A Letter to the Masses (Guest Post: Rev. James Briggs)

In light of the killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith L. Scott, and as part of this ongoing series, The Trauma of Racism I want to introduce a good friend and brother who can speak to these challenges in ways that I cannot. It is my privilege to count James as a friend, brother, and co-worker in the Kingdom. To those who have ears, let them hear. (Note: I have posted James' letter without any changes. Emphasis in the enlarging and emphasizing of text is exclusively mine.)

The Rev. James Briggs currently serves as Senior Pastor of the Daybreak Metropolitan Church at Addison in Addison, Texas.  His Gospel ministry career spans over 20 years. He holds a BS degree from Oklahoma Christian University and an MDiv degree from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. His published thesis was entitled Kingdom Building and Kingdom Seeking: Creating that God Ordained Space Where All Of Humanity Can Dwell. He is currently working to complete a book about the spiritual disciplines he employed during his time of discernment prior to starting a new ministry in the DFW Metroplex.  The title of that work is Lyrics Leading to The Launch: Memoirs of a Minister's Meditations Expressed through Original Psalms. In his spare time, James enjoys reading, going to the movies and watching professional sports.  He currently resides in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area with the love of his life Mrs. Evette Sophia-Navedo.

Dearly Beloved,

It is my honest hope and sincere prayer that you receive the message of this letter with both an open mind and open heart.  There is so much grief that fills our cities today.  This is a consequence of the tremendous amount of hate that fills the hearts of men and women in our country.  The vicious attacks and hate crimes committed against people of color have far exceeded epic proportions.  There have been so many names that we've come to speak and so many lives that we've come to learn of all because these individuals merely offended or dare I say "threatened" the wrong person with their melanated skin. 

I was raised in a home that taught me to value and respect my blackness.  Over the course of my lifetime, I've come to discover that no matter how much I valued and respected the color of my skin, there would still be many others who would refuse to value and respect me as a part of God's divine creation.  Thankfully my black father taught me that my worth is not appraised according to another person's value system.  The assessment of my value as a part of God's creation was produced long ago.  God took time to make me [Ps 139.14]. As a child, I was doubly blessed, because my black mother would make a point to constantly remind me of how crucial it is to always carry myself with a form of dignity that would make it known to others that I have respect for myself.  These lessons that my parents taught me and my two other siblings have really blessed me in a myriad of ways.  I treasure these lessons from my childhood because they have helped me to maintain both my sanity and integrity when I see groups and organizational structures designed to eliminate people of color and make us extinct.  The divine detail given to the creation process is not one to be taken lightly. 

It is most unfortunate, however, that God did not make the melanin in black people's skin strong enough to repel bullets in the same fashion that it protects against ultraviolet rays from the sun. 

The devastating events that have taken place in recent weeks have affirmed one thing that I've long suspected.  It is time for the Christian Church to do what it was purposed to do from the very beginning.  It is time for the Church to unite and take action against the spiritual wickedness in high places [Ephesians 6.12].  Churches around the country can't continue to sit back and watch the "few" fight against the "many" and still expect a victory. 

Social Justice issues are not issues that the Church should view as an elective course in undergraduate school. 

It is the most critical area of ministry, because it was that area of ministry that Christ dedicated his life and work to during his earthly ministry.  Jesus made it his business to address the hard issues of his day without any hesitation even though he knew what it would ultimately cost him.

The Church must never shy away from the work that must be done because of fear of the high cost. God has forever been on the side of the oppressed [Psalm 9.9]. Therefore, the Creator expects the redeemed to pay whatever costs must be paid.

The problems that we see today will not go away if the Church continues to take a weak position against these heinous crimes of racial hatred. There are individuals who have been sworn to protect and serve all people, but they instead have terrorized and murdered a specific group of people. 

This is the time for the Universal Church to leave its laurels and join the Black Church in this warfare against the many grotesquely perverted forms of faith which stem from racism. Hashtags on social media, lunch break conversations, and a handful of sermons on certain Sundays won't remedy this infectious disease. 

While these are nice gestures and deeds done by people with good intentions, these acts simply aren't intentional enough.  A true prophetic move of power is one that points to the problem and demands a solution.  Active involvement in communities through partnerships with awareness and activist groups is key to causing the change that we need in our country. 

This prophetic move of power can be both made and felt when the Church decides that God's nearness needs to be experienced by all people in all places.  The Church has to band together, speak up, and step up.  The Church can do this.  The Church must do this. 

In God's grip,

The Trauma of Racism: Realities, Challenges, and Theological Reflection

Cover Image courtesy of Atlanta Black Star.

This is an introduction to an occasional, ongoing series that will explore the traumatic experiences of those who are impacted by racism, and the attenuating theological reflection that operates as both a reaction to these experiences, and reflection about the life of ecclesial communities in response to racism. Methodologically, this series will draw on the framework suggested by Alistair McFadyen in his remarkable book Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust, and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. The model works something like this:

For theological reflection to be meaningful and appropriate in a diverse range of contexts, the subject(s) of theological reflection must be informed first by the concrete, real, lived experiences of persons and communities. These identifiable experiences must then be illuminated by the best kinds of description and analysis available through an interdisciplinary, and non-theological (the meaning here of "secular") reflection. It is only after this mutually informative interplay between the real experiences of persons and communities and these thick, non-theological descriptions and reflections that the clearest and most articulate (and therefore generative) kinds of theological reflection can emerge. 

This movement of reflection from the concrete experiences of persons and communities, followed by thick, interdisciplinary, non-theological reflection, which finally culminates in nuanced and contextual theological reflection minimizes the risk of falling into one of three major pitfalls (particularly about sin, but this can also be seen in theological reflection more generally). First, by beginning with the real, lived experiences of persons and communities this model minimizes the risk of a disembodied, or entirely theoretical response to actual, lived experience. Second, by engaging in thick, secular, and interdisciplinary descriptions of those personal and communal experiences, we minimize the risk that our theological constructions are rooted more in the "gut feeling" or reflection that is already accepted as correct. This second element allows the church to engage its ecclesial life with a nuance and particularity that was perhaps unavailable in other generations and contexts, and with a deep appreciation for the realities of their communities. The third pitfall is related in that by postponing theological reflection until the end of this process, individuals and communities seek to ensure that theological reflection doesn't "undercut" or weaken reflection on the real, lived experiences of persons and communities. It is not uncommon that theological reflection (particularly the more "popular" or "bumper sticker" variety) actually lack the capacity to serve as a meaningful reflection on the real world. The first two elements of this model in no way dictate the kind of theological reflection that occurs. Instead, it would be best to think of these things as components that inform theological reflection, which in this case would be racism and its attenuating issues, injustices, and trauma.

Image Courtesy of  Psychology Today .

Image Courtesy of Psychology Today.

What I hope to demonstrate in this series are the ways in which racism (both individually and systemically) reshape the world in which persons and ecclesial communities live and move. This reality calls for significant, focused reflection on concrete experiences, thick, non-theological description, and finally, sensitive and nuanced theological reflection. We will address these questions by exploring the actual experience of persons and communities, examining some of the responses to racism, and engaging in theological reflection which will help us individually and as communities of faith to respond appropriately as God's ongoing, redemptive presence in the world.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

-- Martin Luther King Jr.