Back in December, I wrote an article for Desiring God titled "Trust the Process: God's at Work in Your Lowest Times". It's all about the Sixers and Sanctification.
To “trust the process” is more than an unfulfilled phrase; it’s an unshakable promise. The final outcome of what God is producing in his people is secured. Those whom God has justified truly, he will glorify fully. Even now, Christ “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
I was initially overcome with excitement and awe after leaving the theatre during Black Panther’s opening weekend. There was so much to process in this much-anticipated movie that necessarily called for deep thought and reflection from all of its viewers; everything from the dignity of every black character portrayed in the movie to the illustrious beauty of Wakanda; the multilayered narrative that captured every second of my attention; and the closing scenes which would leave viewers with the burning question asked of T’Challa by our little brother in Oakland “Who are you?” If only for this question alone, which followed perhaps one of Marvel’s greatest storylines ever, everyone should see Black Panther - once, twice, three times over.
Who are you?
Throughout Black Panther, “Who are you?” was asked many times and it was a question that became lodged in my mind all throughout the movie and long after. When the movie began in Oakland, California, instead of the nation of Wakanda, I was somewhat surprised, but my attention was instantly captured because I thought I am those boys on the basketball courts. That was my hi-top fade in 1992, those were my sneakers, those were my friends and cousins who wore the same gold chains as N’Joku and Zuri. That’s my music playing in the apartment. Identity was immediately established, but it was also connected to a larger narrative. N’Jobu, a man who looked like any other brother in early-nineties Oakland was actually Wakandan royalty and yet he identified with African-Americans. This was fairly new to me. While visiting Nairobi, Kenya as a teen, I can remember being told by a well-intentioned Kenyan friend, “I feel bad for you black Americans because of all you’ve been through in America.”, and this was in one of the poorest parts of Nairobi. From that moment on, in my young mind I was not an African-American, I was a “black” American, actively or passively cut off from the nation of my origin and made to assume an identity that had been forced upon me and my ancestors' hundreds of years ago. During that time I concluded that Africa was not mine; America was not mine, and I was without an original identity.
What’s In a Name?
When T’Challa went through the ritual combat in order to reclaim his crown as King of Wakanda, during the most intense moments of his combat with M’Baku from the Jabari tribe, T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, yells to her son, “Tell them who you are!”, to which a frustrated T’Challa responds “I am Prince T’Challa, son of King T’Chaka!” As inspired and invigorated as I was to watch this moment in that scene, its one I’ll never experience. An Asian friend told me he was hesitant to give his kids Asian names for fear that they would be mocked. As I listened to him, all I could think was “I have no idea what my ancestors would have originally called me.” What is my original name? I presently possess the surname of an Englishman who most likely had no interest in me ever bearing his name. What I choose to make my last name mean for my grandfather, my father, and my son may give me some sense of joy and accomplishment, but it's merely a kind of fill-in. Who’s ancient blood runs through my veins and what would they call me?
You can imagine how I must have felt when Oakland-born Eric Killmonger stood in the Wakandan throne room waiting patiently for his moment while everyone sought to discredit his true identity. “Ask me who I am?” is what Killmonger says repeatedly until finally one of Wakanda’s elders yells, “Who are you?” Killmonger responds in his native Wakandan tongue, with the same force that T’Challa had during his ritual combat, “ I am N’Jadaka, son of N’Jobu!” Eric Killmonger’s moment in the Wakandan throne room was perhaps one of my favorite moments in Black Panther. As this American born African royal shouted his name and ancestry, I thought about every time I’ve faced racism head-on, every time I’ve been disrespected for my skin color, or been ignored and categorized as a stereotype. What I would have given to have a name to identify within those moments. Something that communicated my dignity. Instead the closest moment I had to this was when, as a first grader who wanted to rub his black skin off because of the shame I felt from classmates for being black, my father rolled my small fingers together in a fist and told me to repeat “I’m black and I’m proud; say it loud.” I may not have possessed an ancestral name, but my blackness meant something.
Eric Killmonger’s moment in the throne room was epic, to say the least. His Wakandan heritage, although given to him second-hand by his murdered father, was one that largely became a work of self-education, and as an African-American who has attempted to research my own origins, and as one whose heritage has been significantly marred and even erased, I admire the way Killmonger recognized the importance of his heritage even when believing in Wakanda seemed as though it was a fairy tale. In addition to this, Killmonger also identifies equally with his enslaved ancestors, and in his dying breath he acknowledges their wisdom and bravery when he says “bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Whats the answer to the question?
Lastly, at the very end of Black Panther, as T’Challa stands on the same basketball courts where a young Eric Killmonger played at the beginning of the movie, he’s asked the same question by one of the onlooking youth, “Who are you?” The movie ends before T’Challa responds, but I’d like to imagine T’Challa’s response as he looks back at this boy and says “I am you.” He doesn’t say that, but I think its a possibility considering the entire movie. Black Panther’s overarching point is that Africans are not disconnected from African-Americans. Wakanda’s fate is directly connected with its disenfranchised descendants. While in this world, a silent kind of tension currently exists between the experiences of Africans and black Americans, what is common is blackness and the history of blackness throughout the world. Whether colonized or kidnapped by colonizers, blackness has been attacked mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially and King T’Challa and the nation of Wakanda represent a people and place that promote and protect blackness as royal, successful, and intellectual. Kings don’t typically show up in the hood and black boys don’t usually show up in royal palaces, but in Wakanda, this is a reality. In this nation where bullets have snuffed out black lives, bullets are non-existent and bullet wounds heal overnight in Wakanda. Although a fictional place, Wakanda represents the adorning and enhancing of the word “African” in African-American and it provides a sense in which a historically disconnected people can experience joy instead of dejection.
Black Panther shows both African and African-American people that we indeed have an identity, one of dignity and worth as a people. If I’ve learned anything from this movie, its the fresh reminder that the question “Who are you?” is one that African peoples can answer with dignity and worth. As a Christian, I recognize that while ethnic identity is not supreme, it also isn’t meaningless. While not regarding it as primary, it is sinful to degrade ethnicity as being anything less than what God has intended for it to be, and this has been a sinful reality that has dominated this world for ages when it concerns blackness. Black Panther brings some restorative truth through a fictional method that has given me joy in who God made me be as an image-bearer of African descent in 21st century America.
Here's a recent article I wrote for The Witness: A Black Christian Collective" called "Quarterbacks, Safeties, and the Spotlight of Evangelicalism"
Players like Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Reid will probably never be featured in this spotlight, and honestly, they should have no desire to be. You’ll never see Jenkins or Reed with promos in your local Christian bookstore not because they aren’t great examples of godly men. Malcolm Jenkins won’t receive the praise his Christian brothers and teammates do because he raised a fist in protest of systemic racism and injustice. Eric Reid won’t be celebrated for being an outspoken Christian because he took a knee during the national anthem.
He put up the Lee Monument, and should the time come, he’ll be there to take it down.”
- John Mitchell Jr.
It was black men that the editor of Richmond’s “The Richmond Planet” was referring to. The image of free black bodies laboring to assemble the statues of those who fought to oppress them was a powerful image for me. Their hands, which now worked to earn wages, were employed in the work of raising the monuments of men who sought to keep them in chains.
In the discussions about the removals of Confederate monuments, I've heard many different reasons from people as to what they mean and why they should be left up, but not many about how African-Americans felt and perceived these statues when they were raised.
The first post was written more as an appeal from a personal perspective to take down the Confederate statues. I wouldn’t change anything about that post, but I want to follow up with more thought behind why I believe the monuments should be removed. Firstly, I understand that legally they cannot be moved by the authorities of the locality. Virginia law prohibits monuments from being moved, even by those who erect them. I'm not suggesting a passionate, emotionally fueled, yet illegal, tearing down of monuments everywhere. I understand there's a process and I believe it should begin now.
Secondly, I understand that the monuments mean different things to different people, and therefore the thought of removing them may carry many different implications for those who perceive these monuments in a particular way. I've had several conversations with supporters of the monuments, descendants of confederates, and opponents of the monuments and I am aware of the sensitivity that surrounds these statues. This is simply my opinion and I respect the opinions of others on this subject, even though I may disagree.
Lastly, I understand the notion that some have put forth that to take down Confederate monuments is to erase history. I have several reasons why I disagree with that notion - some listed here - and on the contrary, I actually believe that the monuments' remaining in place actually erases certain untold historical narratives.
Monuments Tell a Story. But Whose?
Virginia’s monuments are among a few hundred historical markers and places that point to the era that is defined by the Confederacy. From birthplaces to battlefields, to historical churches and corporations, the history of the Confederacy is still very much prevalent in Virginia. The major difference between Confederate statues and historical birthplaces, grave sites, battlefields, and churches is that the latter are somewhat neutral in their reporting of the historical facts. These things remain fixed pieces of historical layers that are covered up over time in the progression of a society. To see them is to be informed or reminded of something. A battlefield can report a win or a loss; a birthplace can record the good and not-so-good facts of a person’s life; and a gravesite can serve as a perpetual commemoration or condemnation of that person’s life whoever they might be. This applies to Nazi soldiers, Confederate generals, wicked despots, and the most immoral of individuals. To acknowledge these kind of landmarks is to allow the historical narrative to speak for itself and allow its listeners to reflect and learn.
On the contrary, a monument goes further in its efforts to speak about historical narratives. By definition, a monument is “a statue, building, or other structure erected to commemorate a famous or notable person or event.” Monuments are meant for commemoration, but the question is what or who is being commemorated? One could make the argument that the individuals whose edifices are on the statues are being commemorated: Robert E. Lee, JEB Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Stonewall Jackson, and consequently its their individual lives that are being commemorated. In defense of this position, a statue of Arthur Ashe is included amongst these other statues in Richmond as well, put up for his being a Richmond native and for his outstanding tennis career; but aside from Ashe, what do each of these historical figures have in common? They were all soldiers or military leaders within the Confederacy. Jackson and Lee are pictured mounted upon their horses in their Confederate uniforms. Maury was a soldier and a scientist, and Jefferson Davis was a soldier and the president of the Confederate States of America. If these statues were simply commemorations of Southern culture/history or individuals that contributed for the overall benefit of society or the world, should they not include other prominent figures of Southern culture? Only Matthew Fontaine Maury comes close considering the variety of fields in which contributed.
Instead, each of these statues, minus Ashe, are all linked to the Confederacy, a government that was formed on and around the basis of the preservation and protection of the institution of racialized slavery. Regardless of these individuals' personal views on slavery (some have attempted to defend Lee’s *milder* views on the institution of slavery or A.P. Hill’s not owning any slaves), what speaks louder, in my perspective and in the perspective of many African-Americans who oppose these monuments, is these individuals' voluntary commitment to a government that was built on the premise that African peoples were morally, spiritually, and physically inferior to whites and therefore should be forever subjected to them in the basest and most immoral form of servitude. Furthermore, under the constitution of the CSA (Confederate States of America), slavery within this government could never be abolished but forever protected and practiced.
In his Cornerstone Speech, Vice President of the CSA, Alexander Stephens stated,
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_Speech
At the bedrock of the Confederacy was the pride of being the first civilization that would be built upon racial supremacy, particularly white supremacy. This is what these monuments represent and this is what the Confederate flag represents, namely, terrorism and racial superiority. When these symbols (the uniforms, the generals mounted on their horses, the flag) are erected by and protected by local and federal governments, it communicates a commemoration not of the neutral narrative of history in allowing it to tell its dark truths, but a specific honoring and preservation of what could have been. These monuments stand as if victory was achieved by the Confederacy. And maybe they simply communicate that a different kind of victory actually was achieved in their loss, a kind of racial victory that reared its head in the southern policies and laws of segregation and discrimination that surfaced during the establishment of these statues.
It would be one thing to commemorate the personal lives of these figures as sons, husbands, fathers, grandfathers, and benefactors of society as a whole - regardless of their personal beliefs. This can be carried out in museums, birthplaces, historical landmarks, and even their names being on *certain* schools, highways, and military bases (as they already are). It is another thing altogether to literally raise these individuals up in honor particularly for what they fought to preserve. This is unacceptable and disrespectful to the many peoples whom they as a government participated in oppressing, terrorizing, and murdering.
In addition to this, many of these statues were erected not proactively, but reactively, not directly after the Civil War loss, but during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras when discriminatory laws and policies were being rapidly put in place to disenfranchise, segregate, and oppress, then-liberated African-Americans. I would argue that whatever these monuments mean to people, particularly advocates of the monuments in today’s context, it is subjective, for many, to the original purposes for these statues being erected. Some have suggested that these monuments could be redeemable in this sense, serving another or better purpose than its creators intended. But what did these monuments mean to those who built them and to those who watched as the images of their former, now defeated, enemies had become resurrected? What did these monuments mean to the African-Americans of those eras? Do their original purposes in raising these statues have any implications on today's society?
Two Radically Different Perspectives
In my own city, Richmond, Virginia, a great processional with fireworks and elegant balls was held when Robert E. Lee’s statue was unveiled. The two most prominent newspapers of the city took out full page advertisements to celebrate the statues and the historical figures they represented. One of them, The Times wrote this in commemoration,
The work of noble men and patriotic women is ended, and they can now point with pride in the majestic memorial in granite and bronze, and tell their children in seeking human dignity, bravery, love of truth and devotion to duty and duty and affection for country, to model their lives as closely upon the lines laid down by Lee as best means of obtaining their ambition.
On the contrary, the city’s black newspaper, The Richmond Planet, recorded an uneventful tone in its reporting of the unveiling. John Mitchell, Jr. the editor of the Planet, stated this at the end of the brief (less than half a column) article about the monument,
The south may revere the memory of its chieftains. It takes the wrong steps in so doing, and proceeds to go too far in every similar celebration. It serves to retard its progress in the country and forges heavier chains with which to be bound.”
To see more of what the Richmond Planet and other black newspapers recorded about the day when Lee’s statue was raised, check out this article at Fit to Print
Just south of Virginia, in North Carolina, Julian Carr, an industrialist and white supremacist who was invited to speak during the unveiling of a monument at the University of North Carolina stated this,
“The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South. - - When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence, the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States - - Praise God.” https://www.scribd.com/document/356954421/Julian-Carr-1913-Silent-Sam-Dedication-Speech
Right after this, Carr recounted a personal event that occurred nearly 3 months after the surrender at Appomattox; his beating and “horse -whipping” a “negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds”.
Carr later stated this,
That for which they battled in memory of whom this monument is reared, as well as for the survivors of that bloody drama, was not achieved. But the cause for which they fought is not lost. It can never be, never will be lost while it is enshrined in the hearts of the people of the South…”
These two very different perspectives about the Confederate monuments display two different Americas. On one end there is the defeated America, one that was reeling from a great wound and was now fervently motivated to protect that which became known as "The Lost Cause". On the other end, there is the deflated America, those former slaves and their descendants who had begun to experience the light of freedom only to be overshadowed and continuously reminded of the dark past from which they were barely given the basic rights they had deserved for centuries. These two realities collided in the raising up of these statues.
This is the main reason why I would argue that the Confederate monuments need to be taken down. They continually cast a shadow which has become double edged in its implications on the people of this city and many others. They cast a dark shadow of nostalgia, causing some to harbor age old wounds from over a century ago to the hindrance of genuine discussion and progress. Again, for others the dark shadow that is cast is one of racism that shows itself in the past and present local and federal policies that have segregated and discriminated against people of color. Whereas the Confederacy has died in power, its presence is still acknowledged in the subtle preservation of its values that all people are not created equal. Its presence is symbolically promoted in the commemoration of these monuments.
I can understand wanting to honor ancestors as individuals who lived and even died for their convictions. I believe that, in itself, can empower us presently to live with a sense of worth and value in the things we commit ourselves to. But honoring the memory of individual ancestors can be done without agreeing with or condoning their values or convictions. It can be done without preserving the symbols of the corrupt systems that they established or participated in. Honoring our ancestors is allowing history to tell its story about them while we appreciate their noble contributions and reflect on or renounce their mistakes and errors so as not to repeat them. Raising a statue to honor those who came before particularly for their sinful and unsuccessful endeavors is wrong.
The Confederate monuments, wherever they stand, do not simply represent the heritage of a people who live in the South. They represent a heritage of power and purity over and above all other peoples and it is this for which these statues are raised and it is what they will always represent. If the South is to ever remove from itself the stain of racism and racial tyranny and oppression both from the past and the present, steps for progress must be made, and they have to some extent. But one of the greatest visible signs of the destruction of white supremacy and superiority is removing the elevated monuments which encapsulate these beliefs. Although many people are against the beliefs, methods, and rhetoric of white supremacists, their (white supremacists) rallying around these monuments is certainly nothing new or alarming. In spite of the well intentioned "heritage-not-hate" slogan that is uttered from the mouths of many genuine well-meaning people, the fingerprints of white supremacy have always covered these monuments (and they always will) ...although it was the actual hands of oppressed and marginalized black people that unjustly labored to assemble the stone images of their oppressors. It was them who would subsequently suffer under the reign of systemic oppression that came from the very same people that paraded through the streets in celebration of these monuments .
I agree with John Mitchell Jr.; the black men and women who raised these statues, although gone, can be present through the free hands of their descendants - joined with the hands of many others - to take these monuments down. I pray the time is now.
This article from Vox contains some helpful links on the discussion along with more context surrounding the establishment of some of the monuments
Its no small news that Confederate Statues and symbols have been the topic of discussion for some time now. Following last year’s church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina wherein a white supremacist waved and wore the confederate flag and more recently with the Charlottesville protest, the statues are once again in the spotlight. And rightfully so, due to the destructive ideology behind them and the adverse contexts in which they were erected. As talks of future white supremacist protests around the nation continue to rise, the ongoing discussion surrounding the statues and symbols of the Confederacy must continue.
The Capital of The Confederacy
I’m from the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, a state with over 200 symbols of the Confederacy (the most of any state in the US), and a city with several monuments (including an entire avenue dedicated to them). For close to twenty years, I’ve passed by many of these monuments on multiple occasions and with every passing by and every visit these moments always seem to be filled with feelings of awkwardness and discomfort.
Growing up in Richmond, I was taught from a young age in the schools that I attended that the men who fought for the Confederacy were honorable, possessing character qualities that most didn’t. Granted, most history textbooks didn't focus much on any of the blemishes or darker moments of America’s early history or its prominent figures, but the Confederates received, in my recollection, more elevated attention. Thomas Jackson was largely praised for his fortitude being like a Stonewall, Robert E. Lee was exalted for his class and decorum displayed at the Appomattox courthouse. J.E.B. Stuart was particularly honored for his heroic and knight-like persona and Jefferson Davis was celebrated for his leadership in the Confederacy. Consequently, when I often passed the statues of these men or recognized their names on local schools, highways, and historical markers, the historical information I attributed to their names was severely and necessarily one sided.
I wasn't too far into elementary school when I eventually connected the disastrous events of slavery to the glorified figures of American history - everyone from George Washington to the Confederate figures whose images I saw preserved in the monuments in my city. From that time, my disposition towards these statues and edifices began to grow colder. On field trips to Monticello, I no longer cared for Jefferson’s mansion or his extensive library when I could imagine the bodies of people like me outside of it, confined in shackles and subjected to the basest of living conditions. Standing in the historic St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry cried out “Give me liberty or give me death”, I knew he wasn’t proclaiming this ultimatum on behalf of my ancestors. Walking past Robert E. Lee’s 60 foot tall statue on Monument Avenue, I felt as though Lee’s sculpted metal eyes looked down on me, not just literally, but metaphorically - in disgust and disdain. The 1978 movie “The Wiz” introduces the cowardly Lion as a large statue outside of a library whose eyes follow Dorothy and her companions, and as they begin to look closer at him, he launches out of the stone structure terrifying them. As a kid, I felt like Lee, Jackson, and Jefferson Davis were waiting to do the same to me if I gazed at them too closely. This feeling never goes away.
Hard to Call it Home
There are some, possibly many, African-Americans in Virginia and the rest of the American South that may say that the statues don't bother them or disrupt their regular rhythms. If I’m honest, even in the deflating feelings that I experience when I’ve visited these monuments, I usually attempt to ignore the statues most of the time and while their presence is certainly frustrating, they are not an ongoing distraction. But if these monuments do produce anything within me, its a hesitancy to truly call this city “home.”
Fellow believers and evangelicals, before you cry out “But this earth is not our home!”, recognize that I and many others have felt the resounding force of this truth long before I came to read it in the Bible. Many African-Americans in the South know what it is like on some level to feel like strangers and exiles in a place while longing for another country. The perpetual visible reminders of what once was in my city cause me, as a minority, to question if I really belong here or if I am truly welcome by those who seek to preserve the exaltation of these particular historical figures. I’m confronted with this reality every time I see the rebel flag raised around town, drive past a monument, or visit the plantation-turned-park with my son, where the reenactments “somehow” never depict the true historical condition of people like myself.
Whether or not these Confederate monuments and symbols in my city are taken down, as a Christian and as a black man, this world, this city, is not ultimately my home. My comfort, while aggravated in this context, does not ultimately rest in the decisions of local governments. In one sense, this city is not my home because my identity as a person of color was taken by cruel oppressors who would’ve died to sustain my subjugation.Furthermore, this world is not my home because the brokenness of sin has corrupted the systems and people of this world in the wickedest ways imaginable, a reality displayed in the elevation of these statues. My supreme hope is rooted in another world where this reality doesn’t exist.
It’s difficult to truly call this city -and even this country at times- “home” because while the heritage of oppression stands tall and sanitized in the city square, much of the heritage of African peoples in this city lies beneath the pavement of parking lots and interstates, beneath superficial narratives; in hidden figures, forgotten stories, and details about what else took place during these periods of history - all while being covered up by many with deflections like “black slaves were providentially and contentedly placed in bondage to hear the gospel”, or “this general didn't own any slaves or treat them badly”. Confederate monuments will draw a thousand supporters with a thousand narratives about heroism, patriotism, character, supremacy, and superiority, while the black men, women, and children whom the Confederacy crushed under the weight of slavery receive the monument of an unmarked tombstone, a forgotten status that still affects the lives and structures that exist in this city presently.
Erasing History vs Embracing Healing
My preference is that all the Confederate monuments come down, not as an attempt to erase history but in an effort to embrace healing. For those who would argue that removing statues is erasing history, history is actually erased when its storytellers conceal and suppress the cruel treatment of marginalized and disenfranchised image bearers for the sake of a superior narrative. On the contrary history is exaggerated when image bearers who perpetuated racial superiority and fought for slavery are given glory they are not due.
The reality is that any city that unashamedly exalts the history of the Confederacy will never truly feel like “home” for African-Americans until it denounces this history and embraces our history- black history- as its own. Until the American South, including its former Confederate capital city admits its tyrannical role in the suppression and enslavement of black bodies and the degradation of black souls, it will to some degree continue to alienate its minority population. I believe healing can truly be embraced in this acknowledgement, but also in the removal of exalted, yet defeated symbols- and perhaps then this city can be a place where the actual present and historical victories and achievements of many peoples can be celebrated and memorialized. I believe this is already happening and my hope is that this would continue to take place in Richmond.
A Better Testament
Confederate monuments serve as a dark testament that proclaims the alienation and inferiority of people created in the image of God. They proclaim the echoes of war instead of peace. They serve as a testament that sinful humans glorify what we shouldn’t, and this is why God’s people shouldn't support their exaltation; its contrary to what we proclaim. What serves as a better testament and proclaims a brighter message of true reconciliation and unity is the cross of Christ. The cross serves as a testament that those who were once far off and alienated, whether racially or spiritually, and those who commit sin and are sinned against, have been brought near through faith in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice (Eph 2:13). The cross proclaims true peace. It is through our uplifted, perfect, victorious, and reconciling Savior on the cross and his resurrection, that all peoples who put their faith in Him, have hope for a better country, that is a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16) even as this country continues to heal. It is through the cross that we have hope for a day when all kinds of people will gather themselves, not around the memorial foundations of sinful oppressors, but around the foundation of righteousness and justice of God’s throne.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach at church. I had been in a short series on Psalm 31 and 32 and yesterday's text was Psalm 32. The previous day was the chaos and racial violence that was Charlottesville, a town that is not very far from where I live.
I woke up Saturday morning to the news headlines of the previous night's torched march through the UVA campus. I immediately felt immense fear, anger, and anxiety only to be followed by that day's violent protests. I knew I'd be modifying my sermon, but couldn't figure out how to say what needed to be said about the Charlottesville incident and drive home the main focus of the text: confession. By God's grace I linked some points in the sermon to the events, but before I began preaching, I spent a few minutes giving an encouragement and exhortation to the congregation about the previous day. ( We have 3 services, so I said most - if not all- of this in each of the morning services.)
Yesterday was devastating needless to say. Waking up to the news of the protests of white supremacists and watching the fighting and violence yesterday in Charlottesville was deflating to say the least. It was purely demonic. I realize that we share a variety of perspectives, but we should all agree that the events which occurred in Charlottesville yesterday are not condoned by our Lord. White supremacy is not condoned by God.
I wish I would have preached on Psalm 31 this week, because I know I certainly need it now. Perhaps there are those of you here who may feel the same. I need to be reminded that as the people of God, our times - times such as these, filled with such chaos and vitriol - are in the hands of God. I need to know that God hears me in my distress now.
If you want to know how I really feel about it, you can talk to me outside of this. I’ve got so many words, but it doesn’t matter what I say about the particulars right here and now. It does matter what we do as God’s people in light of these events. It matters how each of us respond to this as individuals and as a body shaped by the good news of the gospel. Our words matter in our condemnation of racism, white supremacy, and any forms of supremacy other than the supremacy of Christ. It matters how we love, listen to, and lament with one another and bear one another’s burdens. It matters how we confess our apathy, ignorance or the vengeance and anger in our own hearts. It matters how we see God, the brokenness of this world, and His Son in moments like this.
I don't want to tell you that that if we "just preach the gospel" then everything will be fine. Certainly that is true, but what does that look like specifically for you to live in a way, shaped by the gospel, that responds to these events in the spheres of influence where you are placed? How does the gospel shape your loving, listening to, and lament with those who are different than you?
We know that in Christ - through Him, God has torn down the dividing wall of hostility between ourselves and Him and between one another. Ephesians tells us that He has reconciled image bearers to Himself from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group, making one new man. In light of this - one of the great implications that Paul encourages Christians with; one of the great "therefore's that follow this already achieved reality is that as God’s people, those who walk in the light, we are to separate ourselves from the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11); but that is not enough. It is not enough to be passive and silent in these moments, we are called to do more than that - we are called to expose works of darkness as well. Racism and white supremacy are works of darkness. They are spiritual wickedness. This darkness includes the ethnocentric wickedness on display yesterday and in many forms in this world.
Followers of Jesus and children of the light, Expose them. Bring the light and truth of the gospel to the darkness that blinds many and oppresses others.
A Prayer of Lament
I modified this prayer from the words of Rev. Prince Winters , Psalm 31, and Psalm 120
My hope is in you, God. Deliver me from all my fears. O God, come quickly to help us. O Lord, come quickly to save us. In our distress, incline your ears to our cries. Too long it seems that our dwelling place has been in a world among those who hate peace. You are the God of hope and Peace.
Jesus, would you give us peace to guard our hearts and minds. Lord, we are for peace - even though the brokenness of this world is for war - against you and against one another.
In the name of the one who came that we might have life and have life more abundantly.
The national holiday known as Independence Day is just around the corner. It’s always celebrated on July 4th with fireworks, flags, and cookouts, but as great of a holiday as the fourth is, I’d prefer celebrating on the second.
Independence Day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence by several of this nation’s earliest and most influential men. The document, written by Thomas Jefferson declaring the United States’ independence from Great Britain, includes one of the most resounding statements in Western civilization, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What isn't often highlighted about the Declaration of Independence is that is was actually voted on by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776 even through the nation’s independence is celebrated on July 4th. But this isn't why I prefer July 2nd over July 4th.
While these men shouted at the British for independence across the Atlantic Ocean, they failed to hear the cries for freedom being shouted at them from across the Mississippi.
July 2nd, 1776
While on July 2nd, 1776 a group of men sought to remove themselves from oppression; to liberate themselves from a kind of bondage; and to establish themselves as free and independent persons, many of them were active participants in a more severe oppression; they were obstacles to a greater liberation; and they were takers of freedoms that should have been experienced by all. When they signed this declaration, backing the statement that “all men are created equal” their intention wasn't to communicate the equality of all men, but only some men. In their acknowledging the self-evident truths of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, they remained willfully blind to fact that these rights were only being acknowledged for some. While these men shouted at the British for independence across the Atlantic Ocean, they failed to hear the cries for freedom being shouted at them from across the Mississippi. Although the principles that guided these men to establish this government gave them freedom for themselves and others who looked and thought like them, these same principles would be Providentially used to give these same rights and freedoms to those who were well outside of their racially limited and sinfully distorted scope. Therefore the independence of the United States is to be celebrated by all peoples who benefit from the government’s acknowledgment of these rights, but in the past, for an extended period of time that was defined by much pain and suffering, not all could celebrate this so-called independence in the same way.
Frederick Douglass, on the 76th anniversary of the nation’s independence stated this, which could also be spoken from the mouths of countless others who had been bought and brought to this nation’s shores without the acknowledgement of their self-evident, unalienable rights and their humanity. Douglass states
Douglass made this statement just 165 years ago, a stone’s throw from the present, historically speaking. Since then, much of America, particularly African-Americans have been playing catch-up concerning the experience of independence that the founders spoke of in the declaration. On the contrary, the experience of independence, when finally felt for many of these Americans-who were slaves and regarded as nothing more than property- was one of independence, not from the oppressive British rule, but from the oppressive fist of those who basked in the sunlight of national independence while using that same sunlight of freedom to burn and destroy the bodies of black people. This is why I prefer to celebrate on July 2nd over July 4th.
July 2nd, 1964
Make no mistake, I’m going to take the day off. I’m going to enjoy a burger and probably hold my son on my shoulders as he excitedly watches fireworks. Many people died so that we could finally experience independence and freedom to this degree - and not just soldiers and servants of this country, but black mothers’ and fathers’, men and women who broke themselves to push us one inch closer to freedom.
Many of these black men and women were present during another July 2nd, when these rights that were initially acknowledged and written into the fabric of this country, were extended to those who this nation so often failed to affirm. On July 2nd, 1964 the Civil Rights Act was established being signed into law by then President Lyndon B. Johnson. In perhaps the most famous photo of the moment, Martin Luther King Jr. is seen standing Just behind President Johnson as he signed the bill into legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major step in this nation extending equal rights to people of color through outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or sex; encouraging the desegregation of public schools; and applying equal voting procedures to all races,a move that would pave the way for the Voting Rights Act just one year later.
In a televised address just before signing the Civil Rights Act, Johnson quoted the same famous words that Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence, “We believe that all men are created equal…”, but on this July 2nd in 1964, Johnson continued this statement saying,
On July 2, 1776 black people were enslaved, neglected, and had been stripped of their God-given unalienable rights by a young, independent, and racist nation. On July 2, 1964, black people, while continuing on in the fight against the very same racism and discrimination they had always faced, were finally heard, acknowledged, and fought for. Its only been 53 years since that time, which is not very long in the fight for equality, but since that time some progress has been made while even greater progress continues to be pursued. July 1776 gives us reason to celebrate democracy, but July 1964 gives us reason to celebrate our democracy.
From slavery, to reconstruction, to segregation and discrimination, to economic liberation, African-Americans can rejoice now in the freedoms of this nation than ever before. July 2, 1776 gave us no apparent reason for celebration, but July 2, 1964 gave us hope; it gave us recognition that America had never previously extended towards African-Americans.
A Better “July”
The Civil Rights Act of July 2nd, 1964 reflected the intentions of this kingdom more than the intentions of this nation’s founders. It embraced and enforced the God-originating truth that all men are created equal.
Through both of these significant dates, God has been both sovereignly over and in the midst of the sufferings of black people. He’s been in our songs and our stories, our conversions, and in our conversations. He has extended a greater freedom to us in the gospel than this nation ever has, and He has extended this freedom to us freely at a great cost to Himself - sending His Son, Jesus to bear the punishment for our sin and to bear the punishment for the institutional, systemic, discriminatory, and racially charged sins committed against us. He has welcomed us through the cross into His eternally independent, all-powerful, multi-ethnic Kingdom where true peace, joy, and freedom is found. The Civil Rights Act of July 2nd, 1964 reflected the intentions of this kingdom more than the intentions of this nation’s founders. It embraced and enforced the God-originating truth that all men are created equal. It points to the better “July” when peoples will not be physically enslaved or economically discriminated against. It raises up the equality of all people that is greatest displayed in God’s gracious giving of salvation to all kinds of peoples - welcoming them, unifying them, transforming them, and accepting them. This is why I prefer to commemorate the July of 1964 more than the July of 1776.
Charlottesville is about an hour away from me. I've visited several times, attended a few college basketball and football games, and I've even preached in a few churches in the area. So when I saw the recent pictures of a "protest" held around a statue of Robert E. Lee led by white nationalists, it was infuriating, but also scary. This was in my backyard. Dozens of men and women, both young and old, carrying torches of fire, crying out for white supremacy, and shouting nationalist statements. One look at the pictures of the protest would have immediately identified it as a kind of KKK rally, but there were no hoods among this crowd; there were no white robes or red crosses; no rifles or horses. Instead, the burning torches of fire carried by these protestors lit up their unashamed white faces in the night for everyone to see. History reminds us that this is no new phenomenon, as the seemingly immortal photographs of yesterday captured the faces of those who stood by at lynchings and participated in violent opposition to the Civil Rights sit-ins and marches. In an attempt to suppress the present discussion on race and racism, many people, Christians and non-believers neglect the racial issues of today by claiming that it isn't as bad as those previous periods in history, and therefore events such as this are largely ignored. To which I would say that some progress has indeed been made, but in light of the recent images taken last Saturday in Charlottesville and in addition to the images and videos taken of black bodies being slain by police officers, the anger displayed at Trump campaign rallies, and the presence of white nationalists in Washington DC just days after the election, this all points to the fact that racism's presence, even in its most explicit forms is still very much among us. White nationalism and white supremacy is not being resurrected, its being exposed. Want proof? Threaten to move a statue.
The protest was frustrating not only because of where it was - being so close to home, but because of why it was happening. The issue of whether or not confederate statues should be torn down or permitted to stay is another article for another day. I personally think that if confederate history is to be told in monuments and statues, more statues should be built that tell the entire story and point to the gruesomeness of slavery for which these lionized men fought. The narrative needs to be changed. I drive by several of my city's own confederate statues regularly; one is even across the street from my church and depending on the day, having to literally look up to these figures draws a sense of ire from within, especially before I worship a God who opposed many of their convictions. What's more is that there are people all around who would seek to defend these figures and their legacies as if they have no bearing on my life and the lives and families of many others. The fact that dozens of people who I potentially pass in the supermarket, wave to in my neighborhood, and allow my child to interact with at the park, would be willing to light torches, stand unmasked, and cry out for white supremacy is vexing. The fact that confederate figures and white supremacy are so boldly supported and defended is vexing. Each day that the narrative of white supremacy is promoted and proclaimed is another day where the narrative of the oppressed is silenced.
Even more frustrating is the fear that comes from knowing that many of these people who protested on Saturday will cross paths and even interact with black people and other minorities in the coming days. Some of them may have attended church with African-Americans the very next morning. Others may be co-workers, teachers of black students or students of black teachers. Unfortunately, it's possible that most of these protestorsbelieve that they don't have a racist bone in their body, that they simply want to "preserve their heritage" as they stand with burning torches and chants of white supremacy. The irony is that while the indifference and hatred is so explicit, it's still somewhat veiled; and this is what is so scary. They are unafraid to show their faces, but they will blend in with the majority of society the minute their torches die down - in our cities, our churches, our offices, and our government. These protestors will most likely continue their lives unaffected by the implications of their racism, and will ultimately never be confronted by minorities or more importantly anyone who looks like them.
Exposing the Darkness
This is why Christians, black and white, must continue to directly confront racist ideologies and incidents such as this one. Minorities will continue to be enraged and disheartened at the sight of this protest and will continue to discuss and confront the sin of racism often to the silencing of the majority. But to my white brothers and sisters, here is an opportunity to confront the sinfulness of racism in one of its most glaring forms and speak to those who would otherwise never be confronted. Paul says in Ephesians 5:11, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." When it comes to this issue of race in our society, it is not enough to refrain from taking part in it. It is not enough to simply not be racist. As God's people, we must expose this unfruitful work of darkness that is racism and confront it boldly and unashamedly as children of light. To my brothers and sisters, if you seek to be empathetic towards people with different skin and different experiences than yours, then like these protestors, I encourage you to show your faces as well. But unlike them, show your faces in your standing for equality and speaking against racial injustice. Instead of the burning torches of white supremacy, let the blazing light of the truth of God's word, the truth of the Imago Dei, and the truth of His racism-conquering sacrifice shine brighter and expel the darkness of racism and racial superiority.
The pictures captured of this Saturday night protest in Charlottesville vividly show us that the pervasive power of sin never confines itself to certain time periods. It is always rearing its head in both the hearts and systems of fallen people. To this, God has chosen a people from every race, tribe, language, and nation to be imitators of Him, to be children of the light (Eph 5:1, 7-13) driving out the darkness of sin through exposing its repulsiveness in the sight of God. While moments such as these invoke fear and frustration, God has both called and equipped His people to confront the sin of racism by speaking prophetically to it, proclaiming the justice of God, the equality of those made in His image, and the sacrifice He paid to crush all sin, including racism.
Here is a recent article I wrote for the Reformed African-American Network titled, "Dr. Willie Parker: Abortion and Christian Compassion". Click on the picture above to be taken to the article on the RAAN website.
Here's a recent article I wrote for the Reformed African-American Network titled "Black Women and the Burden of Strength: A Book Review". Click on the picture above to be taken to the RAAN website.
Here is a recent article I wrote for The Reformed African-American Network titled "The Acropolis of the Word of Faith Movement". Click on the picture above to be taken to the article on the RAAN website
This faith that Jesus speaks of breathes out prayer towards God, instead of demands. It exhales confession of its own weaknesses and its need for dependency upon God, instead of claiming and possessing whatever it wants. The Word of Faith movement assures its followers that God wants them to experience prosperity of all kinds, but it’s ultimately up to them to obtain it. The gospel gives greater assurance that Jesus has already secured for his people everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) purchased by his blood.
Just a few thoughts I had from a conversation on race and the church.Read More
An article I wrote for The Reformed African-American Network on Richard Allen and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793Read More