The Black Church's Response to Charleston
BY: LISA FIELDS
Throughout history, the church, or more specifically the black church, has stood as a symbol of safety; a place that has always been sacred to the black community. In fact, Dr. Jonathan Walton, Harvard professor, explained that for more than 300 years, the black church in America has provided a safe haven for black Christians in a nation shadowed by the legacy of slavery and a society that remains defined by race and class. Therefore, when the tragic news of the AME Massacre spread last Wednesday, as a black woman; I questioned whether or not I am safe anywhere, since I am in my skin everywhere. It is tragic that nine innocent black lives were viciously murdered in an act of domestic terrorism, simply because of the color of their skin. To make matters worse, it was in our safe haven, the black church. Let’s be clear, this was not a matter of faith, as some earlier reports suggested, but it was a matter of race. With the recent events in America continuing to expose the unresolved issues of racism in our country, it is important that churches be at the forefront in addressing these matters. If the church is not leading the charge as it relates to racial and social disparity in the black community we stand in opposition to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We cannot sit idly by and pray it away, we must act. Christians and non-Christians are looking to hear the prophetic voices in the pulpit speak to the issues of the day. The country is in crisis, division and racism are an ever-present reality. If the black church is not vocal on this issue, we risk losing a generation. The church must be the forerunners of reconciliation when it comes to racial indifferences that plague our generation. Black pastors in the mid-sixties faced these same challenges. In James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology, Rufus Burrow noted;
By the mid-sixties black youths-many of them Christians-had come under the influence of black nationalism and the black power movement. Consequently, many of them began asking tough questions about the relationship between the black church and black suffering. Most pastors found it difficult to give adequate answers. Many discovered that there were no acceptable responses as long as they espoused traditional Christian perspectives. Black pastors could not satisfy black youths as long as they asked the same kinds of questions that their white counterparts in ministry were asking. Some of these black pastors gradually began to see that because their sociocultural situation and their experience of oppression was unlike anything white pastors ever experienced; because white youths did not suffer in quite the same ways nor to the same degree as black youths, they had to begin asking different questions. This was their only hope of giving relevant answers to black youths. Such a step might reverse the tendency of large numbers of black youths to leave the churches….Anticipating a crisis, black pastors began to take the message of black power advocates and the questions raised by black youths much more seriously.
We must engage the culture and demonstrate reconciliation in our personal lives in order to be a model for racial reconciliation in the lives of others. Let’s be real, we cannot reconcile racially, if we do not know how to reconcile personally (i.e. family, friends, spouses, etc.). We simply will not have the tools for racial reconciliation, if we have broken personal relationships all around us. Just like relational reconciliation, racial reconciliation is not an event solidified by a bill, the removal of a flag or an apology, it is a process. MSNBC made it clear in a recent article that one can advocate for Civil Rights and still hold hatred in their heart for another man by noting “Lyndon Johnson was a civil rights hero. But also a racist.” While we advocate for bills that protect the rights of all Americans, the reform of laws that work against blacks, the removal of the confederate flag and an acknowledgement of the effects of slavery and the present reality of racism in society, we also advocate for genuine racial reconciliation that can only come from a repentant and changed heart. In the words of President Obama, “Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.” Forgiveness maybe a choice, but reconciliation takes time. It is difficult process that requires many difficult conversations, continual decisions of forgiveness, grace, patience, humility, persistence and understanding and the church must be at the forefront. In the words of J. Deotis Roberts, "What I am seeking is a Christian theological approach to race relations that will lead us beyond hypocritical tokenism to liberation as a genuine reconciliation between equals."
Lisa Fields graduated from University of North Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Religious Studies and Liberty University with a Master of Divinity with a focus in Theology. She has spoken at evangelism, apologetic, and biblical literacy events at various universities and churches and is also the founder of the Jude 3 Project.