Gospel Noise: A Case for Christian Unrest
Roughly fifty years ago, the streets of this country were burning. The Panthers were out in full force, policing their own neighborhoods and threatening to “Off the pigs” if the violence didn’t stop. Martin Luther King was calling for peace, even though some of his marches were criticized for ultimately inciting violence. Malcolm X was mesmerizing crowds with his eloquence and organizing self-defense networks and black businesses. The rhetoric of groups like SNCC were intensifying as leaders like Stockley Carmichael and H Rap Brown were becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of actual perceived progress made by groups like SCLC and the NAACP and were calling for more radical action.
The country was a tinder box of gun powder and fireworks sitting on a summertime sidewalk. Eventually, these leaders were jailed or killed, fervor dissipated, and most of these groups were ultimately dismantled either by their own poor planning or internal strife caused by outside infiltration, but the seed of their anger and the substance of their grievances remained. History often works like that, in cycles. It happens with things such as perpetual war, endemic poverty and specifically, racial tension. There’s an illusion of improvement and a momentary exhale for the victims, but things usually ramp back up, one way or another.
Fast Forward to July 2016.
People in my generation never experienced something like a Civil Rights movement; most aren’t even old enough to remember Rodney King, or the LA Riots. Our experience with wide spread unrest is extremely limited, especially in a disconnected age of screen time, selfies, and entertainment addiction. So for some, the events of the last few years, and especially the few days can be extremely frightening and foreign.
Unfortunately, however, what we’ve been experiencing is nothing new. Historically, there has been a contentious relationship between police and the black community going all the way back to Reconstruction, where free blacks in the South were often incarcerated for minor offenses and forced to work in the fields on transformed “Prison plantations.” The African American cry against being profiled and brutalized more frequently by police is a cry now over 100 years old. This is not a 21st century invention of “race-baiting progressive media” or a scheme created by Obama to divide the country. These are stories about real people, now backed up by years of verifiable data. The majority culture has just done a better job ignoring it.
That Is, Until Now.
The streets of this country are once again reaching a boiling point as this racial social cycle approaches a climax. The killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile has again ratcheted up the social tension, as the pain from Tamir, Eric, John, Big Mike, Sandra, Laquan, Trayvon and countless others raises back to the surface.
Police are tragically being targeted in the streets by hate-filled men, and insecurity is gripping a country that once deceived itself into thinking it had silenced its race problem for good by electing a black president. The black community, understandably, is feeling angry and fearful as yet another person is added to the list of fathers, sons, and sisters killed for no justifiable reason, with no justice ultimately in sight.
Many in the white community, as a result, are becoming defensive and defiant, blaming the culture of crime in minority neighborhoods and shutting down constructive criticism, or even worse, just being silent altogether. As the tension rises, the Christian community has a decision to make. Neutrality is no longer an answer; We can no longer be silent.
A Big Gospel
So for those that understand this, who are “woke” to our social obligations and problems, where do we go from here? First, as Christians, we need to organize. Many people lament the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement is “secular” and was founded as distinct from the church, but as Mika Edmonson pointed out in his recent speech at a Gospel Coalition forum: Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement, this is more an indictment on the church than anything else.
We need movements that represent our values, encompassing everything from the womb to the tomb. For too long, the church has been silenced and told to keep politics and religion separate. And if they ever do touch, there’s a very narrow list of topics that are allowed to be discussed. This has to change.
Our gospel is too big for that nonsense. We stand in the shadows of Christian giants that understood not only was it possible to live a godly life and fight for social change, but in many ways it was indicative of the very gospel they staked their lives on.
From William Wilberforce, to MLK, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there’s a rich tradition of Christians understanding that if they were to honor God with their lives, then they were to not only preach the Gospel, but that this very gospel must also affect how they confront evil in the world on the day to day. Even the founder of our Protestant faith, Martin Luther, was first enraged by the practices of indulgences, which was not only theologically wrong, but economically exploited the poor with promises of heaven in the hereafter.
Make Some Noise
So let’s organize. There are many wonderful groups doing gospel-centered ministry in the country and around the world. If you’re more interested in the aspect of looking for a Christian political/social alternative to BLM, reach out to the AND Campaign about organizing and practical things you can do right now. We need new politics in this country, and they are an organization that is helping lead that charge.
On an individual level, make some noise. To my white brothers and sisters, I would encourage you, however, to first listen before you talk. Most of us have very little idea of what daily life is like for our minority brothers and sisters, especially those in inner city environments, and we shouldn’t presume that we do.
Our hearts have to be for the mourning and heartbroken, not to win an argument or have our pre-conceived notions confirmed. On the flipside however, we have to use whatever privilege we have to be advocates for the oppressed and marginalized. We can’t be cowered into silence by labels of “liberal” or “Marxist.” We need to speak up and we need to start now.
To my brown brothers and sisters, don’t allow anyone to tell you your pain doesn’t matter or to try to silence you with labels of “angry” or “bitter.” The church is a community and when the arm hurts, the whole body feels it. Speak up and don’t stop, your voice has to be heard and has to lead the way in these dark time. Your lives matter, and so does your pain. Speak, educate, interact, but whatever you do, don’t be silent.
Finally, together, let’s be angry, but let’s funnel that pain to productive means. Uncontrolled anger has already led some to violent solutions. That’s why this country so desperately needs a Christian voice right now. We don’t advocate violence, but we won’t tolerate it either. Love and community can overcome, but it starts with us. Our gospel is the only thing sturdy and big enough to support such an endeavor. Let’s be many and let’s be one.
We stand and fall together.