(White) Reflections on Marching with #BlackLivesMatter

On Sunday I joined more than 2,000 of my brothers and sisters in a march and rally for #BlackLivesMatter in Oklahoma City. I went in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who experience systemic racism, discrimination, and oppression because they are black. This experience is completely foreign to mine, and is never something that I can "understand." It is merely a reality that I oppose in the name of the Triune God on behalf of my black fellow-bearers of the Image of God. 

The gathering was large, hot, incredibly organized, peaceful, and perhaps most importantly, unapologetic in its demands for justice and the cessation of violence. 

As a straight, white, married, middle-class man, this would seem to be the place where I would feel out of place. And at a different time in my life I wouldn't have been antagonistic to such a gathering, but I would have been uneasy. But in this movement, if you are human, you are family. I saw an incredible level of care, mutual concern, and respect for others. When counter-protestors showed up the rally was stopped. The leaders assumed the microphone and reminded everyone that they had a right to be present, that we were here for our cause, and that the OKCPD and others who were there to serve and protect would resolve the situation. Level-headed, respectful, and even acknowledging our differences. Just one of the many moments where the fruits of the Spirit were on full display. There was intimate care and concern to accommodate anyone who wanted to be present. Water was donated and chilled in advance, a medical staff was on hand for heat exhaustion, chairs were brought for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women. Each time someone would succumb to the heat the entire gathering came to an immediate halt until the medical team was able to arrive. We sat in silence and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were with us no matter the toll on their bodies. 

Some have commented to me through social media (though interestingly not in person!) that their opinion of #BlackLivesMatter was that it was divisive and potentially explosive (and a couple even suggested it was racist!). While there were a couple of moments early on where some individual tempers flared (and rightly so at such hatred and injustice!!) they were quickly reminded by their fellow participants that such behavior was contrary to our mutual commitment to solidarity, peace, and lasting, life-changing transformation of our community, city, state, and nation. 

The proof of the effectiveness of our gathering can be seen in a post in the #BlackLivesMatter Facebook event page by one of the counter-protestors who made his presence very well known early in the rally...

As someone who was standing in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers, and who witnessed firsthand this gathering of compassionate, articulate, and unapologetically peaceful and honest people, I offer three observations about my personal experience and my perception of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a whole. 

Sunday's ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ rally was peaceable, compassionate, and unapologetic about calling for and proposing tangible, practical actions and policies to address systemic racism. 

To suggest that this movement is divisive, racist, or condones/welcomes/encourages violence against police or anyone is else is either allowing a third-party to define their narrative or has other more problematic commitments. 

The power of #BlackLivesMatter is that it is not a movement of (only) black persons.

I was joined Sunday by people of every race, straight and LGBTQ, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of no faith. Young and old, rich and poor. State legislators, pastors, activists, rabbis, imams, moms and dads and little children. 

As a theologian, I saw absolutely NOTHING yesterday that was contrary to the fundamental commitments of the Christian faith. (With the exception of the hateful counter-protestors, who all unfortunately, identified themselves as Christians!) 

I heard prayers offered for the cessation of violence and hostility, uncompromising calls for justice, affirmation of those in law enforcement (and countless hugs, handshakes, and cold water given to officers), and a level of kindness, compassion, and concern for those around them that I have only witnessed in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. The exception here is that these are the normal actions of #BlackLivesMatter, not the exception. 

For those who still wish to malign the movement, or to call into question my unapologetic participation in it I have one important question for you: What are you are doing to make the world less violent, less racist, less unequal, less prejudiced, and more just, more safe, and more beautiful? 

If you are actively involved in doing something to these ends then I imagine that we have a great foundation from which to have these very complex, life and death conversations. Our Christian witness demands it. 

9 Reasons Why My Faith Compels Me to Say #BlackLivesMatter

I have not been afraid within my social media space to say #BlackLivesMatter, or to speak about the longstanding racism within my own religious tradition. But the events of this last week have brought the conversation of racism, prejudice, and violence to a new frenzy unseen in my lifetime. 

DISCLAIMER: I am speaking for myself (and only myself) when I articulate "why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter."
I believe that there are compelling theological reasons for this commitment, and in response to these I continue to strive to embody my faith "with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)

But I feel like it is important, as a contribution to a very important (and very complex) conversation, to explain why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter. And why it compels me to not only say something in my social media space, but in my faith community, and publicly within my city and state. So here are 9 reasons (though there are a number of others) why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter...

Because the Triune God, revealed most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, is deeply concerned and committed to the cause of the oppressed and the marginalized, and this is the actual, real lived experience of millions of my black sisters and brothers. 

Hear the words of Isaiah the Prophet...

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
                                                                                              (Isaiah 58:1-7, NIV)

Because black lives are disproportionately affected the prison industrial complex. 

In 2010 blacks were incarcerated at more than FIVE times the rate of whites. While blacks accounted for only 13% of the US population they made up 40% of the incarcerated population. This is despite the lack of a comparable disparity in the rate of crimes committed between whites and blacks.  

Because black lives are disproportionately targeted by police for stops, searches, violations, and arrests. 

This can be seen for example in the experience of Philando Castile had been pulled over 31 times and hit with 63 charges. And the stop for a broken tail light that resulted in his death has been challenged by at least one eye witness. And the whole reality of "Driving While Black" has been substantiated for a long time and the literature continues to grow affirming not only that it is true, but that in many communities it is worse than ever.

Because our nation and its economy were literally built on the backs and bodies of black lives.

Our nation would never have become the economic powerhouse that it is today without the institution of slavery. Many of the fundamental icons of our nation were built with slave labor including the U. S. Capitol, the White House, and vast networks of railroad lines

Because black lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and economic oppression.

Data shows us that poverty for black communities and black families is very different than poverty for white americans. This is no mere coincidence, it is the "architecture of segregation."

Because black lives are harmed by the race-based and historical trauma of American society. 

There is a growing body of literature that demonstrates the psychological toll of racism, which is complicated all the more by the historical traumas of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison industrial complex, and many of the other things I have already cited. 

Because black lives are oppressed by systemic and institutional inequalities in education. 

There is marked disparity in education funding, discipline, and even course offerings. This comes with profound psychological consequences at all stages of life. (Check the data for your own community here.)

Because black lives are disproportionately destroyed by the so-called "War on Drugs."

At its inception, in its implementation, and its ongoing ethos, the War on Drugs was designed to crush the lives of black persons, families, and communities. 

Because churches continue to be some of the most segregated institutions in the United States. 

The racial disparities in churches are sharper than their surrounding culture. This is not helped by the high response rate of people who report that their churches are "sufficiently diverse" and did not need to pursue further racial integration. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words still ring true "that eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America.

As a follower of Jesus I am called to live in a way that speaks up for those who are abandoned, who are oppressed, who are consciously crushed by the principalities and powers. And the call of the Christian faith is to join in the liberating work of God in the world. I am called to use my voice as a middle-class, white, straight, married, educated, male to cry out for justice, for reconciliation, for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. It is for this reason that I say...