, Kurt Boyd, Ken Lock, Kurt Owens, Beverly Rehfeld, and me.

You can view the first part of this Pastors Forum on Race in America from Thursday, May 28, at 11 AM with Peter Borg, Kurt Boyd, Jay English, Kurt Owens, Beverly Rehfeld, and me here.

As part of previous gatherings for the Milwaukee Declaration we assembled a “Next Steps” guide of resources for furthering the conversation. I am again including that below with some updates for more recent resources.

Movies
Drama
Amistad (1997)
42 (2013)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Just Mercy (2019)
Selma (2014)
Twelve Years a Slave (2013; WARNING–due to Hollywood’s most accurate portrayal of slavery, some scenes are inappropriate for children)

Documentaries
Milwaukee: 53206 (2016)
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (1987, 1990)
13th (2016)
The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2006)
The Making of Milwaukee (2006)
Slavery By Another Name (2012)

Books
By Dr. King
Strength to Love
Why We Can’t Wait
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Milwaukee and Housing
Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee by Patrick D. Jones
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Race and Inequality
Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Race and Faith
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey
A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow by David Chappell
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah
Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter-McNeil
Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey by Sarah Shin
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

Learn more about the Milwaukee Declaration and/or sign the Declaration here.

How Should We Respond to Racial Injustice?: some suggestions for this moment

George-floyd-protests

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have added to the stream of cases, particularly over the past year, raising questions about systemic issues of racial disparities in the implementation of justice in our nation. Along with the well-known cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York, these recent cases increase the sense that something is deeply wrong in our nation in relation to racial justice.  This is a complex situation that touches on many elements, including law enforcement, educational opportunities, employment possibilities, and more.

I have talked with many individuals over the past weeks who are trying to understand what happened, what this means, and how we should respond as Christians in the face of these challenging times. As a pastor of a multiethnic church here in Milwaukee, I believe that the strongest witness happens when we journey together across our diverse backgrounds into a learning process that involves listening, healthy reflection, and taking action together for racial justice. Regardless of your opinions on the above matters, as followers of Jesus Christ we must approach these issues based upon God’s Word in Scripture.

A clear biblical response to this situation is to grieve. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We should mourn with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, who lost loved ones in ways that are just wrong.  Regardless of our ethnicity, we should mourn together as one with the African-American community who senses things are deeply wrong in our country. Regardless of our politics, we should mourn over our own city which ranks so highly in ethnic segregation, poverty, violent crime, racial disparities for incarceration, and more. A healthy biblical response is to grieve over this situation that is shaking our nation.

As we grieve, we must also raise a prophetic voice for righteousness and justice. The Old Testament prophets critique the authorities of their day again and again for failing to bring justice into the courts of law. It was the prophet Amos who spoke judgment upon Israel for failing in this regard. He said, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:6-7). God has a concern for justice and righteousness coming together in the public square. While we know no human being or system can ever fully represent God’s pure justice and righteousness, we still have a responsibility as God’s people to call authorities to pursue the ways of righteousness and justice in our public realm. Where there are questions of a miscarriage of justice at any level, the people of God must move beyond party politics to seek righteousness and justice for all.

At the same time, we must also bring the love of Jesus Christ into our prophetic voice. Jesus was the one who revolutionized the broken human tendency for wrongs endured to swiftly become wrongs inflicted. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:43-45). Even as we stand up for righteousness and justice, as hard as it is, we must not enter a cycle of vengeance where violence is added to violence. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy of non-violence on civil rights advocacy is unparalleled in our country, once wrote, “We have, through massive nonviolent action, an opportunity to avoid a national disaster and create a new spirit of class and racial harmony.” Violence will not create a community of peace.

In the midst of this, we must stand together across the normal human dividing lines with prayer. The only hope for us as the church and the nation is to move into the dream of God described in Revelation 7:9, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The starting point for this is prayer; our ongoing conversation with the living God together. Prayer is not a meaningless aside from meaningful action, but is an essential activity for any movement hoping to bring good. When we pray, we humble ourselves together before the living God. When we pray, we see ourselves and the world more clearly. When we pray, we enter into praise of a great and good God. When we pray, we begin to confess the sin and brokenness that grips us and others. When we pray, we are moved to call out for God’s power to be poured into a world that deeply needs Him. Prayer is where true unity and transformation begins.

So, please join me in prayer. Pray for the families who have lost loved ones in painful and violent ways. Pray for God’s guidance and protection over those who are protesting and those who seek to maintain order. Pray for the pastors and community leaders around our nation, who seek to forge a new way forward that is constructive and meaningful in these very dark and trying days.


For more on this topic you may want to take a look at:

Pastors Forum on Race in America and Resources for Digging Deeper

Pastors Forum - MKE Declaration

Two weeks ago my friend Kurt Owens reached out to me about joining a panel discussion of pastors from The Milwaukee Declaration discussing race in America in light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. With the killing of George Floyd this past week, the discussion feels even more important than before. We will join a few other ministry friends—Peter Borg, Kurt Boyd, Jay English, and Beverly Rehfeld—for this panel discussion today, Thursday, May 28, at 11 AM via Facebook live here.

As part of previous gatherings for the Milwaukee Declaration we assembled a “Next Steps” guide of resources for furthering the conversation. I am including that here with some updates for more recent resources:

If you are interested in continuing to learn more about how race and racism have defined life in America, and in our country’s churches and denominations, consider watching the following movies or reading the books listed below.

Movies
Drama
Amistad (1997)
42 (2013)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Just Mercy (2019)
Selma (2014)
Twelve Years a Slave (2013; WARNING–due to Hollywood’s most accurate portrayal of slavery, some scenes are inappropriate for children)

Documentaries
Milwaukee: 53206 (2016)
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (1987, 1990)
13th (2016)
The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2006)
The Making of Milwaukee (2006)
Slavery By Another Name (2012)

Books
By Dr. King
Strength to Love
Why We Can’t Wait
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Milwaukee and Housing
Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee by Patrick D. Jones
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Race and Inequality
Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Race and Faith
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey
A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow by David Chappell
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter-McNeil
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

Learn more about the Milwaukee Declaration and/or sign the Declaration here.

Jemar Tisby on “What is the Color of Compromise?”

Jemar Tisby.jpg

Yesterday I traveled down to Wheaton College to hear Jemar Tisby deliver a lecture, “What is the Color of Compromise?”, as part of a series hosted by the Center for Applied Christian Ethics. Tisby is the author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism and one of the primary drivers behind The Witness, a black Christian collective that engages issues of religion, race, justice, and culture from a biblical perspective.

If you have not read The Color of Compromise, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is one of the clearest presentations of the historical account of how the Christian church, no matter the geographical location, contributed to the racialized narrative in the USA. It is not an easy read, but if we want to understand the tensions within our nation around race and move toward biblical justice, such hard work is necessary.

While Tisby’s lecture is not yet uploaded, I’m including my own notes from the lecture here.

The Color of Compromise is:

  • Green – for the greed that sustains racism
  • White – for white supremacy within the church
  • Red – for the blood that accompanies that greed and white supremacy

Green

  • “The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.” – J. W. C. Pennington
  • commodification of the person as property to be bought and sold; reducing the image of God and the value of human life
  • “Some people say slavery was America’s original sin. I would suggest something else. Slavery was America’s original symptom. America’s original sin was greed.”
  • Olaudah Equiano‘s story about being pulled from his sister in his work, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
  • Politics and economic gain set the direction in the country, not faith
  • The discussion of reparations has caused a lot of consternation
  • “You cannot have a serious conversation about racial justice without talking about economic justice.”

White

  • White supremacy is built upon a narrative of racial difference
  • Racism never goes away, it just adapts; the movement from overt racism in slavery through segregation/Jim Crow era to covert racism in the civil rights era up to the present
  • This is not really about the amount of melanin in one’s skin, but about the creation of system of racial difference with idealized “whiteness” at the top and “blackness” on the bottom; everyone else is in-between
  • Whiteness in this sense obscures ethnicity (even for white people), creates “blackness,” and maintains power through violence
  • The Second Coming of the Ku Klux Klan (1915) [Tisby talks about three iterations of the KKK in his book] – spurred by D. W. Griffith’s epic film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), it led to a rebirth of the KKK specifically linked with white Christian nationalism by William Joseph Simmons

Red

  • The greed of racism linked with white nationalism was enforced through violence upon the body
  • “But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me
  • The story of the lynching of Luther and Mary Holbert and the history of lynching in America
  • The story of Recy Taylor, gang raped by a group of white men

What Do We Do?: “The Fierce Urgency of Now”

  • Clip from Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s “I Have a Dream,” speech with the line “the fierce urgency of now…now is time”
  • The ARC of racial justice: awareness (head)  / relationship (hands) / commitment (heart)
  • Awareness:
  • Relationship:
    • Have relationships with people who are different than us
    • Incarnation of being together
    • However, relationships alone will not change systems of injustice
  • Commitment:
    • Find out who your local District Attorney is; find out their platform; and push for reforms in the realm of justice
    • Find out about voters rights and promote the vote
    • Look at your own institutions – schools, workplaces, churches, organizations – and see how you can be a voice for racial justice
    • We don’t have a “can do” problem but a “want to” problem

You can also watch the chapel message Tisby delivered yesterday morning at Wheaton College, “Do Not Despise the Prophetic Voice of the Black Experience.”