About three weeks ago, a Black woman posted herself defacing a #BlackLivesMatter mural yelling “Jesus Matters!” She got 27.4 thousand likes and 12,571 shares in just a few hours. As I scrolled through most of the 8,000 responses, I saw primarily White faces encouraging her to discount the problems that contribute to the state of Black people in America. Today, her post has 1,758,245 views, has been shared 40,306 times, has 59 thousand reactions, and 29,762 comments. Her message of “taking our country back! By any means necessary!” by lifting up Jesus and discouraging involvement with #BlackLivesMatter is coupled with videos of her blaming the organization for the turmoil in the country and a push to pray for the police, #backtheblue #JesusMatters. This conflation of support for police and our local and federal government with Christ highlights why many of all races are disillusioned with Christianity.
A Peculiar People
As a Christian Black female physician, I have battled the stigma associated with being a Christian nearly all my life. People often express shock with statements and questions that are not meant to be offensive like, “But you are not judgmental!”, “But you make me feel accepted,” and “How could you be a Christian?”
As early as elementary school, I found myself having to explain and defend my faith. People often see Christians as closed-minded and hypocritical, and recordings shared on social media like the one above have reinforced many of these perceptions.
But is the indignation over protests and proclamations against #BlackLivesMatter in line with the Word? This was the Bible verse that came to my mind:
This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent!
Words fit for our times. They spell out what we are called to do. Some of us attend church services once a week, others several times. Some read the Word daily, and others listen when they can. However, one thing is evident, as Christians we are called to care about those in our society being mistreated and discriminated against. Black Lives Matter is an organization dedicated to challenging any system or culture that denigrates the humanity of any person, but particularly Blacks in America. That kind of work is what it means to be like Jesus and not just believe in Him.
In And of The World
Truthfully, Christians are more often in and of the world than we are in and of the Word. A recent viral video of a black woman confronted by White church volunteers clearly demonstrates this dichotomy. Peacefully sitting on the lawn of a local Lutheran church, Alex Marshall Brown is accused of trespassing and strongly intimidated into vacating the premises. These Christ followers approach this woman and instead of being kind and of service to her, they harass and intimidate her just because she’s black.
This display of racial profiling and intimidation is what it looks like to be in and of the world and not in and of the Word. Unfortunately, too many Christians are more concerned with believing in Jesus and protecting Him and His property, than they are about protecting His people. These small acts of disregard for social justice partnered with explicit acts of racism and social terror have a detrimental impact on our witness. In fact, these kinds of interactions have produced and continue to aid in the skepticism of many with regards to the Christian church.
The Dangers of Weathering
The reality is, no matter how many times Christians seek to explain away racism, assert it as a leftist agenda, or intimidate people into not engaging in protests, Black Americans are constantly experiencing social, psychological, physical, systemic, and even spiritual oppression. For example, the damaging health effects on Black communities and individuals reaches to the level of our DNA. Studies suggest that telomere (protective DNA protein complexes at the ends of our chromosomes that prevent its deterioration) length, is a marker of cellular aging.
The shortening of these telomeres is associated with premature aging and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia. The telomeres are affected by stress including that of racial discrimination, a term dubbed “weathering.” The length of these telomeres in one study showed that they were initially longer in Black subjects but had a faster rate of shortening, adjusting for all other factors, aside from race. With race-based social-stress suspected as the cause, the daily racial discrimination faced by Black people is killing us even when there is no visible weapon apparent. Put simply, studies show that interactions like the one Alex Marshall Brown had can cause serious health problems to Black Americans.
Being Like Jesus
Christ came to heal. Rather than being vessels that inflict more pain and death, Christians should be obedient to the call of being Christ’s hands and feet, healing the sicknesses Sin has produced throughout the world. We must continuously self-reflect, pray without ceasing, read, ponder His word, then follow his lead. While there must be sweeping changes to institutions and laws, we Christians must allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as individuals to do our part to heal this nation one person at a time and one act at a time.
After the death of my mother, the school staff where I attended boarding school in Pennsylvania worried about my mental well-being. I had returned to school after her funeral without any noticeable differences in my behavior and schoolwork. I also was not reaching out for help. I had my Bible, my faith, and schoolwork that distracted me from the devastating loss, and a firm belief that I would be reunited with my mother one day.
My mother had also been preparing me for her death all my young life. Much of my life was spent sitting in hospital waiting rooms during one of my mother’s frequent hospitalizations for complications with Lupus. Between hospital stays, however, my mother had given me beautiful memories. She shared her wisdom and taught me my Black heritage before, during, and after slavery. She instilled pride in my background and confidence in my abilities and taught me I was a child of God. Finally, someone asked my grandmother what could be done to support me through her loss. She said, “Send her to church.”
The Family I Needed
An older White couple volunteered to bring me to church that week and it would become a weekly routine. Afterwards we ate lunch at their home, with a few other members invited as well. After filling up on pasta, garlic bread, and salad we talked on a stroll through the woods.
These were comforting times for a girl who in a matter of days had lost the entire life she had known. No mother, no home, not even an assigned guardian for the remainder of my childhood. My remaining family was unable to visit me on ‘Parents’ Weekend’ or to take me on weekend pass like many of my peers. The folks at that church became my family before others at the school began to take on that role.
Knowing what I now know as a psychiatrist, their support not only helped me feel less isolated, but it also directly contributed to my academic success at the time. These and other positive social interactions likely had healing effects on my body and mind to combat the stress of my situation. This couple, like others along my path, were an example of what God directs us to be. With hardened hearts, they might have turned their car around the first day they saw me, making some excuse after seeing that I was black, if my name did not already tip them off.
In fact, not everyone at the church proved as welcoming. The impact of that largely positive experience could have been completely undone in an instant by words of hate. One woman at the church actually made disparaging comments and I unfortunately was present to hear them one day. This Christian couple did not allow my race or the discriminatory ideas of those around them to dictate how they were going to treat me. They were in a racist world, but not of it. Instead, they chose to be in the Word and allow themselves to display the character of Christ in love to me as He says in His Word.
A Call to Christians
A Christian’s belief in God should not ever result in racism or discrimination. However, history reveals that much of the Bible has been distorted to justify bigotry, hatred, and the unjust treatment of black and brown people throughout the world. Christianity has justified slavery, colonization, and segregation. And despite this history some White Christians remain frustrated with protests and proclamations against racism.
They believe the movement does not pertain to them, and they justify this by declaring they held no slaves and thus should not be held accountable for the past. But while not being an active participant in the past, many are currently both participating and complicit in the discrimination and intimidation of Blacks today, as we saw above. Racist words and actions are just as deadly as racist policies. Words can be living water or sharp swords piercing into the hearts and souls of men. And Christ is looking for a band of followers that are willing to speak life into a sin-filled world, hope into disenfranchised communities, and peace into nations in tension.
So, to my White brothers and sisters in Christ:
Those who encourage the defacing of #BlackLivesMatter murals.
Those who justify the killing of unarmed victims.
Those who call the police on a Black child playing, an adult walking, exercising, reading a book, sleeping in their dorm, or sitting on your church lawn.
Those who cannot see that “Black” is needed because it has never been included in this country’s “All”
Those who do not accept that ignoring the past is a path to repeating it.
Those who cannot recognize that “I, too, am America.”
Stop being so concerned with believing in Jesus that you neglect to be like Him.
I am a Christian…Black…woman, in that order.
What takes first place in your life?