By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.
In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the phrase “the urgency of the moment.” As he spoke truth to power, enumerating various aspects of racial inequality, he made it clear that the time for waiting was over. The burden of racial oppression borne by African Americans needed to be lifted, immediately.
Now, nearly 60 years after King’s speech, America finds herself in a frighteningly similar predicament. Many assumed, upon the election of our first Black president, continuing progress was assured, and we had somehow become a “post-racial” society. How mistaken they were!
In keeping with the previous cycles of American history, a moment of racial progress was immediately followed by a moment of racial persecution. Now, here we are, in the age of Trumpism, when people have been given the “green light” to be blatantly racist again. The greatest threat to homeland security are white supremacist organizations, and the voting rights secured for Black people in the 1960s are under attack.
More than any other group in the country, the onus is on Christians to join the fight against systemic racism. Why? Racism, in all of its forms, is an affront to the Imago Dei (“image of God”) in people of color. The Bible clearly addresses problems such as discrimination and inequality. Therefore, all Christians should be deeply concerned about the same.
In order for Christ followers of all ethnicities to effectively engage in the fight against racism, they must have 3 things:
1. They must have COURAGE.
Courage is essential for Christians who desire to enter the struggle for racial justice. Author and thought leader, Dr. Jemar Tisby, calls this “Courageous Christianity.” It took courage for Moses to say to Pharoah, “Let my people go!” It took courage for Harriet Tubman to lead enslaved people to freedom. It also takes courage for Christ followers to fight racism in these highly polarized times.
We do not have the luxury of being “neutral” when it comes to racism. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986, Holocaust survivor and writer, Elie Wiesel said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always takes sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
Fighting racism is not for wimps; it’s for warriors. The kind of warriors I’m referring to understand that, fundamentally, they are engaged in spiritual warfare. Systemic racism is inspired by Satan, himself. Consider how Ephesians 6:12 lays out the structural aspect of Satan’s kingdom: “principalities, powers, rulers over the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places.”
The good news is that God has provided us with spiritual weaponry with which to wage war against the sin of racism. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5a says, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God.” White supremacy is not only a stronghold in the country, but also, in the Church. Wherever it is present, white supremacy keeps people from knowing the God who created all human beings. It is based on the false argument or assumption that white people are superior to others and should dominate all aspects of society. It takes courage to face the twin evils of racism and white supremacy.
2. They must have COMPASSION.
God is the God of justice who shows compassion for the oppressed. Psalm 9:9a says, “The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” Therefore, Christians must be a people of compassion and justice. Members of racially oppressed groups don’t need condemnation, condescension, and callousness. But sadly, that’s primarily what they get from many white Christians and others who don’t appreciate the salience of racism. Those who are courageous enough to call out racism wherever it exists are often accused of being “race baiters” or “playing the race card.” To which I say, the deck of cards, as it were, has been stacked from the very inception of this country.
Compassionate Christians respond to survivors of racial trauma with genuine concern, a listening ear, an empathetic attitude, and lamenting. They don’t say, “Just get over it” to Black people when the atrocities of American chattel slavery are discussed. Compassionate Christians are truly sensitive to the needs of the oppressed. As it states in Romans 12:15, they “weep with those who weep.”
But, most importantly, Christians should be compassionate to the extent that they are moved into social action against racism. Social action can take on various forms, such as participating in a march, stepping to the podium at a community meeting, and/or running for elected office. Many Christians say the best way to address racism is to “just preach the Gospel,” and that anything else is a “distraction.” That is an overly simplistic and short-sighted assessment. Opposing racism is an essential part of Gospel-centered living. The Gospel demands that we speak up when the image of God in people of color has been disrespected or devalued.
3. They must have COMPANIONS.
2 Timothy 2:3 says, “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Suffering should be the expectation of those of us who want to fully serve Christ. So, it logically follows that intense suffering often comes upon believers who take a stand against racism. The apostle Paul invited his son in the faith, Timothy, to join with him in suffering. If you’re going to fight racism, you will need like-minded companions on the same path, who can support you and hold you accountable.
When you read the Bible, notice that biblical personalities often come in twos. Some examples of this are Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Peter and John, and Priscilla and Aquila. In each of these cases, the people could lean on each other for support. If you want to be productive in fighting racism, it would behoove you to identify at least one faithful companion who could encourage you in this area.
I’ll close with an example of a person who undoubtedly had great courage, compassion, and companions: the late John Lewis. On March 7, 1965, Lewis understood “the urgency of the moment,” as he and other civil rights activists marched for voting rights for African Americans. As Lewis would say, this would be a day they would get into “good trouble.” As they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, on that “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis was not alone in leading the march. His companion and co-leader on that justice journey was Rev. Hosea Williams. Together, they were nearly beaten to death by Alabama state troopers.
These two men would accomplish more, together, than they would have, alone. Their brutal sacrifice ultimately led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act, that same year. All these years later, those same voting rights are under attack. Do you understand “the urgency of the moment”? If you answer the call of justice, you may or may not be physically beaten, like Lewis, Williams, and others. However, you will lose some friends and the adulation of others. It is worth the sacrifice.
By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.