“Amazing Grace” and Other Must-Knows for #blacklivesmatter Marches

“Greet the people next to you. That’s how we’re going to dismantle this racist system.” This is how our protest started. For those who have been wondering what it means to march for #shutitdown or #blacklivesmatter or other phrases without hashtags; for those who see the description “largely peaceful”–this is what “largely peaceful” means. It means you begin by finding a friend and promising to lookout for their well-being for the next three hours.

I’m going to give you the takeaway up front: these marches are a theological statement. The church–especially the black church–is so woven into these marches that they are a theological act. When we talk about “creative nonviolence,” it’s not sitting in an office writing books and praying. It’s getting into the streets and introducing yourself to a stranger. Continue reading

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Violence and Non: Police Brutality and the Pacifists

“The black experience is the feeling one has when attacking the enemy of black humanity by throwing a Molotov cocktail into a white-owned building and watching it go up in flames. We know, of course, that getting rid of evil takes something more than burning down buildings, but one must start somewhere.”
-James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation

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When I saw the images of violence in Ferguson, especially the photo from August of black men gathering to light a Molotov cocktail, I thought of James Cone’s quote above (note: I couldn’t find a photo credit for the image; if you can source it, let me know). I read James Cone as a 17-year-old, in a Liberation Theology course taught by a pacifist professor at a pacifist college. I remember the quote now because we were shocked as students–who the hell says “burning buildings feels good, but let’s do more”? I believe in nonviolence, still. I pastor at a Mennonite Church, a historic peace tradition that has always claimed pacifism. But I wondered, as I turned over the image and the quote in my mind: What can I, as a pacifist, say about violence in Ferguson? Continue reading

Defining Racism

My post the other day was a little… provocative. I was pleasantly surprised, the comments (on the post and in social media) were largely thoughtful. I agree with many: racism is more spectrum than category; flowcharts privilege the binary and the binary is bullshit; my focus on black-white race relations is also a binary; race relations is a problematic term anyway; and plus, it’s rude and polarizing to call someone racist.

This last one I agree with less. In the circles I run in–this is at least partly generational–“racist” isn’t an pejorative term. It doesn’t connote the KKK as much as the flaws we all have: “hey, that’s racist, please check yourself.” So I apologize to those who took “racist” as an insult. It’s not. It is bad to be racist, but it’s also honest to be racist. Again: only once you admit the problem can you begin solving it. So let’s roll back a couple steps and define “racist.” I’m going to use a story about white/black, because that’s my own experience. Continue reading

Is Your Church Racist?

This Sunday, one of the freshmen in the youth group asked, “Is our church racist?” I wasn’t sure how to respond–you don’t want to tell a 14-year-old everyone who has raised her is racist, unless you’re really, really convinced that it’s true. (Luckily, I didn’t have to say anything, because I work with excellent co-teachers who are quick on their feet.)

But. Her question provoked me. There are lots of white churches. What makes a white church racist? So I made this handy flowchart.

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Ferguson, the Rivers of Babylon, and Racism

In my congregation, there is mixed feeling about what happened in Ferguson. In my heart, there is not. I, as a young white adult who has lived in predominantly black communities, am absolutely convinced this has everything to do with racial inequality. I value the dissenting voices in my congregation, but since I have this space I want to explain how white voices (especially skeptical ones) can makes sense of the outcry following yesterday’s announcement.

Yesterday, the Grand Jury in Ferguson announced their decision not to indict the police offer who killed teenager Michael Brown in August. Two days ago, I finished a sermon series on the Psalms. But today I have one more Psalm, for Michael Brown. Continue reading