It feels as though my title alone might cause a pause. As I speak to the church of Jesus followers, and primarily to the church of Jesus followers whose racial category is predominately white, I feel the need to assert three disclaimers:
- The call to Racial Justice and Reconciliation is wrapped up not in a political platform but as the evidence of a “Kingdom Come” on earth as it is in heaven. When those who’ve been historically denied the dignity of bearers of the Image of God, who’ve born the burden of historical oppression, marginalization, injustice, and violence are affirmed, advocated for, allied with, and amplified, this is evidence of God’s Redemptive Reign. It’s a picture, a foretaste of what is to come when we collectively gather before the throne of our Lord in the splendor of our mosaic beauty.
- The admonition to “not grow weary” is in fact a low bar for the church. We should run with boldness, passion, and zeal to be our “brother’s and sister’s keeper,” to be neighbor to those in need of someone to stand with them and to be neighbored by those different from us, for in being neighbored and loved, we are grown and sanctified.
- This call to the predominately “white church” in the U.S. must take in account the weariness of our sisters and brothers of color who’ve been enduring this fight for a lot longer than many of us have. When we say, “don’t grow weary,” it’s possible we might hear from our brothers and sisters of color, “how are you tired already?” This is something that we must account for in our words and actions.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, there was a moment, a collective outrage. For most, it was the first time they’d ever watched a life snuffed out in front of their eyes. It was cruel. It was undeniable. It couldn’t easily be shucked off as an over-reaction or perhaps as “we don’t know the whole story.” It was excruciating to watch an 8 minute and 46 second modern day lynching. In the early 20th century, lynchings were a part of the civic story, a public spectacle complete with dinner on the grounds. They were the weapons of domestic terrorism, evoking fear in the marginalized, a gruesome deterrent of deviant behavior or any arbitrary slight of an uppity negro.
But since those days, such terror-inspiring acts had gone under the cover of words like “law and order.” They were actions out and away from the public, a civic population that publicly wouldn’t tolerate such behavior but privately would simply wish not to know. Then the handheld video. It’s too easy to capture and disseminate evidence of actions that had never stopped but remained hidden from the eyes of respectable individuals. No matter how often and how regularly those voices from the margins, the vulnerable and oppressed, cried out that it was happening, we, whites, could turn blind eye and deaf ear to a problem we’d ensured ourselves “wasn’t that bad.”
Then George Floyd.
And for a moment, there was outrage. It appeared for a moment that a new day had dawned. It appeared that this would be the moment that would inspire not only a collective catharsis but a systemic change. It appeared that this would be the moment that as a country, we would take seriously naming and confessing America’s original sin, the racialization of America and marginalization, oppression, and victimization of black and brown bodies. It appeared for a moment that the church might lead the way, a church that had long been complicit in both the implicit and explicit defense of racial prejudice, inequality, and injustice.
Pastors reached out to sisters and brothers of color. An extraordinary pressure was placed upon BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) Christians to educate, explain, correct, and at times comfort white guilt and shame. They did this publicly from platforms, on zoom calls, through writing, and in interviews. They did this all the while navigating the pain of personal hurt and an outrage of feeling responsible to fix that which was broken by the hands of power and privilege. They did this while “code-switching,” assessing the room and adjusting their tone and temperament to meet the expectations of the crowd.
For a moment it felt as though the tide was shifting.
We must not grow weary!
This is my fear. In the wake of a crisis that has now raged for months, I fear white Christians are becoming weary. In the wake of a crisis that has been increasingly politicized, white Christians, initially shocked and sympathetic, have waned in enthusiasm coming up just short of true empathy, an empathy that wades into the historic pain and inherited traumas of racism and lingers there. It’s that discomfort that has proved to be too inconvenient, too disempowering, too confusing to linger there long. That initial outrage is slowing giving way to the collective “enough already” that has consistently dotted the landscape of American apathy.
It is this apathy, this inability to endure and fight the good fight for justice, that has prolonged the bending of the arc of history toward justice and led to the persistent impact of systemic evils. It is this apathy, a distancing ourselves from the plight of our family of color, that reveals the “privilege” we decry when someone tosses out that word. We must recognize that it is always privilege that governs one’s capacity to opt out of the pain and suffering of others. It is always privilege that deploys tactics to discredit voices of critique and challenge, hurry the conversation along, and find convenient exit ramps from legitimizing the need to act justly.
But we must not grow weary.
It is too easy to see this moment in history as anomaly, an unfortunate episode that should have ended when the police officer was arrested. It’s too easy to give voice to a moment of outrage but then immediately point to “how far we’ve come.” It’s too easy to avoid the historic evidence that points to the systemic injustices that continue to produce the poor outcomes in our communities of color that we would prefer to simply insulate ourselves from.
It is too easy to point to the looting and rioting as reason to abandon the fight, using this “deviant” behavior as an exit ramp from concern. It’s too easy to do so without doing the hard work of looking into the long history of agitators and opportunists infiltrating the cause of racial justice to discredit the movement in the eyes of “respectable citizens” that might have otherwise gotten involved.
It’s too easy to get caught up in false dichotomies and false equivalencies. It’s too easy to allow the polarized politicism of the infotainment industry to lead us down paths where to suggest “police reform” must mean we “hate the police.” To suggest that to kneel at the anthem as a peaceful form of protest, both a means of ensuring the longstanding legacy of democratic participation and the leveraging of influence for something bigger than sport’s success, means “they hate the US and disrespect the military.” To suggest that to be concerned for a more equitable and just society means we must be “Marxists.” These are tired, lazy, apathetic responses of privilege.
It’s too easy to make this about semantics. It’s too easy to be offended at the mantra for a social movement, #blacklivesmatter, because it is also the designated formal identity of a political activist organization that holds positions incompatible with the Christian faith. It’s too easy to discredit the spirit of the moment, further wounding our brothers and sisters of color by dismissing a call to be concerned with the marginalized crying out. Instead, flippantly suggesting “all lives matter,” or “there is only one race we need to be talking about, the human race.” It’s too easy to be concerned with equality at the expense of the hard work of reconciliation.
It’s too easy to find the voice of the person of color that says what we wanted them to say so we can bow out of our responsibility. It’s too easy to say, “See this black person says it’s not that bad.” It’s too much work to understand that throughout the history of civil rights there have been a myriad of perspectives held by people of color and no one voice has ever spoken for all voices. Likewise, it’s too easy to find the statistics of black on black crime and suggest that we are paying attention to the wrong problems instead of doing the deep dive into the long history of inequality in housing, education, employment, opportunity, and hope that have plagued communities of color, becoming seedbeds for survivalist and nihilistic behavior.
It’s too easy to let this moment pass on by.
But...We must not grow weary of doing good.
We must see this as a moment, a divine moment, a moment when the Spirit of God is drawing us into the heart of God. We must see this as a moment to be thrust into the heart of Scripture, a sacred text that seeks to identify those who have been denied their rightful place as bearers of the Image of God, and join God in God’s redemptive and reconciliatory purposes. We mustn’t grow weary. We must instead take a deep dive into this sacred text, taking our cues from a Jesus that crosses the boundaries to meet the dismissed and dignity-dismantled woman at the well, offering her a place of full-inclusion as a child of God. We must turn our attention to the erratic, uncontrollable blind beggar on the side of the road named Bartimaeus who refuses to be quieted down by the “respectable citizenry,” bothered by his incessant pleas for help. We must take the journey with Peter, down from the rooftop in Joppa and into the house of Cornelius, one for whom the markers of his ethnicity would have once exempted him from Peter’s concern. We must then continue with Peter to the point of his stern rebuke from Paul when he grew weary of the risky, messy reconciliatory work in Galatia.
We can't grow weary of listening in. We must value our sisters and brothers of color enough to linger there in their pain with them. We must listen to their voice of anger, frustration, and disappointment. We must be willing to join them in that pain, recognizing that for every moment they’ve been denied a place at the table, discredited, dismissed, taken for granted, left unheard, intentionally or unintentionally sent the message that they didn’t matter or were merely the token in the group, that we are all worse for it. We must listen to the telling of history that cuts against the grain of the history with which we are too comfortable. We must listen to the voices of our CHRISTIAN brothers and sisters of color who remind us that the story of a nation’s exceptionalism that was born of chattel slavery isn’t as exceptional for as many as we might have believed. In fact, we must lock arms with those same brothers and sisters, recognizing that the only exceptional space is the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that has come and is coming.
We can’t grow weary of speaking up. Justice is an inconvenient challenge to the principalities and powers of this world. To speak up is to be marked as target for attacks and slights. However, silence is again the symptom of privilege. Speaking up means naming injustice. It means leveraging our voices to amplify the voices that have been speaking from the margins for a long time without a crowd willing to take note. It means refusing to be ok with the status quo and instead calling humanity to its higher, God-given calling. It means using our voices to first ask questions, meaningful reflective questions, instead of immediately trying to discredit those with whom we disagree or justifying our already entrenched positions.
We must not grow weary of doing good. The road ahead is long. The fight for justice will not pass away when this summer of unrest ends. The long, prolonged fight for injustice will require a sustained commitment from those who call themselves the people of God. It’s a long road of discomfort, pain, lament, learning, and resolve. It’s inconvenient. It's demanding. It’s taxing. It’s a road that our sisters and brothers of color have been on for a long time, often without the companionship of the white church as traveling partners.
This is the moment when we say, “Sorry we are late. We are here now. We will be here tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.” We must lean in, press in, and make an unwavering commitment to dismantle strongholds of oppression and injustice, taking every thought captive in Christ Jesus and a concern for His Kingdom.
We must not grow weary.