It is not a time of celebration. It is a time to reexamine our hearts and our words.
This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. As a seminary student I just finished reading James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and as a white Christian I will no longer keep silent.
As an American, I am sickened and saddened. My husband and I both asked each other, what really happened at Selma? We looked it up and we were embarrassed with how much of our public school education left out the horrific details and thus how clueless we really were.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree covers the question: Where did all this hatred go? The hatred is found in our criminal justice system. The hatred is found in the number of African Americans being targeting for crimes and other violations that come with citations that cost them money and keep them in poverty. There are more African American men in prison than enrolled in college. And in the words of Cone, the “legal lynching system” today is found in our death penalty.
In President Obama’s Selma speech he said, “We just need to open our eyes, ears and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.” As Americans we can no longer be ignorant of the realities of life. White Christians, myself included, cannot claim to be Christians if we ignore the injustices committed to our brothers and sisters in Christ; we cannot keep silent.
As I turn to scripture in the Jewish Study Bible, I look at the prophets of the Old Testament. God tells them that it is their duty to speak truth to power, but they will not listen to you. Jeremiah 15: 19-21, “Assuredly, thus said the Lord: If you turn back, I shall take you back and you shall stand before me; if you produce what is noble out of the worthless, you shall be my spokesman. They shall come back to you, not you to them. Against this people I will make you as a fortified wall of bronze: they will attack you, but they shall not overcome you, For I am with you to deliver and save you—declares the Lord. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and rescue you from the clutches of the violent.” Ezekiel 2: 3-7, “He said to me, ‘O mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, that nation of rebels, who have rebelled against Me.—They as well as their fathers have defied me to this very day; for the sons are brazen of face and stubborn of heart. I send you to them and you shall say to them: ‘Thus said the Lord God’—whether they listen or not, for they are a rebellious breed—that they may know that there was a prophet among them. And you, mortal, do not fear them and do not fear their words, though thistles and thorns press against you, and you sit upon scorpions. Do not be afraid of their words and do not be dismayed by them, though they are a rebellious breed; but speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.”
We have had prophets among us like Martin Luther King Jr. who like Jesus died speaking God’s truth. We have prophets among us right now like James Cone and President Obama. We Americans are just like the Israelites. We are the thistles and thorns pressed against them; against those who put our sins in front of us. We are the Americans that rip apart our very own leader every time he puts God’s truth in front of us; we even accuse him of not being a Christian.
We are also the Americans that claim that we are the home of the free, but we really mean where only the white Americans are free. We too just like the Israelites rebel against God by committing idolatry. Not only did the Israelites worship other gods but they made gods of themselves by ruling over others and oppressing them. Amos 2: 6-8, “Thus said the Lord: For three transgressions in Israel, for four I will not evoke it: Because they have sold for silver those whose cause was just, and the needy for a pair of sandals. [Ah,] you who trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the ground, and make the humble walk a twisted course! Father and son go to the same girl, and thereby profane My holy name. They recline by every altar on garments taken in pledge, and drink in the house of their God wine bought with fines they impose.”
“beyond tragedy” if America is willing to face our great sin of white supremacy. God calls us too in Isaiah 1: 16-18, “Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow. ‘Come, let us reach an understanding,’—says the Lord."
God’s work is done through us. We get to chose whether we allow God to use us or if we will simply be a thorn. God calls us to create God’s kingdom here on earth. God’s wrath in the Old Testament and Jesus’ anger when he overturned the tables in the temple is to save us from our worst selves; an unjust America.
It is not God’s kingdom when we are only concerned for ourselves. We are called to work as one for we are all the body of Christ. “'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me (Matthew 25:45).'”