One of the most horrendous transgressions committed against black men, women, and children is the incessant violence perpetrated against us by a racist, sadistic society. It is even more egregious when it is committed by those who have sworn an oath to protect and serve. As America has deemed it permissible to demonize, criminalize, and brutalize black people simply because of the color of our skin, countless numbers of innocent unarmed black people are being massacred in the streets because of the vicious, racist hatred that runs rampant in American society and in the law enforcement system, and is later protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and stand your ground laws.
The church, referred to as the body of Christ, understands itself to be representative of everything that Christ is, everything that Jesus stood for. According to our Christian theology, Jesus is the earthly manifestation of God, whom we worship as our Lord and Savior. He stands for love, peace, mercy, and justice, and although he is a man who knew no sin, closer examination of the church will unfortunately reveal that it is replete with sin. One of the greatest of these sins is silence in the face of certain injustices, especially as it pertains to police brutality and racial terrorism. While Black people are being relentlessly pursued because our lives have been determined to be expendable, numerous churches across this country have not only been silent, but too many have been complacent and complicit with these atrocities.
Myriad white churches have been guilty of not only espousing racist rhetoric, but also of preaching a theology that urges Christian silence when it comes to standing up for justice, especially when it means standing against the racially motivated brutalization of Black bodies. This encourages the perpetrators of such inhumane violence to continue to act with impunity, no matter how abhorrent the violence committed against us may be. Worse still, many black churches have accepted, adopted, and perpetuated this racist theology as their own. White and black churches alike have remained silent in the face of the savagery that is committed against the black community, with their so-called Christian piety being nothing more than Christian apathy. Yet they continuously preach to their congregants from James 2:17 that “faith without works is dead.” Some have even gone so far as to preach to African Americans about all the ways in which to properly conduct ourselves during police encounters so as not to get killed. They reinforce society’s impropriety of placing the onus for staying alive on the potential victim, as opposed to holding a racially oppressive country, maintained by state sanctioned violence and white supremacist hate groups, accountable for its actions. This is like telling women how to conduct themselves so as not to get raped, as opposed to holding rapists accountable for their heinous violence against women.
Churches are expected to be the prophetic voice that stands against the iniquities and inequities of society, just as Jesus did. For Christians, the two most significant theological implications that surround social justice issues are found in Matthew 22:37–39 (to love God and one’s neighbor) and Matthew 25:34–40 (caring for the least of these). Because we are a country that practices religious freedom, and these scriptures do not hold authority for everyone, we cannot simply rely on America’s own moral compass, its own beliefs about humanity and justice, to rectify the injustices committed against innocent Black lives. However, for the church, these scriptures are to be upheld with the utmost reverence and authority to help Christians understand exactly what is required of us as people of God, and what it means to stand up for justice. Loving one’s neighbor means loving all of God’s people, not only the select few. And caring for the least of these does not imply that we are only responsible for feeding the poor, it means caring for all those whom society continually casts aside.
All throughout the Gospels we see Jesus doing just this, standing against oppression, standing up for those who were marginalized politically, economically, religiously, and socially. Why do countless numbers of churches not do the same? Yet they will not hesitate to speak out when the purpose is to further promulgate the oppression of already marginalized groups. We have seen this during and after the reformation, as Protestant Christians became the greatest proponents in the implementation of chattel slavery in this country (Carruthers, 2009). We see this with numerous Protestant and Catholic churches that still hold misogynistic viewpoints when it comes to women, some of whom still tell women they must endure abusive marriages, or that they must be submissive to men, or will still not allow women to be pastors or priests. We saw it during the fight for the legalization of gay marriage, and we continually see it in black people’s struggle against racially motivated violence. These and other issues reveal the darker side of Christianity in terms of the church’s ability to hate.
The Christian church clearly has its own difficulty in following God’s greatest commandments. It always has. It cannot abide by its own theological teachings and has even gone so far as to keenly develop ways in which to justify its sin. As the body of Christ, this is unacceptable. It is the church’s silence in the face of injustice that renders additional violence against black bodies. It is for this reason that the church has a moral and sacred obligation to preach the entirety of what Jesus stood for — not simply that he died for our sins in order to provide us with eternal salvation, but that he was a man of color crucified like a common criminal and marred beyond human recognition because he went against the authority of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was tortured because he stood against the tyranny and abuse of the ancient Hebrews at the hands of the Roman Empire. Simply put, Jesus died because he stood up for justice.
The church cannot remain silent any longer. The blood that has been shed at the hands of racial injustice is permeating the streets. The silent cries of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others echo the unheard screams of an entire culture of people. Screams that have persisted for 400 years.
When we proclaim, “Black Lives Matter,” it is our rallying cry. It is a cry for justice. It is a cry to the world to bring an end to the senseless murders of innocent people. It is a cry to affirm our humanity in a country that has dehumanized us while it hypocritically declares, “liberty and justice for all.” It is a cry that the church must assert to the world to make the world understand that black lives matter to Jesus and to the church as well. The time has come for more churches to take a stance. The time has come for the church to preach freedom of the body as well as freedom of the soul; earthly liberation as well as heavenly salvation. The time has come for the church to recognize and repent of its own sin, the sin of silence.
Carruthers, Iva. “Blood on the Hands: The Role of the Church in the Transatlantic Slave Trade System.” Illinois Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Commission 2009 Report (2009): 1–24.
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