BLACK IN AMERICA: ONE DISCIPLE’S EXPERIENCE
During African-American History Month, BPC’s Rob Rivers (pictured below with Rev. Chuck) shared the following powerfulpersonal witness in Worship.
I want to begin with a disclaimer: By no means do the views expressed represent the official views of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or represent a collective voice of what other Black males in their mid-30s think. Rather, these are my heartfelt convictions and thoughts as we go through this month of both remembrance and recognition for the accomplishments of Blacks in America during Black History Month.
My goal is not to stand here and try to convict all of society for injustices in the past because we have all in some way played a role in it. Rather, I would like for us to use this moment, this month and this opportunity to reflect and consider what our response can, could and should be…
Every February over the past few years on our Sanctuary Big Screen, we have been reminded through photos and music and clips of Dr. King’s speeches of our collective past. We relive the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and we all see the courageousness, bravery and moral outrage of thousands Americans, black, white, brown and others that stood up to the ugly vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow and fought for equal opportunity and equality. I see these images and I am reminded of how so many others sacrificed so that I might stand here today.
However, while I think about the Freedom Riders and the marchers, my soul is far from at peace and far from quiet because despites their valiant efforts, all is not well. My soul is not at ease and I feel that today — just as when these photographs were taken — we are at a vital moment where we must decide what we want our society to be …
I am a grandson of the Civil Rights Movement. I attended integrated schools, my father served as an officer in an integrated military service and we lived in neighborhoods that had individuals from different locations as well. Reading and reflecting on those statements alone on many days I can convince myself that things are fine, my family is well and currently we have the first President in our country’s history that is African-American. However, as I dig into the details, I realize that the veneer of equality and judgment that is dependent only upon the content of one’s character is not the reality in which we live today. In America, the land of the free and home of the brave, where unarmed black males can be shot down by law enforcement, vigilantes or from drug violence while the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished – my spirit cannot rest and my soul can not be at ease.
My soul is not at ease, but when I look to the scriptures and read the Bible I am comforted. I am not comforted in a false prosperity gospel but rather in recognizing what the Bible teaches us about struggles and what are righteous response can and should be.
It is time for Black History Month and the Civil Rights Movement to move into the New Testament and move beyond the mountain where Martin Luther King was directing us to go before he was slain … It is time that we leave the Temple and we become a New Testament people …
In the Old Testament we are introduced to Abraham who is considered the father of Faith. Over the following chapters and books, we follow the children of Abraham who become as numerous as the Stars and we see how God selects this community from which to share his light to the world. The experience of Abraham’s children is not one of glamour and it is a story of oppression and difficulty. Nonetheless, warts and all, God chooses this group of people to endure and share through their adversity what it means to be in relationship with God.
The Experience of Blacks in America is parallel to many of the experiences of Israelites. It is recorded that the first African slaves arrived near Jamestown in 1619, nearly 500 years ago. From then on Blacks in America were treated as second-class citizens, being considered 3/5 of a person in the first Constitution and even after the civil war being reduced to sub-human standards due to Jim Crow, voting laws and a number of heinous acts and laws that prevented equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Despite the gains of the civil rights movement it is easy to still point to the disturbing statistics in the poverty rate, the value of black life, and incarceration rates to see that Blacks in America still suffer. Yet we are surviving despite the great deal of adversity that we face. There are many comparisons between the journey of the Israelites and the life of Blacks in America and even today we sing about it with classic hymnals such as Wade in the Water. However, today, I ask that we move beyond the comparison of the experience of Black in America to that of the children of Abraham …
To really respect the sacrifices and actions of Black Americans in the past and to help bring greater equality of opportunity and justice to all we must work with all our might to make POVERTY an issue in America and the world and work towards addressing.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was coldly assassinated in Memphis, TN as he worked organizing with the sanitation workers of that city. Many believed that his assassination was linked to his calls to address poverty and his open criticism of the war and government. Prior to his death, he saw beyond the mountain and realized that the greatest injustices, the greatest tragedy that can befall a person is unbreakable poverty.
Today, one of the greatest injustices that we commit is that we have self-identified because of our professions, education, zip codes, races and salary; and as a result of building up these walls of division we do not look at the people on the street as our neighbors/brothers/sisters that are sharing this fleeting moment of existence on the planet Earth with us.
As a New Testament people, we must double down in our social action efforts that focused on helping the poor and impoverished through efforts both nationally and internationally. As a New Testament people, we must take a stand and inform our political leaders that if they don’t mention the issue of poverty then they don’t have our vote. We will no longer stand for the demonizing of the poor that has continued to intensify since the mid-90s with Welfare reform and continues to this day. As a New Testament people we must welcome the stranger and aid those who come here in search of an improved opportunity of life because they can no longer maintain a livelihood in their neighborhood or country. As a New Testament people we must celebrate the accomplishment of Blacks in America but not only through fleeting ceremonies during the shortest month of the year, but through concrete actions that address issues of disparities that effect the entire population …
Today, tomorrow, this year and for the rest of our lives I call on all of us to be New Testament people not only remembering the actions and deeds of great Black Americans but moving beyond remembrance into action and the fullness of faith … Will we walk into our call of being New Testament People? Our will we sit back and stand idly by as more than half of humanity struggles for justice and dignity?
Blessings and Peace!