In recent weeks I have had a series of conversations with close friends of varying ethnicities about the trauma of 2014-2015 and the condition of our souls as are two months into 2016. There seems to be two main commonalities among many of us: spiritual fatigue and prophetic rage.
Spiritual Fatigue. Unless you’ve been in the Fortress of Solitude or brooding in the Batcave the last 18 months, most of us are aware of the heightened racial tensions in the United States. Our elders and most marginalized ethnic minority communities would say the tension has always been there. Social Media is just providing a voice for the unheard. I was not prepared for the toll all those shooting deaths would take on my soul. It wasn’t merely the unarmed shooting deaths have worn on us. Those by themselves are quite common and quite painful. It wasn’t the lack of indictments in most of the cases. It wasn’t my Christian brothers and sisters that had proclaimed a gospel of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation but were largely unaware of the racial tensions in the country, the facts and frequency of shooting deaths, their surprise at my pain, or confusion as to the purpose of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.
It was the cycle continued over and over again.
Shooting death. Vilification of the deceased—child or adult, innocent, suspicious, or guilty—in the media every time. Silence or quick prayers of forgiveness and fingers pointing towards progress. Anger that my community is unable to see the bigger picture. No consequences for law enforcement. No systemic changes.
Rinse and repeat.
At 33, there are spiritual disciplines I have learned to practice to give life to my soul and maintain my connection with the Lord. But this…this is something different. This was hearing messages of hope in a constant newsfeed of perpetual injustice that was largely ignored and overlooked by Christians across denominations and ethnic backgrounds.
The conversations we’ve had to have to raise awareness about the issues…the requests for pastors and spiritual leaders to theologically interpret these events as colorblind sermons are proclaimed Sunday after Sunday…it is just exhausting.
To be a part of the body of Christ is to be a part of…well, a body. When one part of my body hurts, I do something about. I take medication, I exercise/stretch, I go to the doctor. I don’t ignore it. But that’s what largely happened the last 18 months—an avoidance or ignoring of one of the largest elephants ever to sit in the living room. By the time some people started to respond, the damage had already been done.
Trust had already been broken because of silence, inaction, and delayed action.
As more time progresses, I am increasingly becoming aware of a need for deeper spiritual roots because, while the world does not surprise me—it is fallen—my Christian, bible believing, bible proclaiming, mission focused, champions of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation have grieved me deeply. There have been calls for patience, celebration of progress, and numerous laments but little action, minimal acknowledgement of what progress has not been made, and no calls for repentance.
I have watched too many of my white friends vacillate between Scripture and privilege, and several of my friends of all ethnic groups—including some white ones—grieve the church’s commitment to lead in fear of the past rather than with repentant humble courage towards the future.
Which leads to the prophetic rage…
Prophetic Rage. Has anyone noticed this generation of millennials is turned all the way up? I mean there is a level of rage in them—in us—that is surprising. You would think we were slaves or experienced segregation or had family members assassinated during the Civil Rights Movement. There is a level of rage at the stagnated leadership of political and spiritual leaders that comes randomly through the generations—for Black people, it’s 50-year increments following the end of slavery (1865, 1915, 1965, 2015). That rage, however, is not limited to our ethnic borders. The Asian American community has become a surprisingly loud and public ally during this tumultuous time. The Latino and Hispanic community has consistently come to be ally against injustice with the Black community for decades. As always, there’s a remnant of our white brothers and sisters that—if I am honest—get to the protests before we do. It’s not as many as are portrayed…but we see you.
But that rage is strong…and it isn’t subsiding. Is it misdirected emotion? Is it youthful confidence? Is it emotional responses without cognitive evaluation of the facts?
I don’t think it’s any of those things.
I think it’s the ghosts of America’s past. There’s spilled blood on the ground in our country, and like Abel’s after he was murdered by Cain, it cries out from the ground. We underestimate the spiritual dimensions of injustice in America and especially as Western Evangelical Christians. That’s what makes it prophetic rage for many—not all—of us. We don’t want to burn down the house—but we do see a few tables that need to be flipped over immediately!
God may forgive sin, but rarely does he take away the consequences of our sin. There has been and continues to be a glossing over of the injustices committed in American history, from Native Americans, to Mexicans, Africans, Chinese, Japanese, the list goes on. Winston Churchill said, “The history books will be kind to me for I intend to write them.”
America has written her history and theology as though she is the hero of the story…all of them. There have been one or two apologies, but again, my hope is in Jesus and his church. It is the broader Christian community in the West that believes it can be disconnected from the sins of previous generations, dismiss present injustices as isolated misunderstandings, and there be no consequences.
The blood of our ancestors is crying out both from the ground and from the heart of God. The God of the Bible is the God of the oppressed. In every instance of oppression in Scripture, there were consequences for the oppressor. Sometimes they came in a day or a week, or 400 years later, but the Lord always settles accounts.
Our rage is prophetic because while we are to be salt and light the country and ultimately the world, the North American evangelical church could be infinitely more than the shell of what it is now.
It’s interesting to what pastors and Christian historians discuss or ignore what’s happening in the country now. In the Scriptures, God has his people repeat events until they learn from their mistakes. With all of our books, theologians, conferences, churches, and sermons, we seem to be unable to move forward when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity. What will it take for us to move from prophetic rage to awareness, acknowledgement, and genuine repentance?
I hope it happens in my generation because we all know God cheats. He exists outside of time.
If we are unwilling to learn the lesson, he has no problem waiting to see if our children will.
Sean M. Watkins