Lecrae Freestyles Good News for Black Lives
Anyone who has been following Lecrae on Twitter since the Ferguson riots, will notice that he has increasingly spotlighted racial injustice, particularly, in regards to the police shootings of African-American men, women and children.
Most recently, on September 19th, he tweeted about Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest: “Take a knee…people riot. Take a bullet…people quiet.” Tweets such as this and Lecrae’s July 4th tweet of a black slave family in a cotton field with the caption, “My family on July 4th 1776”, have angered some evangelicals, who think Lecrae’s public platform and music should be use to preach the gospel, and not rally behind social justices causes.
But it is because of Lecrae’s deep-rooted faith in the gospel that he is driven to speak against racial injustices ; his 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards spoken word performance is no exception. In that night’s performance, he engages with a complex web of systemic racism and hip hop materialism, but with a desire to proclaim a gospel hope.
Framing the song around Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”, Lecrae asks, “When was America great?” When black families were separated, “’Cause we was taken from Africa/ Sold and treated like animals” or when there was silence after Philando Castille was killed? Was America great then? And lest the hip hop community thinks it is immune to this type of oppression, Lecrae speaks of the connection of the rap industry to systemic racism:
Look at us from sellin’ dope to our own kind
To a dope rhyme
Radio then played it more times
Paid in more dimes
To some industry exec
From a private prison
With the rap money he invest
This is both an indictment of the system that holds up the oppression of African-Americans and the types of unhelpful messages that hip hop delivers to that same community. Furthermore, Lecrae points out that “We’re too content with the gold and the cars” as cheap materialist replacements for real freedom, a freedom grounded in Jesus’ announcement in Nazareth proclaiming, “liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
Lecrae connects this proclamation to himself, “Now, I know you’re like is this rap or is this gospel/ Look, all you need to know is that I was blind/ Now I’m not though.” It is on this hope and desire to impart to a black community facing oppression, fear, and death, which leads him to say, “I pray to God he make you a better you.” And while Lecrae acknowledges the ongoing struggle for the dignity and worth of black bodies in America, he ends his freestyle by celebrating black resilience in the face of oppression, “But somehow we made it this far/ And stood firm/ With nappy hairs and perms/ And led for two terms.”
Lecrae, in performances like the hip hop awards, shows us that defending black lives is at the heart of the gospel. If the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is a proclamation of good news for the oppressed, shouldn’t those of us who follow Christ view justice for black lives as an integral part of the gospel too? Lecrae, in speaking up for black lives, is brushing up against the type of Christianity that Howard Thurman indicted in Jesus and the Disinherited:
Too often, the price exacted by a society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.
Too often, American evangelicalism has positioned itself as a broker of power instead of the power which strengthens the weak, oppressed and marginalized. Like Lecrae, I hope as Christians we can all say, “Let me be quiet/ Nah/ ’Cause being silent is pitiful/ It’s something I never do,” — especially because of the good liberating news of Jesus, we must speak on behalf of the oppressed. When we don’t, our gospel witness suffers; and instead of proclaiming freedom for the oppressed now and eternally, our God appears unconcerned with the suffering of African-Americans and the hope of heaven becomes merely a hustle. May we instead announce a gospel that is good news and freedom for the poor, persecuted and powerless.
5 thoughts on “Lecrae Freestyles Good News for Black Lives”
Conrad W. Deitrick
Peter, I’m afraid you have more faith in our judicial system than this lawyer does. Please understand that there’s nothing talismanic about the courts. Even when administered justly, they still get things wrong all the time. But there’s good reason (and not just in terms of jury composition) to think that our courts are not administered justly.
You speak disparagingly about drawing conclusions from evidence like cell phone videos, but what do you think the court does? Judges aren’t magic.
Thank you for the extensive thoughts. I would argue that we need justice more than we need peace. Without justice for black lives, that have dignity and worth whether or not they have a criminal past (and do not deserve death in the street), there is no peace. The reason why BLM protests in the street is because the judicial system (as in the Civil Rights era) is not enacting justice for black lives. The courts continue to not to allow indictments of police officers who have shot and killed black men, women and children to move forward. Without a trial, there is no opportunity for justice to occur within the context of a court and thus why a large focus of BLM is that officers are sent to trial so that justice can be rendered. The characteristization that BLM is not going through the courts is an unfair one since their protests include asking for that possibility to occur when generally it does not now.
I have one serious concern about BLM, especially its approach in battling racism and its reaction toward police officers: BLM’s justification is not from particular research or the courts, but rumors, cell phones, and false reports. Therefore, its energy is reactive, not logical or consistent. This movement differs seriously from the tactics used during the early civil rights era, especially those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had definitive evidence of racism and wanted to use the courts to address the loss of civil rights. BLM does not use the courts, but are often angry at the courts even if the courts have a varied jury. The foundation of their energy is “what was heard on the rooftops” and not conclusive evidence.
Let’s take three cases (Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and Michael Brown) that BLM often used in justifying it’s “proof,” i.e. that “white officers target blacks and that blacks are the victims of racism.” Each one of these cases are very different. Only one of them involves a supposed white on black crime (Brown), whereas the other two involve a Spanish-American and a group of six police officers (three of which were black) on a black person. One thing in common is that each of these cases were dropped in a judicial system because the evidence against the accused (the officers and Zimmerman) were inconsistent and did not prove criminal intent. These courts had several people of color on the jury, and witness testimony in each of these cases thought the officers were innocuous of any crimes and thus set free.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because every time a black life is taken, BLM is there to assume the worse before there’s been an investigation. BLM seeks to ride the wave of assumption and vague eye-witness testimony; not logic, not consistency of evidence, nor an objective arbiter. BLM is ready to condemn and pounce every so-called crime without any proven evidence of a crime. This states the laziness of the movement, but even worse, our own. Especially when we pat ourselves on the back as if we’re battling racism. We’re not. We’re worsening it because now more reaction is against the officer, which leads to more black deaths.
How is that possible? Thus far, we’ve had two deaths this past week (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile). And what has the BLM done? They’ve already made a case without going to the court and are telling us, the audience, that their narrative (white officers target blacks and that blacks are the victims of racism) is a truism. But is it?
What do we know about these two shootings thus far? In Alton Sterling’s case, we know that a phone call was placed stating that “a man with a red shirt is waiving a gun.” We know that Sterling was a known convict with a serious criminal record. We know that his records show that Sterling was a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal record that included convictions for weapons offenses, confrontations with police officers, property crimes, and domestic violence and other batteries. We know that when police arrived, they likely knew Sterling, especially if he had a record. We don’t know whether Sterling was reaching for his gun. BLM condemned this white-officer on black crime by using one public video. However, a second video just came out that seemed to show Sterling reaching for his gun (http://www.allenbwest.com/matt-palumbo/newly-released-video-destroys-liberal-narrative-on-alton-sterling-shooting). That’s what we know and what we don’t know. Can we prove the officer wanted him dead?
In the second case, Castile, we have even less evidence of what occurred. Which makes it more problematic. We know that Castile’s girlfriend started recording after the incident and not during. We see an officer aiming his gun at Castile and clearly agitated. Which begs the question, was this officer agitated because Castile was reaching for his gun when the officer told him not to? We don’t know. Were the officer and Castile arguing prior to the incident? We don’t know. Again, this case seems more problematic because there’s so much data that’s missing; but that’s also a reason why we must wait and we not assume too quickly.
The question for both of these cases and for the three mentioned above is, “Can we definitely state these cases are clear indications of a white officer on black crime?” We can’t. Which is why courts are set in place. Since the beginning of human civilization, courts stop our immediate reactions from getting the best of us, especially our slow reasoning. We’re quick to condemn and we’re quick to call the guilty, innocent. What we need more than anything is a just court. You are not a victim, black or white. You have a voice, but you also must use your voice reasonably and justly. We do not have the right to condemn officers who have not been condemned in the court of law anymore than we have a right to set free people who may have attacked police officers in the process.
We need peace. But we’re not going to get it from this movement of reactivity.
When we sing hymns, or any worship music in church, and read the confessions of the church fathers we the elect are concerned about who wrote the words, their motives and the meaning it had to the hearers in the context of the time those words were written. As Christians we are not so carful when we pledge an allegiance or sing an anthem. It seems we are less discerning and even dismissive of a proven historic less than inclusive motive in the writers’ hearts if those words serves us in our emotional nostalgic cultural, small “c”, christianity. Perhaps it is time to think about all the words we say and sing, and the message we the elect send from the church to the world as we have practiced this moral relativity for over 350 years. Maybe it is time to think about how that hypocrisy continues to impact our brothers and sisters in Christ. Will we thank the messenger or stone him? Praying for us now.