We don’t deserve the forbearance of the black church

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Look, I may be wrong. My perceptions may be overly reactive or overly romantic or overly something else. However, I must speak out or burst. I have studied and thought about the black community all my life, and I don’t know what has kept them from rising up and murdering us all. We white people–including of course not only my slave-owning ancestors, upstanding Christians all, but also my beloved immediate forebears–first enslaved, then deliberately oppressed an entire race of millions who still live among us, suffer from us, bear with us, even sometimes appear to love us. I don’t know how they can keep on smiling at us on the street (it happens to me every day), wishing us well, interacting with us, forgiving us, and still containing their righteous anger against us. We don’t deserve it. We don’t even try to understand, as Michael Eric Tyson writes in an impassioned, gut-wrenched op-ed piece: In this piece, we see what most black people conceal from us.

How do they keep on containing their rage toward us for what we have done to them? We know, a year after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, that not every member of that congregation was full of forgiveness for the killer. There has been much pain and unhappiness and some parishioners have left the church. It is not all roses and honey. But I continue to believe that the Christian faith is so deeply rooted in the black community in America that it has given that a community an almost unique role to play in the world. We saw it in the Civil Rights Movement, and the profound Christian identity of that movement must never be forgotten–as unfortunately it often is, in a similar way that Jewishness is often downplayed in order to create a supposedly more universal message (e.g. Anne Frank). The Civil Rights Movement was not a generalized liberation movement. It was powered by Christian faith, Christian Scripture, Christian preaching, Christian leadership, Christian commitment–and Martin Luther King and his closest associates had to fight hard to keep it that way.

Unless I heard wrongly, the young woman, Diamond Reynolds, who made such an extraordinary impression on the video when her boyfriend was shot dead by the police in Minnesota in front of her 4-year-old daughter, called repeatedly upon Jesus. How is it that the black community continues to have a deep love for Jesus in spite of all that keeps happening to them? Why haven’t they formed an armed force of snipers like the one in Dallas yesterday? How is it that they have not all turned Muslim? The white church does not deserve their continuing patience. What have we done for them? What have I done for them? Practically nothing. Handouts, tokens, platitudes, and an almost complete lack of understanding.

I am ashamed of myself and my tribe. We should all be on our knees in our churches begging God for insight and understanding.

Here is a case that illustrates exactly what I’m trying to say. A few days after I first posted this, the front page of The New York Times featured an article about the beleaguered Chief of Police in Dallas, David O. Brown. His calm demeanor since the assassination of five of his officers has impressed the nation. When asked how he kept going, he said, “God’s grace and his sweet, tender mercies, just to be quite honest with you.” This is almost unimaginable, in view of the personal, private suffering of Chief Brown. In 2010, only seven weeks into his new position as chief, his [mentally troubled] son who bore his name killed a police officer and another man before being fatally shot himself–on Father’s Day. And this is the father who can still speak of “the sweet, tender mercies of God.”

This was in the first paragraph of the first-page article. I’ve been reading the Times for almost 50 years and I have often noticed how, whenever a white Christian is quoted about something–let’s say there’s been a funeral and the Times reports what the minister or priest said–references to God or Jesus are always omitted. Pretty much the only time that sincere Christian faith is allowed to appear in a news story in the Times is when a black person testifies. It seems that the faith of the African-American church, unlike that of the white churches, is not to be dismissed or scorned. Well, thank God for the black church.

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