“What can we do?” “We need to say something!” For many church leaders, who still see themselves as an authority despite the cultural shift away from religious institutions, the most appropriate response is to do the work of decolonizing your institution or place of influence, to speak up early, often and publicly about the history and legacy of the sociopolitical construct of race and its progeny, to confess any and all ties to American slavery and the oppressions suffered by African Americans thereafter, to divest one’s self of the privileges acquired due to sociopolitical construct of race, to repair the breach in trust, to make reparations and to push back on the boundaries that the social construct creates. Please note that this work is costly, personal, intentional and lifelong.
This problem will not be solved with talking points or PowerPoint presentations. There is no slide that will magically address and make all of the ills that race co- creates go away. The questions that race creates will not be addressed in one- word answers. This is not a matter of taking the first step but making a decision to go on a journey. Warning: You may lose yourself.
I hear Christians talk about the hope of the gospel; they want to hear some good news. They want to move to the upside of this time of social unrest due to increased attention on police brutality. I fear that these are the same people who don’t spend much time at Jesus’s cross but rush to take pictures in front of his empty tomb. They just want to get to the good part.
They want to declare “victory over death, hell and the grave.” They want to shout that they are “more than conquerors.” But these motivational scriptures don’t work in times like these. See Ecclesiastes 3; there is a time to rejoice but this ain’t it.
The deaths of unarmed African Americans is such a downer for them, I guess. “How long do we have to mourn their deaths?” They want to know, “What are we going to do next?”
We are still protesting the last death and fearing for the one that will happen next. None of our demands have been met as we did not ask for art but arrests. Breonna Taylor’s and Elijah McClain’s murderers have not been even been charged. Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s killers have not been convicted. Calls to defund the police and by this, I mean refund communities the monies invested in order to reallocate them to social services and community resources have yet to be answered.
We don’t want to have a little talk about race; we want an on- going conversation. We want authentic relationships with justice- seekers, reconcilers and truth- tellers. We don’t have the patience for anything else and we don’t have the time for anything less.
“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
We don’t want more panel discussions or presentations. No lectures or study groups. Just watch the video of George Floyd’s death, all eight minutes and forty- six seconds. Just watch the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s lynching. Just listen to Elijah McClain plead for his life and tell the police officers who are choking him to death, “I can’t breathe!” Imagine waking up in your home to police- intruders and realizing that you are going to be shot to death.
And then let’s talk for a long time about what you hear and how it makes you feel and why this keeps happening and how anyone can see this as anything other than murder.
Because we don’t need any more trained experts. We won’t hire your consultants. We don’t need to review your contract or see any of your previous work. No promo videos, please.
No more seminars or conferences on race. No diversity or sensitive trainings. We won’t read your manuals. You can keep your colorful handouts. Keep your staged multicultural images, too.
And don’t use this moment to evangelize and proselytize, to get persons to join your church building, to extend calls to discipleship over their dead bodies and manipulate the emotions of those whose protest is a sign of mourning. Because we need to save their lives before you talk about saving their souls. First things first and this is the one thing to be done at this time.
Let’s have a long talk about the sociopolitical construct and the social contract of race and its progeny, about American slavery and the attempted genocide of the indigenous people, about systemic and systematic injustice, about whiteness, its social supremacy and privileges, its aesthetic righteousness and the fact that Jesus comes in its image, about the deification and demonization of colors and people groups, about the face of oppression on monuments and money and the criminalization of African and Hispanic Americans, about the wealth and health disparities that are intentional and capitalized on, about segregation, gentrification and “white flight,” about restorative justice and reparations, about how long we’ve been trying to have this conversation but all some people wanted was small talk.
Because this is so much bigger than a moment or even a movement; this is a change in the way we have this conversation. This is about clarifying terms and determining how we will be talked about, the lens by which we will be viewed and the names we will answer to. This is about a new relationship rooted in a new, healthy and anti- oppressive narrative. So, if you just want to have a little talk, then we’re not talking about the same thing.