My pastor and mentor taught me there is a vast difference between a father and a pharaoh. A father gives freely, seeks to enable the next generation, and enthusiastically celebrates the success of others. He cares for, listens to, and empathizes with others. A father labors to empower others to even surpass him in impact and influence. A father sees this as a blessing and not as a threat.
Not so with a pharaoh. A pharaoh seeks to perpetuate the dynamics of oppression. A pharaoh’s values are based on the illusory foundation of hierarchy and superiority. There is no progression. Much energy is devoted to instituting systems designed to subjugate the so-called inferior. The spewed rhetoric serves only to foster fear and mistrust so that the dysfunctional status quo can be maintained. Oddly enough, this is all done with warm smiles and heartfelt calls for unity.
Norms and Mannerisms
At first glance, the father and the pharaoh are hard to tell apart but I’ve found that controversy is a major element in revealing the distinction between the two.
Fathers are tenderhearted and quick to repent. Pharaohs resist the move of God’s Spirit and actively make life more difficult for the oppressed. When confronted by prophetic witnesses, pharaohs resolve to conserve power and cultural norms. Those who dare to speak truth to power and resist the cultural norms are branded as divisive and antagonistic to the gospel. Theology is weaponized by pharaohs to keep minorities and women in their places of silence and impotence. It is constantly implied, and, in some contexts, it is plainly spoken that white is right.
In these environments, black men are covertly conditioned to dismiss their heritage and to view black and brown skin with suspicion. We feel a need to tone down our God-given personalities and styles for more “respectable” mannerisms. This has tragically perpetuated the marginalization and abuse of black women.
The jaded lenses of Euro-centric cultural norms and standards have blinded us to the value, intelligence, courage, resolve, virtue, and beauty of black women. Many times, brave black women have been left alone in the cold of battle while black men enjoy the warmth of our proximity to power and whiteness.
Pharaohs preach in pulpits every Sunday, lead seminaries, serve as professors, write for popular theological blogs, chair local church committees, and head associations. They speak at major national conferences, drive the agendas of state conventions, and possess the audacity to pay homage to civil rights and black history.
Please allow me to draw a couple of parallels between the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt and the current state of affairs within white evangelicalism. I take biblical interpretation very seriously and I believe that the book of Exodus bears certain implications for us today.
The first parallel that I would like to draw is that the descendants of Israel did not go quietly. Pharaoh the man and the demonic forces at work were confronted by God’s truth and God’s power, saying, “Let my people go!” It was the power of God at work, crushing the evil principalities and powers while showing himself to be the strong and mighty deliverer that he is. God is glorified in the liberation of his people.
I am writing this because I hold the conviction that black people’s exodus must not be silent. I call for the modern-day prophetic witnesses to rise up. I make my appeal to the sisters who have a prophetic word burning in their hearts. Many of you are already speaking, writing, and blazing the trail for us to follow all while enduring attacks on your bodies, character, and faith.
I challenge my brothers to forsake the comforts of silence and conformity. During the Pass the Mic podcast that went in depth on the NY Times article by Campbell Robertson, Tyler Burns used the term “holy defiance.” I believe that our holy defiance begins with fervent prayer because our warfare is spiritual. If we neglect the fact that it is spiritual wickedness at work in some of these white evangelical spaces, then we have already lost. However, I also believe that fervent prayer gives birth to fervent resistance. It is looking a pharaoh squarely in the eyes and saying, “Let God’s people go!”
A Time to Sift
The second parallel we can draw is that the Egyptians were plundered by the Israelites.
Please do not read what I am not writing.
I am making the case that God did not just defeat Pharaoh, but he also dealt with the structure of Egypt itself. After the exodus, Egypt was left in a weaker state. My point is that if/when we leave, we are not leaving empty-handed. Our exit needs to be felt deeply and I am not speaking of carnal vengeance.
I am talking about a public prophetic witness so strong that it literally creates a dividing line. Sometimes controversy is necessary because it has a sifting effect, a revealing effect (1 Cor. 11:19). If the structures we are in are unsafe and oppressive then we need to actively subvert them in such a way that leaves them weaker and exposed for what they really are.
It also means that we stand for a model of repentance and restitution that reflects what is taught in Scripture. We need to fall in line with what John the Baptist said and bring forth the actual fruit of repentance.Evangelicalism has mastered the art of verbal expression void of significant action. Public declarations of sorrow ring hollow when there is no systematic restructuring. We must refuse to allow ourselves to be pawns used in the game of public relations. Who cares about improving public image when all that is being done is putting a softer touch on white nationalism and racism?
I would like to offer one final word of encouragement.
I know that at this point we may have more questions than answers. The wilderness is not a place of comfort. It is a proving ground where we learn how to trust the Lord to be our protector, provider, and sustainer.
We have much more to say, write, and do so I will leave you with this: Pioneering is hard but it is worth it because it is far better to be a liberated pioneer than it is to be a settler in slavery.