The Radical Christianity in the New Civil Rights Movement

Heather Wilson

Image via Heather Wilson

Today’s radical black Christians may not line up with our nation’s romanticized image of Martin Luther King Jr.

In an Op-Ed over at NBCBLK, Brooke Obie discusses how many of the radical leaders at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement draw on deep Christian wells to inspire their activism, but express that faith very differently than the old heroes of the 1960s.

Black Lives Matter Activists Launch ‘Campaign Zero,’ a Comprehensive Policy Platform Telling Politicians Exactly What They Want

Campaign Zero

Photo via Campaign Zero

In the last year, Black Lives Matter activists have changed the consciousness of a nation. And all along the way they have vocally advocated for concrete policy changes. But now their demands are collected in a single, beautiful website, designed to inspire activists and provoke officials.

'Hell You Talmbout?'

Screenshot via Scene Media/YouTube

But unlike those infused with the sacristy of church hymnody sung during the civil rights era led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the sanctuaries of Southern congregations, there is street cred in "Hell YouTalmbout" and other millennial anthems of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Anthems as hymns crafted for the public square raise challenging lyrics that are no less spiritual, yet are intended for civic conversion of societal systems and strictures rather than individual conversion of internalized salvation.

And just as young celebrities increasingly have come forward to add voice to the injustice of egregious brutality by police, Monáe also invokes a Christian profession of God as just judge against human injustices of racism, violence, and supremacist ideologies.

A Stolen Sign

Image via /Shutterstock

It can be dangerous to be black. In 2012, a black person was killed every 28 hours by law enforcement officials or self-styled "vigilantes." About 27 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line. Black families are seven times more likely to be homeless than white families. African-Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average. 

It's not about semantics. It's about systems (and minds) that need to be changed for the betterment of the future. And that future will, in fact, be better for all lives.

#UnitedWeFight — Clergy in Ferguson March for Justice

Image via Heather Wilson/Dust and Light Photography

PHOTO ESSAY: On Monday, fifty-seven people were arrested as part of the #UnitedWeFight march and peaceful civil disobedience at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse. The march was in commemoration of the year-long resistance sparked in #Ferguson by the murder of #MikeBrown.

Together, hundreds of community leaders, activists, organizers, and clergy from the St. Louis, Mo., area and nationwide demanded US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Richard Callahan take immediate action on the findings of the Department of Justice reports. When clergy and activists breached the barricades and sat in front of the building, they were slowly arrested as the St. Louis police arrived in the dozens.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson

Leah Gunning Francis

Leah Gunning Francis

Young people ignited by injustice, refusing to back down. A nation waking up to the reality of racial disparities. And a church that can no longer remain silent. This, says Eden Theological Seminary professor Leah Francis Gunning, is the real “Ferguson Effect.” As she protested in Ferguson over the past year, Gunning collected interviews from clergy and young organizers. The result is Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015), a behind-the-scenes look at the role of the church in the Black Lives Matter movement. Sojourners interviewed Francis to learn more about the religious community’s role in supporting and sustaining a racial justice movement started by young activists.

The White Church's Second Chance

Image via /Shutterstock

And here suddenly the letter lurches forward in time, slides through decades and lands squarely in our laps in 2015. It seems almost as if he isn’t talking about men and women of the past, but about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Clementa Pinckney, Sharon Coleman-Singleton … the list is so sickeningly long.

He goes on to record injustices in Birmingham: “There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negros in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches than in any other city in this nation.”

Wait. What are we talking about? Birmingham, or Cleveland? Ferguson? Charleston?

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” has always itched at me, unsettled me. It bothers me because King isn’t writing to political leaders, but religious leaders, people of faith, people who follow the same Jesus as me.

Requiem for Mike Brown

Image via /Shutterstock

Over the past year, #blacklivesmatter has taught me that the work of theology is not limited to the hallowed halls of academic institutions or sermonic reflections from prestigious pulpits on Sunday mornings. At community meetings and rallies, I learned new hymns in the form of movement chants. I learned that protest can be a form of prayer. #Blacklivesmatter is more than a hashtag. It is a call for repentance. It is an invitation into a state of prophetic grief and collective lament that does not anesthetize us from our pain but allows us to reconnect to the depths of our humanity by feeling, together, the torment our silence on issues of racial injustice has sown. It is only together that we will be able to actualize the transformation God is calling us to effect in this world.

We Cannot Be Silent

Image via /Shutterstock

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., Sojourners asked a variety of faith leaders — Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, agnostics, evangelicals, and humanists — to reflect: How has your faith been challenged, affirmed, or deepened by the Black Lives Matter movement? Has your theology changed? And, most importantly, what are we being called to do? 

Here’s what they said.

A Theology for a Grieving People

Image via /Shutterstock

Even as the disciples of Jesus grieved at the foot of the cross, they understood there was work to be done. The work of justice is deeply political and requires an engagement in this present world. With tears in our eyes, we are called to march, rally, petition, sing, dance, create art, and use whatever gifts and talents we possess for the work of justice. The work of justice is deeply theological. Our church communities must foster a faith that gives people room to grow, to stretch, and to ask the tough questions. A grieving people need a theology for such a time as this, a theology that speaks to this present age. White churches, in particular, must end their silence and address the pain of grieving black lives, because the work of justice is collective. Even if you cannot possible understand all the reasons for our pain, you can come alongside a grieving people in love, humility, and solidarity.