When Life Cannot Go On As Normal

When Life Cannot Go On As Normal July 15, 2015

Ahnnalise Stevens-JenningsThe Sunday after the murders of Clementa Pinckney and his congregation members of Mother Emanuel AME was a difficult Sunday for pastors. There are some church contexts where people would not welcome any kind of reminder that there is a need for justice in the world. I would imagine that those churches would be even less inviting to the thought that they add to and benefit from the injustice that now pervades it. The idea that they may be somehow a part of an unjust kingdom built on a foundation of systemic sin and the oppression of others could probably not be spoken from the pulpit without upsetting a lot of people.

I understand. Pastors would like to keep being employed and that sometimes means backing off a particularly difficult subject like how complacency in the face racism is actually helping the racist system to continue. I am empathetic. I really am, but enough is enough. I do not want to hear anymore mealy mouth preachers skirt around the issue without naming it; not while churches are burning and people are dying. At some point you have to ask yourself who you are working for, what your goals are, and which kingdom you serve.

In the days after the attack on Mother Emanuel, I sought refuge in church. I did not find it. The was no space for lamentation, no words of comfort, and no cries of justice.

It was all calls for stricter gun laws, better mental health care systems, and the need for forgiveness.

None of these things are bad. All of them were ill-timed. Each message missed an opportunity. This is not just about gun laws, even though guns are a huge issue. This is not about mental health, although I would love better access to affordable mental health care and to work on erasing stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudice. This is not, and I repeat NOT, a time to be asking the Black community to forgive. Forgiveness is something that only God can demand of us, and the only reason the God can demand it is because God can make all things just. When I forgive, it is because I know that God is tearing down the systems that caused me to have to forgive in the first place. It is the trust that I have that God’s Kingdom will reign that allows me to forgive. Do not presume to ask me or any other member of the Black community to give it, especially if you aren’t working to change things.

Finding little help in my faith community, aside from some fellow seminarians, I turned to my justice-seeking community from across the world on social media. In that community, I found Jesus. He was right where I was expecting to find him, shouting for justice from the margins. One of the most profound thoughts that I found was a poem called “When Life Cannot Go On as Normal” by Jamie McGee. It hit me hard. I cried over it. I prayed over it. It allowed me to feel what I needed to feel. I took it to my seminary family and they incorporated it into a memorial service. The service that was crafted was important and much needed. Despite the fact that even in that space of lamentation people still called for forgiveness and gun control, people asked about the poem and said that it helped them to process this struggle. It was effective.

Please pastors, I am begging you to speak honestly about racism, systemic oppression, and injustice from your pulpits. I plead with you to put the full weight of the gospel and the promise of the Kingdom into what you preach and teach. Move your congregations to passion for the Black community. Lean into the empathy locked into their hearts. Pull out the love of God and neighbor that has been instilled in them. Make me their neighbor; make the Black community their neighbors. Please care. Be honest. Speak up, speak loudly, and speak often because as Jamie McGee wrote, “We found our pastor’s blood in the Communion wine.” Our holy places, which are filled with the presence of God, are being burned to the ground. We are dying. You can help us. The system will not be dismantled without you and the Holy Spirit. We need you to be bold, because life cannot go on as normal, so please do not preach as it if can.

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