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You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free; part 2: The Bible, injustice, and race#19; Justice#43

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free; part 2: The Bible, injustice, and race#19; Justice#43 December 14, 2021

I ended the last post on the Bible, Injustice, and Race by noting that many White, evangelical churches have been complicit in the racism in the US.

An example of Christian complicity with regards to racism in the US is seen in the historical context that gave rise to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.[1]

In his letter, King defends his actions of protest against the injustices in Birmingham on the basis of the famed line that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What is sometimes overlooked is that this letter was written in response to a letter written to him by a group of white pastors and rabbis.[2] They wrote to King condemning his presence in Birmingham and his support of the racial protests.

These pastors and rabbis suggested to King that the White leaders in Birmingham were working towards racial justice in the city and that he and his protestors should not upset that process:

“We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”[3]

King’s reply

King’s reply is worthy of an extensive citation:

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.[4]

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What do you do with this?

I believe that an important step forward is for us to do a better job of listening to the voices of the other. (there is an old adage: God gave you one mouth and two ears, so use them in that proportion!).

It is hard for us to hear the voices of the oppressed when we are beneficiaries of their oppression. It is also hard for us to hear them when we don’t listen.

One of the problems here is that we are too often either unwilling to admit our complicity or unwilling to let go of our privileges.

Jesus said, You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free (John 8:32)

We cannot know the truth, however, unless we allow ourselves to be confronted by it.

To the readers of color: I, again, express my deepest apologies to you for my own involvement in the systems of injustice that still confront you every day.

To the White readers: I hope by now that we can begin to see some of the larger picture.

Repentance

I hope over the course of these posts that I have begun to help you understand the severity of the problems and the harm that we have done (by “you” I am referring primarily, but not exclusively, to the White readers of this post).

And I hope that you have been driven to repentance.

But you may ask, “what do I have to repent for?”

Because we too have sinned. To deny that we have played a role in the racial injustices of this country can only result from a poor understanding of the Church. As Paul writes, “There are many members, but one body” (1 Cor 12:20). From this Paul concludes, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor 14:26).

Unfortunately, the Church has played a key role in America’s racial injustice. (see my previous posts on the Church’s complicity: here is part 1 of 3).

Lament

The step after repentance is lament.

NB: lament is so significant for the life of God’s people that we have an entire book of the Bible devoted to it—not to mention an abundance of Psalms of lament.

I recently heard this saying “To live without lament is to live an unexamined life![5]

Even Jesus lamented (Matt 23:37-39). Lamenting is one of the beatitudes: “blessed are those who mourn” (Matt 5:4).

Reparations

The Bible commands us to make reparations for our sins. The Law, in fact, specifies that we pay double for some crimes, and up to fourfold and fivefold for others (Exod 22:1-15; cf 2 Sam 12:6).

Making reparations is what Zacchaeus did:

“Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much’” (Luke 19:8).

Reparations will still not change the systemic injustice that runs rampant in our country.

And reparations do not change the past. They may, however, help with the healing.

Learn

It is incumbent upon the White evangelical community to continue to learn.

Perhaps, the best place to start is to listen to those who have suffered directly.

You can volunteer and work alongside those who have been oppressed. Learn their stories.

Finally, we must become advocates for change. The fact is that White people continue to hold most of the power cards in our country. We need to use that power to advocate for change.

Some final thoughts:

I have more to say, but I think you are tired by now of hearing it from me. Now it is time for you to become engaged and begin to change the story.

Pray (daily)[6] and ask for forgiveness for whatever part you may have played. Ask, in humility, for God to continue to make things known to you. Seek wisdom on how to move forward (don’t expect an answer right away).

  1. Talk to people. Listen. Learn their stories. Do not judge. Just listen.
  2. Continue to learn. Read, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos. (see recommended resources below)
  3. Take action: volunteer at an inner-city school; or boys and girls club; or foster program.

Some recommended resources

Books:

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander

The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein

The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby

Unsettled Truths

The Color of Compromise

Beyond Hashtag Activism

Just Mercy (the book is way better than the movie)

YouTube

Crash Course Black American History.” This series of 50 videos (each around 8-12 mins) is a fantastic look at Black American History.

Movies:

“13th

“Just Mercy”

“The Hate you Give”

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[1] http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf. Last accessed 9-23-20.

[2] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/sites/mlk/files/lesson-activities/clergybirmingham1963.pdf. Last accessed 9-23-20.

[3] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/sites/mlk/files/lesson-activities/clergybirmingham1963.pdf. Last accessed 9-23-20.

[4] http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf. Last accessed 9-23-20.

[5] I can’t recall where I heard it.

[6] You may want to take a 40-day period and pray and fast and listen to the Lord.


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