A Time for Prophetic Grief: Hearing BlackLivesMatter

[I have watched in horror over the past couple weeks at the continued violence against the black community in the United States and in Canada. In the interest of amplifying black voices, over the next week I’ll be promoting black theology past and present, with as little commentary from me as possible. May we all hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church through these powerful voices of faith.]

As I write this, the streets are filled for the third week of mostly peaceful protests against police violence against Black bodies, not only in the United States, but around the world, whether in solidarity with Black Americans or seeking to address problems of racial injustice at home. These protests were incited by the violent death — caught on camera — of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of similar, horrific, incomprehensible stories.

Today, I’d like to look at some of the words — statements, sermons, and reflections — of Black Christian men and women that have come out of the past six years of public grief, lamentation, protest and witness.

Unlike the other posts in this series, I’m not going to try to weave a narrative through these, but will simply let the quotes speak for themselves. But as you read through them, I encourage you to look for common themes, and to look at which parts of the Christian story are they drawing on. And, of course, I encourage you all, please, to follow the links and read the whole resources yourselves.

Ebony Adedayo, “#StayWokeAdvent: God Who Delivers the Oppressed” (December 2014)

2,000 years later and the hope of our present condition is still fulfilled in Jesus. Through the witness of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Church, He continues to preach liberation, freedom, and salvation. As people who have been oppressed these last 400 years, this is what we must hold on to. We can’t hope in the system that got us into this mess. It was not designed for us, we cannot expect it to protect us.

Instead, we can, and we must hope in Jesus. We must hope in the man who was willing to leave His heavenly throne and put on human flesh to identify with us. We must trust the man, the God, who was willing to speak truth to power, and who ultimately allowed Himself to be a victim of police brutality when His words threatened the status quo. In his death and resurrection, Jesus shows us that our present situation of suffering will not last forever. And if history is any indicator of future events, we can also know that our liberation is eminent.

Take comfort in the hope of Christ this advent season, and #StayWoke black folks.

Micky ScottBey Jones, “Mike Brown Means” (August 2015)

“Mike Brown means new theology. Mike Brown means the church has had a wake-up call. If or how it will be answered is the question. Mike Brown means … so-called followers of Jesus are being watched for how they engage Prophetic Grief in this age. If the body of Christ cannot weep with black mothers burying their children, then it is bankrupt, hollow, and full of dead bones that no church revitalization program can fix.

Mike Brown means a new #StayWoke spirit that is breathing down America’s neck. Mike Brown means #ICantBreathe and I can’t sleep, so I stay awake, eyes open to the oppression, injustice, and pain of our world. […]

Mike Brown means we really have to decide if we can love without determining if the other person is worthy first. Mike Brown means we have to live #RevolutionaryLove and not just sing about it.

Mike Brown means the sleeper has awoken. Mike Brown means we are dreaming again — in pictures, paintings, stories, poetry, prose, music, and movement as we imagine a future of freedom and liberation.[…]

Mike Brown means Trayvon Martin means Tamir Rice means Sandra Bland means John Crawford means Eric Garner means Christian Taylor and all the other victims of systemic racialized violence, police brutality, and our white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal culture of fear.

Mike Brown means we’ve got to fight for all of them. For all of us. Because one more time, until #BlackLivesMatter it is a lie to say #AllLivesMatter.

Mike Brown means one year down and many more to go. You rest in peace, Mike. We got this.

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, “A Theology for a Grieving People” (August 2015)

“I have been grieving for a well over a year; grieving for Sanford, Fla;. for Ferguson, Mo.; for Charleston, S.C.; for Cleveland, Ohio; and for countless other cities. I am grieving for a world that I know, irrefutably, does not value black lives — a world that does not value my life.

The Christian is promised that although weeping may endure for a night, joy will eventually come in the morning. But we are never told how long that night will be or how long our season of grief may last. Your theology and your faith are shaped as much by those seasons of grief as they are by glimpses of a joyful morning.

… And when we consider both the wonders and the despair of the cross, it can give us a theology for a grieving people — a theology that reminds us that black lives matter. A theology for grieving people must make room for tears, weeping, wailing, pain, and anger. Spaces are necessary where one can grieve without shame or interference. African Americans are often rushed — by cultural, political, and theological forces — to quickly forgive those who trespass against us. We are rushed to the space of forgiveness and healing before we can even bury the dead or evaluate the scope of our loss. But the cross reminds us that we cannot quickly race to Resurrection Sunday; we must sit with the pain of Friday’s crucifixion and with Saturday’s silence. There must be room for rage and anger and despair. There must be room to ask about being forsaken and abandoned. There must be room to question if black lives really matter to God.

Bishop (Indianapolis) Jennifer Basker-Burrows, “Hope and Challenge for the Church on Dismantling White Supremacy and Racism” (June 2020)

Hope and challenge are two sides of the same coin. Across the globe people are risking their health in the midst of a pandemic to hold police departments, cities and corporations accountable to changing policies embedded in racist structures. This is gospel work. And the church is not exempt.

So here is the challenge for [our] Church: we need to stop being afraid of committing to the work of dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy. … Our being afraid of making white people upset makes us complicit in keeping white supremacy in place. We must not be afraid of giving our time and financial resources to the groups who are doing this work on the ground.

… Now is the time for acting. For doing the work of unlearning bias against black and brown people. Our everyday choices from where we buy groceries, to what we read, to how we adorn our sanctuaries, to where our money goes, to how we vote all add up. It all adds up to a world where people and systems are activated to value and support all of God’s children no matter what they look like or where they come from and every choice moves us a little closer to God’s dream. Not just the American dream—God’s dream. So let’s get to work, church. The time is now. Thank you.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, “When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here” (May 2020)

[Racism is] not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life.

But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.

… Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbor, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. … Neither do we condone our nation’s collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out.

But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger’s well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.

Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self. That way of real love is the only way there is.

#BlackLivesMatter.

Hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.

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