As I followed protesters along the National Mall after the non-indictment of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, I was particularly struck by the comments of one black gentleman named Houston. Putting down a sign that said “Boycott Christmas,” he took a speaker, called for quiet, and, in the midst of the crowd, began to preach:
“We must move on to that new day in which justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. It is time for black and whites to take hand and hand and move this nation beyond the pitiful historical dilemma … So black and white together, we must move on to where even the stones will shout out, ‘It’s time for America to be one.’”
“Amen,” someone shouted.
Drawing on Amos 5:24 and Luke 19:40, Houston had brought the riches of a deep biblical tradition to bear on our contemporary political struggle. Like the early Christians, he called not only for justice but also for reconciliation between races. His faith had inspired him to act.
Or so I thought.
Editor's Note: In this new series, we explore the ongoing conversation within the church over LGBT identities, affirmation, and inclusion. As the push for equality expands, how are communities of faith participating and responding — and is it enough? We will be examining this at a deeper level in the January issue of Sojourners magazine, with a cover story from evangelical ethicist David Gushee. Subscribe Now to receive that issue.
During the opening worship service at the Reformation Project’s Washington, D.C., conference, a weekend of events promoting the biblical affirmation of the LGBT community, something seemed amiss. I looked around the church pews to find what fueled my unease. Maybe it was the guitar-charged praise music alongside traditional liturgy. Or maybe it was the older white man listening intently to the younger gay black woman. Evangelical vibrato next to mainline rigidity, old next to young, white next to black, gay next to straight next to bi next to transgendered.
It was a Galatians 3 kind of room — a reminder that in Jesus there is no longer “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” Gay or straight.
“For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
It was that sacred “oneness” that surprised me. Nothing was actually amiss — all things were new. There was a colorful rareness and a refreshing affirmation.
Rev. Allyson Robinson gave the opening address of the conference, offering prayer, Scripture, encouragement, and a few warnings for the LGBT-affirming church. The warnings came in the form of analogy in which she likened the temptations of Jesus in the desert to the temptations of the affirming church on the verge of a culture war victory.
This week the streets all over our country have been filled with protesters expressing grief, anger, shock and sorrow that Officer Darren Wilson (who shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown) and Officer Daniel Pantaleo (who held the also-unarmed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold during his arrest) failed to be indicted for their actions.
Last night crowds across the U.S. staged sit-ins and die-ins, clogged bridges, and shut down major highways. Many of them chanted, “No Justice, No Christmas.”
No Justice, No Christmas.
At first glance, I agreed with them. Screw it. Let’s just shut it all down. Shut down the bridges, the roads, the rivers, the train stations and the airports. Shut down the mall Santas and the Christmas pageants and the holiday parties and the family get-togethers. And then let’s shut down Christmas itself.
Because who wants to open a stocking filled with candy and socks and lip gloss when the Brown and Garner families will be grieving for their loved ones who are no longer with them? Who wants to sing about joy when our country is feeling so much pain? Who wants to proclaim, “Peace on earth, good will to men” when peace and goodwill are precisely the things we’re lacking right now?
No Justice, No Christmas. Seems like a good idea, right?
The three of us put our cups of coffee on the counter and reached into our pockets for our wallets. The check-out clerk paid no attention to any of us. He seemed to be staring at someone or something in the back of the store.
“We’re ready to pay,” one of us said.
The clerk kept looking at the back of the store. A few seconds went by before he told us what had his attention.
“I’m watching that boy over there to make sure he don’t steal nothing,” the clerk said.
The three of us looked at the back of the store and realized the clerk was talking about our co-worker.
Four of us were carpooling across Florida on a work assignment several years ago. It took several hours to cross the state. We stopped at a place called Yeehaw Junction off Route 60 to use the restroom and get some coffee.
The three of us at the check-out counter were white, like the clerk. The co-worker accompanying us was black. The clerk assumed that because the three of us were white, we would understand and agree with his attitudes and assumptions about our co-worker – that he was dishonest because of the color of his skin. Needed to be watched. Couldn’t be trusted. Too dangerous to let out of his sight.
A few days ago, a friend of mine commented on a picture I posted on Facebook. It captured one of those rare moments in the daily grind of stay-at-home parenting where — in the midst of the diaper changes, meltdowns, and mealtime madness — there is a moment of pure delight. In this case, my two sons were sitting together for the first time in the front of a race car-themed shopping cart. My 3-year-old son was thrilled to have his infant brother “driving” with him. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo and posting it immediately. Having two sons of his own, my friend commented, “2 boys! What a great idea!”
I thought of this comment last Monday night when I heard the painful news of the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case, and later when I heard of the same conclusion in the Eric Garner case. Yes, it was a great idea to have boys. My husband and I love them more than anything. They’ve brought more joy into our lives than we could ever have imagined. But, I wondered, how different would our experience be if we were parents of black sons instead of white sons? How much more worry and heartache would we face knowing the cards were stacked against them from birth? What would it be like to have to figure out how and when to have the talk — the one about law enforcement, no second chances and the need to go above and beyond in every situation?
I wasn’t always aware of the vastly different realities for people of color living in this country. My conversion was slow. Not the Damascus Road type of experience where I was blind for three days and then instantly I could see. No, it was and continues to be a long, slow, sometimes painful process of listening and learning.
Protests have again erupted across the United States following the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo for the choking and killing of Eric Garner. Building off the online mobilizing network established in response to Ferguson, the most recent wave of community actions have gathered support via social media. After events are posted on Facebook or Tumblr, or simply spread through word of mouth, Twitter hashtags provide real-time updates that direct potential supporters to the location of a march.
In Washington, D.C., protests began outside the Department of Justice at 4:00 p.m. and continued throughout the city late into the night — through the National Mall, near the White House, the D.C. police department, and city hall. Comprising many races and many ages, crowds chanted phrases like, “Black lives matter” and “This is what democracy looks like.” One black mother, Shantelle, who was pushing her toddler in a stroller, explained why she was out marching today:
“We’re proud to be American. We’re military. We love our country. But we keep getting it, my son is gonna’ keep getting it. We’re not valued and we’re not looked at. I want him to grow up in a place where he doesn’t have to worry he wore the wrong hoodie, or he was playing with a toy gun, or he gets a chokehold, and dies.”
Another, older woman simply said, “I’m old. I hate that I have to be out here. I’m sick of doin’ the same old stuff.”
Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor for Willow Creek Community Church, spoke out last week on the ongoing Ferguson protests. In the video, shared this week by Willow Creek Church-affiliated artist group The Tungsten Collective, Hybels calls on people of faith to listen to the pain and hurt expressed by many since the August shooting of Michael Brown.
He quotes James 1:19, urging people of faith to “be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
“It’s just so much easier to live in your own story than it is to try to understand the narrative of the other,” Hybels said.
Indeed, when it comes to interactions with law enforcement, the black experience and the white experience in America are “two totally different narratives [that often] … don’t touch each other until a Ferguson happens,” he said.
At one point the megachurch pastor emphasizes — almost uncomfortably lightheartedly — just how untouched he’s been by fear, crime, and violence in his neighborhood.
“[Peace] is all I’ve ever known. I’ve never had a single adversarial experience with a law enforcement officer in my entire life,” he said.
But in drawing a distinction in the difference of experience, he echoes a Jia Tolentino column in TIME earlier this fall on how social divisions are revealed based on which evils we mourn and pledge to fight against. While Hybels falls short of explicitly naming a power and privilege differential, he urges humility, listening, and seeking understanding among people of faith — all the more resonant today after the non-indictment ruling on the choking death of Eric Garner.
WATCH the full video here.
I was in Ferguson Wednesday when it happened: In a morally stunning decision, a Staten Island grand jury announced it would not bring criminal charges against a white police officer who choked a black man to death during a brutal incident last July. Stopped for allegedly selling some loose and therefore untaxed cigarettes, officer Daniel Pantaleo put a “chokehold” on Eric Garner, despite the fact that the move is against NYPD rules. Video of the incident shows Garner uttering his last words, “I can’t breathe.” New York’s medical examiner officially called this a “homicide,” but the grand jury said no charges will be made.
Of course, this comes just 10 days after the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict another white police officer, Darren Wilson, for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Sojourners had convened a retreat in Ferguson for both national faith leaders and local pastors to look deeply at the historical and theological foundations of the Ferguson events and reflect upon how the church must respond. Emotional calls from pastors in New York City came with the horrible news, and people just began to weep — one young man wailing, “This time it was all on video …. and it still didn’t matter! How can I as a black man bring a black son into this world?” Lament and prayers followed with a resolve from an extraordinary two days on the ground in Ferguson — to act.
Local experts in St. Louis County helped us understand the damage done to their local communities for decades that led to the response that erupted after the killing of Michael Brown. We walked silently and prayerfully alongside the memorial to the slain teenager on West Canfield Avenue with black parents imagining their own sons lying there, and white parents realizing this would never happen to our kids. We kept looking at the street where this bloody incident had taken place, feeling more and more doubt about the narratives the county prosecutor had used to exonerate and excuse the white police officer from any responsibility — or at least a trial to publically sort out “conflicting testimonies.”
We met in a church with seven young leaders of the Ferguson protest movement. In just 116 days, these young people had become self-educated and extraordinary leaders, and we listened to a compelling analysis of their urgent situation and how they were trying to apply the history of social movements to change their oppressive circumstances. Their chilling stories of police harassment and brutality, preceded by a narrative of the educational and economic brutality that black young people like them experience daily were transforming words for those of us who listened, spellbound. As I listened, I realized America would be converted by these young people’s honest and earnest conversation — they would win the national debate about our criminal justice system’s response to young people of color.
There’s this microaggression happening online, offline, and all around that has a nice sentiment, but really needs to stop. Can we call for a week-long moratorium on decrying “ALL LIVES MATTER?”
This is a request specifically for my white brothers and sisters, especially those in the church.
I, of course, as a white heterosexual married middle-class highly educated American male, believe that all lives matter. It’s something I’ve been fighting for my entire adult life. Whether it is the mother infected with HIV by her wayward husband in western Africa, whether it is the undocumented immigrant father who may be separated from his American-born children, whether it is the NRA card-carrying white uncle who does an honest job and is a good neighbor back in the midwest, whether it is the homeless thirty-something woman coming off a bad meth addiction but needing shelter during a difficult winter, of course, by all means, every life matters.
Your life matters. My life matters. All lives matter.
This is a non-negotiable. This is true. This is what it means to be made in the image of God, as we’re told in the Book of Genesis — everyone, whether you’re white, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, nice, kind of a jerk, young, old, middle-aged, we all matter.
But these past couple weeks — these past four months, five months, 22 months? — it’s important that we stand with the ever-growing chorus and declare, yes, black lives matter. With the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching death of Michael Brown, the news just yesterday of another non-indictment in the death Eric Garner, or the dark night when Trayvon Martin was shot down in Florida, a chorus of voices has risen to declare with one voice and hashtag that #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
Matthew Vines took a leave of absence from his Harvard studies to explore what the Bible says about homosexuality. As a conservative evangelical Christian with a high view of scripture, Vines struggled to reconcile his identity as a gay man with the apparent teaching of the Bible. In his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, Vines explains what he has learned about scripture and tells the story of his own pilgrimage of faith, fidelity, and family.
Read “My Dad’s Worst Day” (Sojourners, June 2014), an excerpt from Vine’s groundbreaking book. And be sure to watch this original SojoStory video, as Vines discusses his journey as a gay evangelical Christian who has immersed himself in seeking new and deeper understandings of what the Word has to say to us today on these profoundly important issues.
WATCH more below.
For me, Thanksgiving was always Christmas’ annoying little sister. Thanksgiving isn’t a festive season spanning three months that warrants its own albums; it’s a day when American gluttony reaches its zenith, and also the Cowboys play. It’s not a holy day of obligation — and in my worst moments, I complain to my preacher husband about the additional service “invading” our holy midweek day off work.
But this year Thanksgiving feels especially out of place — sandwiched between an early winter and the hopelessness of misunderstood lament. I want so badly to be thankful because I truly have so many reasons to fall on my knees in exaltation. But before I count my “blessings” — before the praise hits my lips, it’s strangled by the cry for others whose lots might only be described as cursed.
Adam Ericksen penned a great reflection this morning, saying, “God doesn’t force us to be thankful in times of grief and despair. Rather, God meets us in our honest and raw emotions.”
Bitterness seems all at once selfish and appropriate. I grieve the chasm that has been revealed between brothers and sisters. If there is anything I learned from my Monday night glued to television screens watching my former home of St. Louis in flames it’s that this “conversation” everyone keeps saying we need to have is happening in two different languages.
Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?
We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”
Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.
Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.
My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.
Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night — 108 days since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown — when the prosecuting attorney announced the decision not to subject the police officer who killed Brown to a trial where all the facts could be publically known and examined.
We now all have the chance to examine the evidence — released last night — in the grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who fired multiple bullets into Michael Brown. But the verdict on America’s criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.
A grand jury has found that no probable cause exists to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, on Aug. 9, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch on Monday evening.
McCulloch said the grand jury was instructed on the law and presented on five possible indictments. He emphasized that the jurors "are the only people who have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence."
Protests throughout the St. Louis metro area — as well as nearly 100 cities across the country — are planned in response to the decision. Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a preemptive state of emergency and activated the National Guard to respond to “any period of unrest that might occur following the grand jury’s decision concerning the investigation into the death of Michael Brown.” Rev. Traci Blackmon, a clergy leader in the St. Louis area, recently told Sojourners that while the city and county police departments have amassed weapons and riot gear to react to the protests, local community leaders and faith groups have been stocking up on bandages and first-aid materials.
Earlier in the day Brown’s family asked for 4.5 minutes of silence this evening before protests begin — a statement on the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body was left in a Ferguson street following the shooting.
The Justice Department is conducting its own federal investigation, however recent reports have indicated that it is not likely to result in civil rights charges against Wilson.
Stay tuned to Sojourners for continued updates and analysis.