On the first evening of Sojourners’ annual gathering, The Summit — where my organization Faith for Justice was invited to share how we got involved in the Black Lives Matter movement — as Jim Wallis was talking about hope, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black church members at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Roof was a church member. His racial bias was explicit and violent, but his terrorist attack was predicated on years of silence in the U.S. church — silence about white supremacy racial bias. Unless we are exposing and eradicating this disease then, we are complicit in its deadly outbreaks. We continue the traditions of those Christian ancestors who, by their silence, were complicit in slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow.
I’ve noticed that a majority of white evangelicals in St. Louis who participate in the Black Lives Matter Movement (at least with Faith for Justice) are people who are members of churches with a large percentage of African Americans. A seminar at The Summit, “Spiritual Practices for Churches Confronting Racial Bias,” helped me realize that these white Christians are practicing a spiritual discipline by going to a black church.
When white Christians go to a black-led or mostly black church, they are likely to hear stories of black teens being pulled over by police for DWB (Driving While Black) and of many of other experiences of racial discrimination. They are tuning their ears to God’s ears as they listen to those who cry out for justice.
William Wilberforce dedicated his life to ending slavery in the British Empire and his compassion and justice-seeking were continuously renewed by relationships with slaves and freed slaves.
The purpose of spiritual disciplines is not to earn brownie points but to restore or renew relationships. God seems most concerned to restore relationships that are most broken in society. This means that the outcry for justice from the Black Lives Matter movement provides an opportunity for the renewal of the church. The “Spiritual Practices for Confronting Racial Bias” presented by copastors Rebecca Steele and Larry Watson were these: gather in small groups that are 1) half black and half white, 2) half poor and half not poor, and 3) have a small stewardship team that redistributes tithes and offerings to those in need.
Those are indeed spiritual disciplines. And they were like the spiritual disciplines of the early church whose members not only brought tithes and offerings but they also sold possessions and brought the proceeds for redistribution among those who had financial needs (Acts 2:45). This same church, when one group (Gentiles) complained about discrimination in widows’ support, gave all the distributive power to the discriminated against (Acts 6:1-5). Together the Black Lives Matter movement and the biblical witness call us to spiritual disciplines that renew relationships through meeting together across divides and through redistributing resources and power. These are spiritual disiciplines by which demons of white supremacy and mammon worship can be cast out and our relationships with neighbors and God can be renewed.