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Protest In the Darkness

December 13, 2014 2 comments

Your fears—that voice of doubt—are what will try to make you passive, but if you move through it, you will find that you will build more momentum in all areas of your life to the point where you will catch fire.

—Hill Harper[1]

 

protests1210Communion Sunday is always a special time for me—and for believers in particular—to come together and fellowship around the Table of the Lord. It’s a time for observance and remembrance of the finished work Christ accomplished for us on the cross.  At His table we are reminded of God’s love for us. Our faith is renewed and hope restored through His word, reminding us of His promise to come again.

Like most Christians everywhere, we experience a time of joy and celebration during worship. The Word of God is preached, and the saints respond with singing and rejoicing. We are a community of believers and there is nothing more beautiful than when the saints come together on the Sabbath to give praise to God!

After service at our church there is a parting time of fellowship when we all embrace or shake hands with one another and say our goodbyes. We promise to pray for each other, email, go to lunch, call or connect at some time during the week until we meet again at next Sunday’s service. We share information about our families, friends, and children, and talk about matters unrelated to the service. Only minutes ago we were dancing in the aisles like we were at a New Year’s Eve party at midnight.  It’s all about love and the community.

I was one of the last persons to leave the church on the First Sunday. I was exhausted and needed time to just sit and reflect upon the service and sermon before jumping in the car to drive home. I am humbled and blessed that God chose me to preach and deliver His Word to the people. The focus of my sermon was to challenge the church to be a voice, like the Apostle John’s, crying out in today’s wilderness—our homes, communities, and cities—and bring sinners to Jesus. I was obedient to my assignment that day and thankful for strength to serve the people of God.

Later, after a few hours of rest at home, I returned to my office to work on a few projects that needed my attention. It was dark outside and the hour was getting late when I was alerted by my administrative assistant, Tiffany Grant that the protesters who were marching against the grand jury’s decisions not to indict the police officers who murdered Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were organizing not far from my office and heading down Telegraph Avenue toward the church. I left my office adjacent to the church and walked through the dark sanctuary to turn on the lights in the vestibule and outside in front of the church.

I opened the front door and heard the sounds of drums beating in the distance and the marchers chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and “I can’t breathe!” Silhouettes of humanity came out of the darkness, hidden in the night, were now exposed by city lights. The closer they got to the church, the stronger their voices. Waves of young people and a new generation of activists took to the streets to let their voices be heard. They were united and focused. At times there was complete silence as the passed by as if to show respect for the young men who had died.

I stood alone outside on the stairs in the doorway of the church underneath a single light that lighted the archway and entrance into the sanctuary. Literally hundreds of marchers walked peacefully down Telegraph Avenue passed the church. Some waved at me and a few stopped to talk and shared their feelings with me about the protest. While I stood there watching these beautiful souls take a stand to fight against injustice I offered my prayers to God for them and for their safety. Someone had to stand in the gap and intercede for them, and since I was here, it might as well be me.

All of a sudden I heard someone yelling my name. I couldn’t make out his face at first. A lone black male youth barely in his twenties saw me standing on the stairs called me out demanding that I join the marchers. He is a member of our church and he was angry that not more black leaders had come out to support the cause. I didn’t recognize him at first because of the rage and anger in his face, but as he approached me I immediately knew who it was—it was Malachi. Tears were running down his face as he pleaded with me to join the march. I tried to explain to him that I was standing there to pray for all of the marchers and offer spiritual succor and sanctuary if needed from the police if there was a riot. But this young man wasn’t hearing it.

Malachi is no thug youth. He is a handsome, gifted, educated, talented, and hard working young Black man in our community. He comes from a highly respected and well-known family in the Bay Area. His mother has provided care for hundreds of needy children in Oakland. I watched Malachi grow up and mature into a caring and intelligent young man who deeply loves and respects his mother, grandparents, and elders in general—and God.

Malachi left me standing there while he joined the multitude of young activists heading for Berkeley. They were like sheep without a shepherd. My heart broke because I wanted him to know I heard his plea and understood his concern. I wept because I realized how each week hundreds and thousands of young people pass by the church—and churches everywhere—and never turn aside to hear the Word of God. He was right in a way.  It is not enough for us to stand in the doorway of the church, but rather to go find the loss sheep gone astray. The Church must truly show that it cares by not allow wandering souls to walk alone into the darkness.

Sadly, many Christians have set on the sidelines of social justice and some have even been critical of those seeking to right the wrongs of an unjust legal system through protest and civil disobedience. I feel it is a travesty that the Church has not reached out to those who are not like them and to stand with our brothers and sisters as “light and salt” in the earth. Our Christian participation could open a door of opportunity to invite young people to become a part of our community.

Too many of our congregations are content with the status quo—we look and dress the same, sound the same, our sanctuaries are modeled the same, our sermons all sound the same—and we block the doorway of the church to anyone who does not look, sound, or act like us from ever coming inside. We are more concerned about “fixing our choirs” than fixing our lives, our communities, and our cities. Our churches have turned into performance centers and there is no reverence or respect for the sacred things of God. Black prophetic voices have been muted by whatever has become popular in the media and the latest fades of the day.

Where is the voice crying in the wilderness? Proverbs 29:7 says, “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understand such knowledge.” Jim Wallis, author and president of Sojourners, said,

When the decision about Eric Garner was announced, the young people we had met the night before called and asked us to join them in the protest they had just organized at a U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis—and we did. Faith leaders and pastors stood alongside black and white young people who chanted “I can’t breathe” in front of a line of police. America, we have a problem. It’s past time to fix it, and the church must stand alongside a new generation of young leaders and help the nation find the way forward.[2]

After the last marcher passed by I went back inside the church locking the door behind me. I was just about to turnprotests1210 off the lights when I heard loud banging on the front door. I looked out the window and standing on the stairs was Malachi. I opened the door and he rushed into my arms with tears running down his face apologizing for being disrespectful toward me; but in truth I needed to apologize to him. I was proud of him and his activism. I encouraged him to stay in the fight and I told him that I supported and stood with him. The church needs young warriors like him. It is my job to be available to mentor him so that he might use his gift and talent to help save other young black men like him.

I have done my share of marching for civil rights and social justice. I marched against the Viet Nam war on the University of California campus at Berkeley and Peoples’ Park. I marched with Rev. Jesse Jackson and thousands across the Golden Gate Bridge for affirmative action, and even flew to Washington, DC to participate in the Million Man March with Minister Louis Farrakhan. Some say the day of marching is over and that we live in a post Civil Rights era, and that there is no more racism in America. Well, I didn’t get that memo and neither did millions of Black men in this country who experience racism every day. I’d like to know when did racism end in America and who made that decision?

There is no question that America has come a long way from the dark days of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crowism. Tom F. Driver, Paul J. Tillich Professor of Theology and Culture, Emeritus Union Theological Seminary, author, and theologian, said,

Racism is so ingrained in the American experience that no one who has grown up here is free of it — white, black, or anyone else. Until we acknowledge that, describe it, and share it across the racial divide we are not free. The legacy of slavery is still costing some blacks their lives, others their livelihoods, and most their full measure of dignity. As for us whites, that legacy, usually unacknowledged, costs us our full measure of honesty and leaves us woefully unprepared for the end of white privilege that lies in our future no matter what.[3]

Until there is an serious discussion and honest conversation about race and racism in this country, more young men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, will die—and more young men will standing at the doors of our churches yelling for us to come out of hiding.


 

[1] Hill Harper. Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny. (New York: Gotham Books, 2006), p. 138.

[2] Jim Wallis. “America, We’ve Got a Problem.”  2014. Web. Huffington Post. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/america-weve-got-a-proble_b_6270180.html. December 12 2014.

[3] Tom F. Driver. “Who Wants to Talk About That?”  2014. Web. Huffington Post. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-f-driver/who-wants-to-talk-about-t_b_6293722.html. December 13 2014.

 

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