As a historian of the civil rights movement and white Christian response to it, I detect a nauseatingly familiar pattern in events in Minneapolis since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police on Memorial Day. But this time I’m not sure what makes me need to throw up more – Floyd’s murder , the officers who stood by and watched, or the explosion of black rage over another black life that didn’t matter to four white police officers, or a president whose highest concept of moral leadership is to walk to a nearby church following his angry and divisive public remarks for a Bible-lifting “patri-optics” pose while continuing to tweet threats that looters would be met by shooters.
Indeed that very photo op, preceded by the inexcusable use of federal power to violently force peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square in order for Trump to take a Bible, freshly out of its shrink wrap, from his daughter’s purse simply to strike a “holy” pose in front of a historic church should have had Christians losing our lunches all over “the greatest country on earth.”
Oh, yes. I almost forgot the equally nauseating business-as-usual silence and paralysis of white evangelicals amid the latest rash of racial injustice perpetrated by police. They can be counted on yet again to renew their support of Donald Trump, enthusiastically joining the call for violent reprisal against the protesters and sticking their fingers in their ears while they intone “Blue Lives Matter.” Or they will superficially focus on the looting and destruction of property, which by all accounts to date have not been perpetrated by protesters but by lawless elements on the extreme left and right intent on exploiting the protests under cover of nightfall.
In so doing, many white evangelicals and their leaders will choose to ignore the root cause of these nationwide protests – namely, the outrageous record of black men being killed by white police officers time after time after time.
“Now is the time for white conservative Christians to join their more liberal brothers and sisters to demand that justice be done.”
Shall we just add George Floyd to America’s roll call of the slain: Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDole, William Chapman II, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, to name but a few?
Or consider black mothers and fathers like our friend Aundrea, on the phone with my wife, weeping in anguish, wondering how she’ll be able to protect the two upstanding young black men who call her Mom.
Perhaps worst of all is that America has been here before – Watts in 1965, multiple venues across America after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Kent State in 1970, Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict in 1992. Incidentally, after Kent State, Gallup polls showed 83 percent of whites supported, not the students’ rights to protest, but the National Guardsmen whose actions resulted in “four dead in Ohio,” as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young mournfully sang. And while the “choir kept singing of freedom,” Trump’s political ancestor, George Wallace, kept calling for “Law and Order.”
Indeed, our “law and order” president has demanded governors and mayors get tough, put an end to protests and “dominate” the streets – and then threatened to do it himself if they do not. How about we dispense with the “law and order” theme, which we’ve tried over and over, and instead try a little “liberty and justice for all” – especially for African Americans who have endured four centuries of White Supremacy and the violent defense of it.
All of this, by the way, is again happening in what white evangelicals call “Christian America.” But anyone who thinks we are a Christian nation simply hasn’t taken a long, hard look at our history and the legacy of the slave ship, the auction block, the overseer’s whip and the lynching tree. In 1933 AME Bishop Reverdy Ransom wrote that despite being faithful Christians and loyal Americans, blacks had never gotten much justice out of Christian America. Not even Jesus had been able to break the color line. “If Jesus wept over Jerusalem” wrote Ransom, “he must have wept for America an ocean of tears.”
OK, White America – Christian or otherwise – isn’t it high time we actually do something about the problems we created? We built the structures of White Supremacy; it’s time we worked to dismantle them. And since the edifice of White Supremacy was built with the blessing of white Christian churches and justified by a supposedly Christian theology, it is only a matter of reaping what we have sown to say that white Christian churches, especially white evangelical churches, should take to the streets en masse to join in peaceful protest. Let us all unite our voices to declare that “Open Season on African American Men” is hereby closed forever.
“We built the structures of White Supremacy; it’s time we worked to dismantle them.”
I write this not at all to condone looting or the violent excesses of recent days. Nor do I wish to diminish in any way what black protest has done to get America’s attention on matters of racial justice and systemic racism. But I say now is the time for white conservative Christians to join their more liberal brothers and sisters to demand that justice be done in memory of George Floyd and the others too numerous to count.
This God-forsaken red stain on our white hands will never be washed clean until we white Christians repent, get in the streets and through peaceful, nonviolent protest declare, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take any more dead black men at the hands of white police. We’ve had it. No More. EVER.”
Only then will we be worthy of calling ourselves followers of Jesus, who in life looked much more like these black men than he did us white folk.
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