Adam Phillips and his wife, Sarah, attend Portland Pride Parade. Photo courtesy Adam Phillips
I walked down Burnside and the first parade on-lookers squinted and began to read my placard. I did not know what to expect at first: Did they think I was protesting Pride? Would they accept my apology?
I was overwhelmed by the response. People began to cheer. Many asked me to slow down so they could take a picture. Some wiped away tears and simply mouthed “thank you,” or “I accept [your apology].” For the next few miles cheers and cameras and tears greeted us everywhere we went. I was grateful I was wearing sunglasses, because there were a few moments where I simply welled up with tears and couldn’t handle it any more.
As the Supreme Court is poised to rule on same-sex marriage, evangelical Christian leaders are expressing opposing viewpoints, even though polls show a majority of the movement's rank-and-file oppose it.
When we discuss the gospel of Jesus Christ, we realize that it is a revolutionary message asking us to love our enemies, to do good to those who curse us, and even harder, to turn the other cheek. The gospel is going beyond that. It is asking us to receive, stand, advocate for the poor, incarcerated, and those living in the margins who have been pushed out by the institutions of our society. Jesus took many risks at times during his ministry, and when he started turning over tables and exposing the priests’ racket of selling sacrifices, it did not work out so well for him.
I’m not asking people to go and get themselves killed, but just ask yourself, “How much of the gospel am I willing to perform?”
It was a devastating weekend for black people in America.
On Friday, a white police officer pulled his gun at a pool party and assaulted a 15-year old black girl who cried for her mom in McKinney, Texas. On Saturday, a young black man committed suicide in his parents’ home in the Bronx after being held without trial at Rikers Island for three years (nearly two in solitary confinement), accused of stealing a backpack — a charge that prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Sunday evening, hotel security officers profiled four young black organizers from Baltimore in the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel at the conclusion of The Justice Conference.
The fight for the preservation of black and brown lives, that took unexpectedly deep roots in Ferguson and has now spread across nations, was a fight many of our students quickly came to lead, and folks like me have followed.
But many of these young people are not Christian, and frankly, the perception that local congregations lackadaisically approached this movement before it became a national headline — and brought a healthy, condescending dose of respectability politics and patriarchy along with their eventual involvement — is not making most of the millennial set excited about the prospects of salvation.
But local faith leaders like Rev. Traci Blackmon and Rev. Starsky Wilson, and others raised in faith like my friend Rich McClure and me, have clung to the radical example of Christ that guides our collective and individual action.
President Kgalema Motlanthe, Jim Wallis, and Denis Goldberg. Photo by Tom Getman
I was privileged to co-host with former colleagues the visit of former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, an ex-convict from the apartheid era. He served 10 years in prison for the “treasonous” act of standing against the Afrikaans Nationalist regime, along with Nelson Mandela and 1000s of others who spent many years on Robben Island or in Pretoria Central Prison. Many died in the process. President Motlanthe was accompanied by Denis Goldberg, who was convicted along with Mandela and served 22 years. Nicholas Wolpe, the facilitator of the trip, is a cousin of the late Congressman Howard Wolpe. Nic’s father would have been one of the Rivonia accused at the trial in 1963-4 but for having made a daring famous escape with several other comrades.
MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.
Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.
Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.
Both mother and child were light enough to pass for white. My caramel-toned, straight-haired grandmother, Willa, and her brother, Charlie, were too dark. So they were left behind in the care of their elderly great-grandmother. Willa and Charlie joined others on the plantation and earned their keep working the fields.
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As Christians we should recognize the language of black lives matter. After all, Jesus did not say "blessed is everyone," but "blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20). He did not say "as you do it unto everyone, you do it unto me," but "as you do it unto the least" (Matthew 25:40). Jesus did not say "love everyone," but "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44).
Continually Jesus drew our attention not to loving people "in general" but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn. Black lives matter is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say.