Over the next 12 months, the Forum for Theological Exploration is spotlighting 12 leaders, their stories, and how their passion and call to shape a more hopeful future through Christian ministry guides the impact they are making in their communities, institutions and universities. You can find the full series, here.
By Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
On April 4, 1968, six weeks before my 9th birthday, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, shot with a rifle while standing on a balcony in Memphis, where he was organizing for the rights of poor people. He was my hero—a revolutionary lover of human kind, a champion for justice—and hatred had killed him.
When I was five, a little white girl called me a nigger, slapping me with her words. I was raced then, my innocence disrupted. Then it seemed a flood of images: little girls blown up in church; men, women and children dressed in their Sunday best, marching for voting rights, facing bully clubs, viscous dogs and water hoses turned their way. Now hatred and fear could kill a man dreaming about love.
Chicago was on fire that night, my neighborhood lit up with sorrow; my sister and I hid under our beds from flying bullets. Almost nine, I felt clear that I was to follow in King’s footsteps. When I was 30, I headed to Princeton Theological Seminary for two and half of the best years of my life.
I worked in Trenton in urban ministry, starting a new multi-racial, multi-cultural congregation. I worked with community organizers against police violence and poverty. Still I wanted to know more about how faith could rewire personalities AND culture. I needed to understand how to continue Dr. King’s love revolution by transforming lives, who would transform our community and heal the world.
I explored graduate schools and entered a program in Church in Society: Psychology of Religion. I explored not only the psychology of faith, but also the development of racial and gender/sexual identity. What I learned in that program I use every day in my church in Manhattan, in my public theology, community organizing and teaching in seminaries.
My history of theological exploration has been a guiding light in many situations, including today. The truth is, post-election, we have been thrust into a new time. Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to become the next president of the United States of America.
We’ve heard stories that have shocked us: A white Middle School student telling a black classmate he can get back in his place. A gay man getting on a New York City bus hearing: “Enjoy the concentration camps, faggot.” The NYU Muslim Students Association finding the word Trump scrawled on the floor of their prayer room. A group of Hispanic kids in Raleigh taunted by white children telling them they are going back to Mexico. Two white college students in blackface taking a picture in front of a confederate flag. A Swastika showing up on an upstate New York fence accompanied by the words Make America White Again.
How are we going to move forward? This is hard to say and it might be hard to hear: Our compassion for human kind must be born of our humanness, not of our party affiliation.
I am not ready to pretend that Trump can be a good president. He still is who he is. I wonder instead what we are going to do to make America safe, compassionate, and just.
We must grieve; that is part of the work. Then we must talk, organize and act in love. We are accompanied by a God who created the earth out of chaos. But today we have to do our part.
We must talk with people who made this choice, and though it hurts us, we need to understand why. Knowledge is power, and necessary to build a movement. Ask: What made you vote the way you did? What were you hoping for when you made that choice? How are you feeling about it now? May I tell you how I am feeling about this president-elect? What do you hear me saying? What do you think about it?
We must act. There is a Change.org petition asking the Electoral College to vote for Hillary Clinton in December. We might not be successful, but we will educate people. The Electoral College was set up so poor people, brown people, and non-elite people would be unable to sway the presidential election.
There will be a Million Women gathering in January in Washington, D.C. to resist the erosion of civil rights. There are opportunities to boycott unjust establishments, and make safe spaces for those targeted by hateful acts. We must call out injustice loudly and protest peacefully.
And we must love ourselves. You and I are the ones God will use; we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Sleep, exercise, eat well, like we are training for a marathon, because we are. We must be physically and spiritually fit so we can have stamina for the work ahead.
God is in the business of creating something new out of something chaotic. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. And she always uses good old every day regular folks like us to make it happen! Grieve. Organize. Converse. Act. Love. This is what theological exploration has taught me, and this is ultimate purpose of our faith.
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis was a Forum for Theological Exploration Fellow in 2001. She is Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a multiracial, fully inclusive congregation of 900 people in Manhattan. She is also the Co-Founder of The Middle Project, which prepares ethical leaders for a just society through leadership training and an annual conference to end racism. Revolutionary Love: Disruptive Ethics to Dismantle Racism will be held April 28-30 at Middle Church. Jacqui is a Senior Fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary.