By Karen Crozier
On Dec. 7, 2014, I, a Protestant Christian Africana educated female, stood in solidarity with my local, national and global sisters and brothers who have advocated for the eradication of state-sanctioned violence on non-White, low-income communities. On that day, I publicly expressed my disdain for the perpetration of violence by social systems, structures, institutions and practices that continue to deny the humanity of Black people. On that day, I articulated a desire for community and police relations that would reflect respect and care, and not hostility and fear. On that day, I felt and heard the deep love and hope, and despair and disbelief regarding two grand juries’ refusal to identify any wrongdoing.
With no legal remedy or compensation in sight for the Black families and communities who had endured yet another tragic episode of being Black in America, it “makes me wanna holla’ and throw up both of my hands.” It is not safe to be Black in the United States, and it never has been since the enslaved Africans came as involuntary immigrants.
Moreover, it is not safe to raise concerns about Black social and political vulnerability especially if you are of African descent in the United States. Yet, on that day, the desire to scream, to apparently surrender and conform to an unjust system is a sign of hope. Only when I am able to acknowledge the true severity of the problem can I become a transcendent agent of healing, of justice for self and others. My awareness of my existential inability opens me up to a realm beyond my particularity and challenges me to draw from the well of my Christian faith and spiritual mooring.
On that day, faith was public through rituals of prayer, songs, chants, call-and-response and discernment as I joined others of varying religious, humanist and secular faith traditions. Our particular faith identities and commitments coalesced around our shared concern for envisioning and engendering a day when the dehumanization of Black and Brown people would cease and desist, and when the criminalization of Black and Brown people would cease and desist. Faith led us to a place, a space that inspired us to make visible the invisible through our nonviolent refusal to acquiesce to the particular, non-isolated acquittals of Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.
In light of the deep, entrenched pathology of White supremacy, the ways far too many European Christian missionaries and religious institutions legitimize the attitude, policies and practices of White superiority, I would like to speak to my Christian sisters and brothers on making faith public in order to heal sites and psyches that have endured racial trauma and violence. In my humble opinion, all of us in the United States, regardless of the color of our skin, are victims of racial trauma and violence. While it is beyond the scope of this article to talk about the perpetrators in more detail than previously mentioned, I desire to draw our attention to creating public Christian practices of confession, lamentation, compassion and restoration as redemptive, healing acts of peace and justice.
Imagine if once a month a denomination or local church bodies would commit to acknowledging and announcing the suffering, the injustice that has taken place on racial violence and trauma. In front of the church building, in a park or at the site of a homicide, we could grow in our capacity to be present to the carnage that is before us and not shrink from the negative darkness that tends to overwhelm us. In other words, we would choose not to remain ignorant of the debilitating nature of racial injustice and declare our hope for a new, racially just order.
Furthermore, we would not allow silence to dictate and create greater space of alienation and misunderstanding. In this public space, we could name, absorb and transform the pain into a power that is life giving. Weeping, lamenting, as did Jesus and the prophet Jeremiah to release the toxins, cleanse the soul and make known different ways of just human relations.
In the public space and place in which we gather, we would project a different image of our Christian faith and the world when we take the time to name what has and has not occurred around racial trauma and violence. We would name and release our deepest pain and sorrow while becoming aware of our human fragility not as a sign of weakness, but one of strength. The strength and courage to see our own weakness invites us to handle with care those who have been the most recent victims of the unfortunate banality of racial violence and trauma. Realizing that the particular incident has ties to a U.S. history and legacy of refusing to take responsibility of such crimes against humanity.
In the public place and space, we could demonstrate a sensitivity to those among us who have never had the opportunity or safety to voice their particular and multigenerational pain and sorrow regarding racial violence and trauma. In that space and place of gathering, of remembering, of lamenting, of confessing, of the need for a more powerful, relevant conversion experience and social ethic, we would increase our capacity to access another reality that reflects a righteous, divine and progressive order in which Jesus of the Gospels so faithfully modeled.
Today, there must be more and more public displays of healing and justice not as a sign of self-aggrandizement but rather as a witness to God’s unfailing love and transformation of deeds of death and destruction. Today, making faith public must be more, or other, than speaking out against or for abortion and sexual orientation. Today, I hope and pray Christians and congregations in the United States will reconsider their mission in a way that takes seriously the legacy of slavery and White supremacy. In doing so, we could recover our ability to be salt and light, and redeem Christianity’s complicity with centuries of systematic exclusion of dark-skinned people groups. In doing so, we would engage in a practice of truly loving our neighbor regardless of color as our equal sister and brother and thereby surpass the U.S. Constitution, which still fails to accept the humanity and dignity of non-White people groups.
In closing, Jesus of the Gospels was a revolutionary from, and of, the margins within the Roman Empire. He modeled and manifested a radical way of being human for the masses and invited all to recognize, receive and enter into life abundantly by naming, absorbing, resisting and transforming death-dealing institutional and social structures, systems and practices. Stated differently, Jesus offered the masses and the privileged few alike to participate in redressing dehumanizing, unjust systems and thereby transform human relations.
Now, will those of us who profess Jesus’ disciples go and do likewise? Will we offer a different narrative of reality especially in light of the persistent problem of policing in low-income Black, Brown and Yellow communities and the consequential mass incarceration of non-White individuals and communities? I pray and hope our hearts will be open to being a faithful witness in both private and public spaces and places that will serve as a sign of redemption in light of the Church’s complicity in former and current acts of racial trauma and violence.
Karen Crozier is a public pastor and advocate of New Light for New Life Church of God and TV producer/host of Perspectives on Faith and Culture. Contact her at 559-453-2020 or firstname.lastname@example.org