I Am Hurting

Let me start by saying, I’m hurting. I’m hurting because as I listen to those speaking in the streets I feel pain. I’m hurting because symbols of the church and our faith are being distorted. I’m hurting because, what I have to say, while faithful to my understanding of the Gospel, may cause some of you pain. So, I want to invite you into the space of lament with me and ask that we bear with one another to listen for what God has to say to us.

You and I have been consumed by how the pandemic is affecting the church. Demonstrations in the street jolt us into the reality that there are larger systemic issues than a disruption of church life during a pandemic.

When an American President stands in front of a church holding a Bible and talks about “dominating the streets,” he is talking about white male supremacy and associating it with Christianity. As a white male I benefit from this white privilege. But I also recognize the continuing injustice that is built into my privilege. This creates a unique problem for me. I cannot be the voice of the oppressed! All I can do is ally with the voice of the disenfranchised and possibly amplify it. I can also sacrifice my privilege for the benefit of others. This is how I understand what Christ did on the cross. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave...” (Philippians 2:6

The death of George Floyd was one more in a long string of expressions of excessive force used against black Americans by a predominately white power structure in America.

The statistics are clear. The killing of black Americans by police, the unbalanced statistics regarding arrest, conviction, and incarceration, the inequities in education opportunities are structural inequities. I’ve never been pulled over for being black. I’ve never been the target of racist comments, direct or indirect. I’ve never had to talk with my children about the consequences of being black in America. I have never been turned down for a loan because of the color of my skin. I have never been denied a job because I’m white. This American house was built and is maintained for me.

I was supportive of the Civil Rights movement during my youth. But since, I have been largely silent, thinking that we had set this country on the right track and we would continue to roll toward the destination of equity, freedom, and justice for all. I was wrong!

The protests in the street are largely Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other minorities, including younger Americans who have also been disenfranchised by the economy, and who have leaned into to an association with other disenfranchised Americans. They demand change. They demand that we recognize their humanity, hear their voice, restore their dignity, and grant access to their share of the providence of God. They deserve to be heard.

Maybe your faith has not yet led you to the conviction that black lives matter. Maybe your faith has not yet led you to stand in the streets with protestors. Maybe your faith does not lead you to the conclusion that there needs to be a transfer of power in the institutions of our government if there is to be justice, God’s justice, and Jubilee[1]. But maybe it should.

Here is the thing, the raw, unfiltered, truth.

The message of the Gospel is about exactly that! Liberation from injustice and inequities. God led an oppressed people out of Egypt in the Exodus. God reclaimed sovereignty from the Pharaoh.

In Israel they practiced Jubilee every fifty years, forgiving all debt, freeing all slaves, to restore equity in the system, so none would get stuck in the cycle of poverty and powerlessness.

The Romans killed Jesus, to make a statement that their power was sovereign. They killed Jesus to instill fear in those who were looking for a Messiah to save and restore their dignity and access to the providence of God. And what was God’s answer? God reclaimed sovereignty in resurrection.

Matthew documents the same problem of privilege in his band of disciples. A mother asks for her sons to have seats of power to the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. When the rest of the disciples heard this, they were angry because these two had asked for a privileged place. How does Jesus respond? “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20:20-28)

The Apostle Paul picks up the theme again in his letter to the Ephesians 4:17-24. “This I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness[2], greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ!”

If you are like me, privileged by the system, this word is for us. Do not be like the Gentiles who lord their power over others. Change you mind! Change your perspective. Let God change your heart. Climb out of the driver’s seat. Get off the throne. Listen to the voice of the marginalized. This all reminds me again that I’m not the center of attention. It is not all about me. God has consistently been for the poor, the oppressed, the weak and vulnerable because privilege denies the dignity and worth of all God’s children.

If we are serious about what is written in our sacred stories we will listen to the cries of the poor, the oppressed, those who have been denied access to the providence of God. Those in the streets today are speaking a word of justice and issuing a call for Jubilee. Don't be distracted by the violence and looting done by those who would take advantage of the circumstances The voices in the street are pleading with the privileged to stand for the value of others. They are telling us that our democracy which values equal rights, equal justice under the law, and an equitable sharing of power, is at risk. Denial of the right to vote, the right to an equal education, and the right to a fair criminal justice system are all wrapped up in every incident of police brutality.

Privilege is a false witness against God who loves and provides for all creation. There is enough for all of us when it is equitably shared. We are in a fragile place as a nation right now. We have endured years upon years of divisive public rhetoric, and it has torn at the fabric of community in our nation, in our churches, in our families. We are threadbare and if we do not hope in God’s salvation; if we do not stand with God’s liberation; if we do not dismantle the powers of white privilege and work for jubilee; we will all continue to live in pain.

[1] The word "jubilee" comes from the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible, known in Christianity as the Old Testament. ... The Jubilee year, the Bible explains, was to be a year of rest, including the forgiveness of all debts, and the liberation of slaves and servants to their native lands. Leviticus 25:8-10 [2] This word translated from the Greek text means outrageous conduct, conduct shocking to public decency, a wanton violence. It has connections to our word license. License and licentious come ultimately from the same word whose meanings ranged from "freedom to act" to "unruly behavior, wantonness." Licentiousness refers to deviation from some purposeful effect. A person who takes license with something (or someone) engages in "abusive disregard for rules of personal conduct." Licentious always implies excessive, transgressive freedom.

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