4 Reasons White Evangelicals Are Missing It On #BlackLivesMatter

I grew up in a family that obsessively fought for the rights of the unborn. Once I built my blog a few years ago, I found it easy to take up this familiar banner, if not because of my background, because my heart broke over the reality of unwanted children.

I saw the right of a child to be born as the social justice on which all others hinged. Even the issue of race appeared to bow to this basic right to life.

However, as the news of Eric Garner and Mike Brown’s wrongful deaths surfaced, along with the court’s responses, or lack thereof, I felt a new kind of unease pass over me, accompanied by a disturbing loss for words. While bloggers and artists I respected responded eloquently to the events, I read along silently. I had friends on both sides of the issues, and I didn’t know how to present my side in a meaningful way.

But there were reasons I didn’t know of that kept me quiet. They surfaced awkwardly, painfully after I did something I never planned to do.

As I considered the growing momentum building behind this fight for racial justice, I looked around and missed Someone:The Church. The Church should be at the front of this fight, I thought. Someone in the Church needs to organize a protest. It should be you.

I agreed with the first part. Where was the white Evangelical base who rants and raves about all forms of immorality? Where were the culture warriors? The Moral Majority? There were as quiet as me, it seemed.

But the “it should be you” part freaked me out. I’m just a mom with two kids and a full-time job. Most days, surviving domesticity pummels the radical right out of me. I made the excuses: I have no time to organize a protest, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before.

But like the Holy Spirit is prone to do, the whispers grew louder and my excuses grew lamer. Before I knew it, I was Googling “assembly permit” in my city and filling out the form.  

The night of the protest, about 40 residents of both black and white ethnicities showed up at a little park in the city’s center. Armed with signs and heavy hearts, we listened to the President of the Black Student Union, whose name most appropriately is Justice, as she encouraged us in our common fight. It turned out, she told us, we encouraged her in hers. Then we quietly heard a beautiful sermon by Pastor Caela, the Reverand of the Congregational Church downtown. And then I led the white folks present in a prayer of repentance, followed by a humble request that our black brothers and sister present would accept it from us. They graciously did.  

And something in the air moved that night. Something old shifted to make room for something new. I can’t explain it much better than that, but all of our hearts agreed that enough was enough. And that all it took to start a new thing.

After prayer, we spread out along the sidewalks, street corners and spilled onto the medians, children and their parents bundled and huddled together. Some of us carried candles and others signs. I regretted forgetting my gloves as my cold, dry hands clung to a sign that read simply #BlackLivesMatter. 

Two of the girls attending our protest Wednesday evening. Proud to stand with them. [Photo courtesy of The Collegian]
Two of the girls attending our protest Wednesday evening. Proud to stand with them. [Photo courtesy of The Collegian]
As I packed up the candles and signs for the night, I still didn’t know what I had done. It felt so surreal. It wasn’t until Sunday morning when Josh and I joined churches around the world for #BlackLivesMatterSunday that I finally made sense of the necessity of this fight.

I sat in my car a few moments before going into church to scratch down my thoughts. It was then I finally knew: racism is the ultimate human rights issue.

Racism impacts my fight against abortion or your fight against human trafficking. Why? Because if we hold racism in our hearts, we will inevitably care more about the white babies who are killed in abortion or the white girls that are trafficked than we do about the little ones in China, Nigeria or India.

In fact, black abortions are disproportionately represented in the statistics, with recent numbers showing that black women, while making up only 13 percent of the population, will have one-third of our nation’s abortions.

Indeed there is a clear connection between racism and other human rights. Racism is a belief that some of us have more of a right to be here than others. And it undoubtedly influences our outrage over the myriad of other justice violations in our world.

So why do we, the young, Evangelical Church, consistently miss the racism issue? Here are a few of the reasons we’ve been blind.

1. We have assumed it was resolved. We thought our parents and grandparents already fought this fight so we moved on. But we thought it was resolved because of who we spend time with.
 
2. We have mostly white friends in a mostly white city whose news is covered by mostly white media. What chance do we have to hear about injustice from a minority that is underrepresented? 
 
3. At the root, we feel overwhelmed by shame and guilt for our sins and the sins of our ancestors yet we feel powerless to do anything about it. We wish the race issue would just go away already so we can stop facing off against this force. In the meantime, we assuage our guilt by telling ourselves and our white friends about the black family members, friends and co-workers we have. See, we aren’t so bad?  
 
4. We are afraid to speak because the racism is gonna come out if we do. My racial biases are sitting at the tip of my tongue, and I know as well as you, that as soon as I open my mouth, I’m walking into a minefield of political incorrectness. Essentially, I am guaranteed to sound like a bigoted jerk. So why risk it? Just stay neutral. And this is what we have done. 
 
But as we all know, silence is consent. And we cannot consent to this, the ultimate human rights issue.
 
So what can we do? Maybe the opposite of what we’ve been doing, to start.
 
1. Realize the issue of racism is not resolved. Centuries of institutionalized racism have created a system white people continue to benefit from. You and I, white folks, profit from racism on a daily basis. Sure, we work hard and there are plenty of things we owe to our efforts and the efforts of our parents. But opportunities are not equal. We have a ways to go in eliminating racism from our society.
 
2. We don’t hear black stories cause we don’t talk to black people. We might talk news, sports, weather with our black friends and co-workers, but have you ever really asked one of your black friends what it’s like to be person of color in America? Don’t assume you know. I promise, you don’t know what it’s like. So it’s our turn to listen, to hear, to empathize. Imagine a world where we were the suspect minority, just because of the color of our skin. Imagine it’s you, not them, and that will jog you out of any apathy you’re still in.
 
3. Deal with your guilt and shame. I’ve had to pray and repent for the racism and discrimination in my heart more often than I want to admit. I’ve repented to God and twice last week I repented to black people in my city and my church, along with other white folks, asking them to accept our apologies. Now, I realize racism goes both ways, and racial prejudice is not only a white person problem. It’s a human problem. But in order for me to part of the solution, I have to own my junk: that I feel really bad about slavery and patronizing black people and benefiting from white privilege but I stumble over myself to fix it. But I’m sorry. I am so sorry.
 
4. Accept that you are going to sound like a jerk as you advocate for racial equality. Our whole culture is pretty much racist, and this impacts our language. You will be politically incorrect and people may string you up in the comments section for it, but you’re going to expect to apologize, hope the right people will hear your heart, and move on.
 
I knew when I created the protest event on Facebook, I was going to screw up the language and my words would out me, but I decided it was worth it. It didn’t take long. In my first version of the event invite, I encouraged people to write #AllLivesMatter so our protest could be extra inclusive. I thought I was doing a good thing. But one of my fellow organizers gently corrected me, saying, in this time, in this season, black people in America want to know if their lives, in particular, matter. As my husband preached on Sunday, if your daughter asks you if she’s beautiful, you wouldn’t say, “Of course, honey, all little girls are pretty.” 

One of the ways I’ve participated in healing and reconciliation in the past week was leading people through this prayer, which I more or less borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr. himself. Would you like to pray it with me? I’ve placed it here below for a meditation and action step for all of us. Let’s keep this conversation going.

The repentance prayer

How have we sinned, we may ask ourselves, perhaps for ignorance or confusion? 

In Martin Luther King Jr’s 1965 interview with Alex Haley, he said the white person feels great guilt for what we have done to Black people: “for patronizing the black person, degrading him, brutalizing him, depersonalizing him, thingifying him; guilt for lying to themselves.”

Today we acknowledge this guilt that Martin Luther King Jr so eloquently called us on. We have hidden in our guilt and shame. We have allowed ourselves to be paralyzed. We have made excuses and turned our heads. We have assumed it was not so bad.

So tonight, let us repent with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

For the sins of our ancestors, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS.

For patronizing the black person, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

for degrading them WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

For brutalizing them, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

For depersonalizing him, WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

For thingifying him; WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

For lying to ourselves. WE REPENT AND ASK FORGIVENESS. 

With Gods help we choose to open our eyes to the injustice that is happenings around us and to identify with the hurting as Jesus called us to do. We call our city’s citizens and leaders to act to prevent oppression and systemic injustice toward black people in our community, to stop accepting it as the status quo and to be radical in eradicating violence against black people. We promise to stand with you, our black brothers and sisters, until this work is done. 

 

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One thought on “4 Reasons White Evangelicals Are Missing It On #BlackLivesMatter

  1. Good stuff Sarah, I’m so grateful for the stance you and Josh are taking. As my friends I appreciate your perspective and actions. 2 things:

    1. It takes an act of God on the human heart (just as in salvation) for racism to be cured. I agree with protests (non violent of course) and rallies and various action steps – we should do those things. However, I realize that if they were the solution racism would have ended a long time ago. Since it hasn’t and I see the “steps” (both valid and invalid) taken…the heart of man/woman has to be the issue.

    To me, it’s offensive that God has to touch someone supernaturally for them to see racism is wrong but it took the same power of grace to touch rid my heart from its many evils.

    2. You are right! DIALOGUE. Everyone is afraid to dialogue. People aren’t afraid so much to speak out but they are afraid to dialogue. On facebook…people speak out. On twitter…people tweet out. On Instagram people insta out…wait, what?! nevermind. 🙂

    Speaking out is just that…speaking out. People just say what they want to say in an emotional outburst and don’t want to actually dialogue, especially with someone of an opposing viewpoint. This is cowardice. It stifles healthy conflict which can lead to peace talks and it solidifies the hatred harbored in our hearts because we won’t let anyone touch our depths. This is why we’re all so wounded.

    Lastly, as a black man living in America…my heart hearts. So many arguments to post here and so much wrong done on both sides of the incidents between the police officers and Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. So much could have been avoided. We’ll never know what really happened.

    What I do know is that I think I would be hard pressed for a person in America to clearly and adequately explain to a four year old why these men are dead without feeling something (even the tiniest bit of something) wrong in their heart of hearts. When I think of forming an argument I think of scaling it down to the most simplest of ideas that a small child can understand. If I can’t do that or can’t do that with clear conscience then something in my heart needs to be checked…something in my heart needs to change.

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