In his Treatise on Christian Liberty, Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, stated “ignorance and suppression of liberty very many blind pastors take pains to encourage.” I grew up fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal. I memorized and studied the Bible and could quote passage and verse of many books. It was ingrained that we should study the Word. Most of the church people I met had good intentions, but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Today’s megachurches seem to have diverse congregations, but generally the average church does not reflect the diversity of God’s creation. We are all made in his image, but try walking in most churches as a minority and see if you’re treated like a fellow brother or sister in Christ. My family started out at a black church. When we moved to the suburbs, we found a diverse church that was welcoming. Church was fun, enjoyable, and a beautiful fellowship with God’s children from various ethnic and racial backgrounds. I loved going to church, especially Wednesday nights for youth group.
My junior year in high school, we moved back to the city. We lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. There was a local church that was the same denomination as the diverse one we attended in the suburbs. We decided to visit the church, hoping that the fellowship would be as welcoming. When we walked in for Sunday service, all eyes turned to us. We were the only black people in the church. The church was silent. So much for “there is neither Jew, Greek or Gentile, you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That day we weren’t looked upon as children of God. After the service, the pastor and a couple of families greeted us. However, some members openly expressed their displeasure at our presence and threatened to leave the church. All lives matter didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that we shared the same faith. All that mattered was that black folk visited God’s house and “good Christian folk” were offended by our presence.
My family returned to the church. For about a month or more, the pastor’s sermons were about God’s love, loving your neighbor, and how we were all God’s children. Other parishioners became more welcoming, but some left the church. It was then that I began “I can’t wait to graduate and go to college so that I never have to attend this church again – Christian hypocrites.” Once I went off to college, I attended church occasionally.
After the death of my father, I attended church regularly. I volunteered with the youth and my legal services pro bono conducting legal seminars and clinics. One Saturday, a white couple from the church came in for legal counsel. The husband said “nigger” while telling me his legal problem. He said that he didn’t mean me because I wasn’t like “them.” Thank God we were in the church because I wanted to “lay hands” on him and not for prayer. I discontinued my pro bono legal services at the church. All lives matter, though. Right?
As a youth leader, I had a diverse group of teenagers – black, Hispanic, and white. When we went on outings in the city, people seemed puzzled. One person asked if it was a detention program. Yeah, because a diverse group of teenagers surely indicates trouble. Another person asked if they were all my kids. Really? Every now and then, we would hear, “It’s so nice to see a group of diverse teenagers hanging out.” Most were shocked to learn that we were a church youth group. I think that’s more an indictment on the church world. If we’re all God’s creation, then seeing his children of all ethnicities fellowshipping together should not be a rarity, but the norm.
Most of our retreats were in or around the city. I avoided most of the Christian retreats because they were located in remote areas far from the city. The last thing I wanted was for the teens to encounter racism while we were supposed to be fellowshipping with other Christian youth groups. When the theme for one retreat was NASCAR with pictures of the Confederate flag, I told the other youth leaders that we would not attend. The Confederate flag is to blacks what the swastika is to Jews – an eternal reminder that our lives did not matter. A reminder that many church people stayed silent while Hitler slaughtered Jews, blacks and disabled people. A reminder that church folk tried to use the Bible to justify slavery and unequal treatment towards blacks.
I have chronicled my experience of racial profiling by police. I have relayed stories of how my family was stopped by cops for no reason coming from church in a neighborhood we lived. Yet, so many Christians insist that Black Lives Matter is making a big deal of nothing or inciting violence. Do you understand that states put a moratorium on the death penalty because of false testimony by cops, corrupt judges, and tortured confessions? I am an attorney and could tell you facts, statistics, and case law about police brutality, inequality, and racial profiling. But you will still tell me, All Lives Matter.
Judgment begins with the house of God. The church will be responsible for its apathy and callous indifference towards the suffering of its brown and black brothers and sisters. As the Apostle James said, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” Christians, your black brothers and sisters are being brutalized and killed at the hands of the police. Your reply to their suffering is, All Lives Matter, go in peace.
You condemn Black Lives Matter, the poor, and side with politicians that sow seeds of racial and ethnic division. “But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? …For I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”
The church blames the media for a bad reputation. But the Lord said, “Because of you my name is blasphemed among the nations.” Pastors commit adultery, molest children, rob the church and commit other sins. I blame the church for abandoning Christ’s example. Christ did not condemn sinners, he rebuked pastors and the church. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Woe unto you All Lives Matter Christians for abandoning your black brothers and sisters cries for justice.
We are all part of the body of Christ. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. God has put the body together so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” Black brothers and sisters are suffering injustice. Yet our Christian brothers neither stand with us nor acknowledge our suffering. To our pain, you simply reply All Lives Matter. Your apathy is lukewarm. Recall what Christ said about being lukewarm? “Since you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
The church’s lukewarm response is something that does not surprise me. During the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written for clergyman and church folk that complained protesting was causing violence. It is a sad testament to America and especially the church that its response to injustice in 2016 is the same as it was in the 1960s. Below are excerpts from Dr. King’s letter. Sounds like the description of well-intentioned All Lives Matter church folk today.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. – MLK