The first time I saw Amy León, she was standing in a church that was about to explode. Or had already exploded — I couldn’t tell. I was watching the music video for her song “Burning in Birmingham,” a reenactment of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of four black girls on Sept. 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Ala.
The only answer to the racial divide among Christians — evangelicals in particular — is to go much deeper into what racial equity and healing will require. America’s Original Sin was written for such a time as this. It is a book written to and for white Christians and white churches — to help lead them to new conversations with black and brown Christians and their churches. It could be that studying racism in congregation after congregation, and especially between congregations across racial lines, could be a fundamental building block for genuine racial reconciliation in America.
Stop telling me to fight. Stop saying on your social media platforms, and in your blogs and your op-eds, that everyone should dust themselves off and get up and fix this. Stop saying that addressing this issue is everyone’s duty, because I can’t even begin to explain to you how far from the truth such a statement is.
But I’ll try. I will overcome my exhaustion and explain this to you as clearly as I can, and you can thank me later, if you’re so inclined. Let it be known that I like Edible Arrangements.
Millions of Americans worship the gun. Guns are used in a state of sobriety and drunkenness, by the young and old, the rich and poor — regardless of race, age, gender, or demographic. Guns are sold, traded, gifted, stolen, and smuggled — but rarely destroyed. They are kept, reused, and invested in. Many increase in value over time.
They are adored and idolized for being able to wipe away someone’s existence in a matter of seconds — which is exactly what happens. No matter what the conflict, its existence is lurking in the background — close, handy, and accessible. A source of indisputable power.
This is why many Americans — and Christians — trust more in the gun than they do in Christianity. Jesus didn’t use weapons to kill others or as a method of getting his way. Instead, Christ’s nonviolent humble love for humanity caused him to get crucified on a cross. Very un-American.
George Zimmerman, acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, now claims he will auction the gun that took Trayvon Martin’s life.
Former neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman listed the weapon at gunbroker.com, promoting the sale as "your opportunity to own a piece of American history."
And here’s what’s happened since. Watch. Share.
“While Dr. Hawkins and I were scrutinized for different reasons, our stories have this in common: we urged Christians to stand with and for groups that sit at the center of political debates. And we did that as women, one black and one gay. I can only speculate about why Wheaton’s administration has been inconsistent in their treatment of different employees, but one thing is clear: fear makes public perception supremely important.”
Here’s an irony: Standing at the memorial tree and experiencing a cloud of witnesses on this February day during Black History Month did indeed strengthen our resolve to keep fighting through the tears and the pain. We were mindful that on this particular day — Feb. 18, 2016 — the family of Sandra Bland would assemble later in the afternoon at the Houston Courthouse to hear response to their appeal for justice to be meted upon the Waller County sheriff and police. Our cacophony of voices called upon the Holiest of Holies to break the yoke of evil systems in which cronyism and political agendas thrived.
Some white Americans would like to try to “fix” the systemic racism that exists in our criminal justice, educational, economic, and even our religious institutions. But in order for real change to occur, our understanding of realities like white privilege must also move beyond the institutional and into the very personal.
JIM WALLIS’s new book is so timely that he has been wishing, for months, that he could update its pages as each new headline about racism breaks in national news.
Think back to the images from last year in Murrieta, California, where buses of unaccompanied minors and women with children, all fleeing violence in Central America, were blocked by angry, screaming adults. In his column about this incident, the Christian evangelical, Jim Wallis, told of a talk he had recently given on immigration to his son’s fifth-grade class in Washington, DC–a class that was racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse.
While the Black Lives Matter movement officially started after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin, the fight for true racial equality began long before then with the Civil Rights Era. Among the allies of the African American freedom activists were the Kennedy family, a large number of Jewish-Americans and notably, progressive evangelicals.
I met with a black friend for lunch about two years ago and discussed my concerns about the status of racial harmony in our community. I had my conscience aroused over the death of young Trayvon Martin and the reaction I received from my white friends in the days following the verdict acquitting George Zimmerman. I related to my black friend that the verdict was greeted by my white friends by offers of high fives and celebration. I was stunned and saddened and did not understand the glee.
Men and boys of color are 21 times more likely to be fatally shot by the police than their white counterparts. Of the 1,217 deadly police shootings that occurred from 2010-2012, men of color between the ages of 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while the rate for white males the same age was only 1.47 per million.
This pattern is not new. It is old and repetitive. And it is sickening.
Douglas, author of the new book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, writes about the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in his killing, and the deaths of other unarmed black people that followed.
Douglas talked about violence faced by African-Americans and the black church’s response. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
“Excuse my ignorance, I thought I was a free black man.”
“I’m 11 [years old], I matter.”
“You can choose to look away, but never again can you say you didn’t know.”
“How many times do we have to protest the same [s**t]?”
“White silence is white violence.”
“We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
These signs, and many others, lined the horizon of Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday in Washington, D.C. In a ‘Justice for All’ march organized by Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, thousands of protesters gathered to protest police actions that have resulted in the deaths of unarmed young black men across the United States.
After marching from Freedom Plaza to the U.S. Capitol, protesters listened to speakers from national racial justice organizations address some of these most recent acts of police brutality.
Al Sharpton sought to draw attention to the diversity present on the streets.
“This is not a black march or a white march. This is an American march for American rights,” he said.
Indeed, the black community was not alone in speaking up against police brutality. One Latina activist encouraged her Latino brothers and sisters to “voice their pain” from police harassment and “come forth and unify with the African American community so we can be strong together.”
“¡Ya Basta!” she concluded. [“Enough is enough!”]
The stories of young black men being killed by white police are sparking a national conversation. However, public responses to these painful stories reveal an alarming racial divide. From an unarmed teenager killed in Ferguson, Mo.; to a 12 year-old boy shot dead in Cleveland; to a white police officer on video choking a black man to death in New York City; and a startling series of similar stories from across the country and over many decades — our reactions show great differences in white and black perspectives.
Many white Americans tend to see this problem as unfortunate incidents based on individual circumstances. Black Americans see a system in which their black lives matter less than white lives. That is a fundamental difference of experience between white and black Americans, between black and white parents, even between white and black Christians. The question is: Are we white people going to listen or not?
White Americans talk about how hard and dangerous police work is — that most cops are good and are to be trusted. Black Americans agree that police work is dangerously hard, but also have experienced systemic police abuse of their families. All black people, especially black men, have their own stories. Since there are so many stories, are these really just isolated incidents? We literally have two criminal justice systems in America — one for whites and one for blacks.
Are there police uses of force that are understandable and justifiable? Of course there are. If our society wasn’t steeped in a gun culture, many of these shootings could be avoided. But has excessive, unnecessary, lethal force been used over and over again, all across the country, with white police killing unarmed black civilians? Yes it has, and the evidence is overwhelming. But will we white people listen to it?
Our nation has a problem. It is not a “black” problem or a “white” problem, but a “human” problem that we all succumb to — and have the power to change. Our beloved nation was NOT “conceived in liberty” OR “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” despite President Lincoln’s well-intentioned words. That was the hope, but it has never been the reality.
Many of my African-American sisters and brothers are furious. Yet another child has been felled. The challenge is this — if a tree falls in the forest and white folks don’t hear it, does it make a noise? Many of us who are white do not have the contextual experience or the “ears to hear” to understand the fear and the fury.
More than a decade ago, I pastored in a community that was predominately African American. It grew from 72 percent to 98 percent black in just seven years as a result of “white flight.” In the course of this time, the police force struggled because it didn’t listen to the people. Most of the officers were white and could legally live up to 30 miles away; as a result many (including the chief) lived in another state.
At one heated meeting, the police chief informed us what we “could” and “could not” do as we discussed community initiatives that included the older white and adolescent black residents in conversation and collaboration. Finally, as the pastor of one of the larger churches in town, I stood up and said, “Chief, please understand that we are not asking for your permission. We are telling you what we, as citizens of this town, are going to do. Now we need to know — are you with us? Or not?” The African-American residents stood and clapped loudly. I felt their pain and the reason for what some perceived as “paranoia,” but what I knew to be legitimate fury.
The problem is the systemic injustice inherent in Stand Your Ground laws: just feeling like you are being threatened can justify your response in “self-defense.” Under Florida self-defense laws now, someone can use even lethal force if they “reasonably believe” it is necessary to defend their lives or avoid great harm. How does a jury decide what a “reasonable person” would do under all the circumstances? Even if Dunn really believed there was a gun in the black teenagers’ car and there wasn’t one, he could still be justified in shooting into the car according to Stand Your Ground. The New York Times quoted Mary Anne Franks, an associate law professor at the University of Miami saying, “This trial is indicative of how much of a problem Stand Your Ground laws really do create … By the time you have an incident like this and ask a jury to look at the facts, it’s difficult to re-create the situation and determine the reasonableness of a defendant’s fear.” And unfortunately, the law creates an opportunity for racial factors — whether they’re conscious or not — to trump facts when even one juror who is sympathetic to a defendant’s “reasonable” fear can prevent prosecution.