While I do not count myself as an active member of any denomination or religious tradition, though raised in the rich tradition of Adventism, I do count myself as a believer in the great Teacher. I am a “Red Letter Christian,” if you will, a disciple who aspires to walk in the footsteps of the man from Samaria, that hero on the road to Jericho. As we witness the events unfolding since the murder of our brother, George Floyd, my conscience will not abide a genteel sip of the holy cup. Rather, I must drink from that noxious dew the “great cloud of witnesses” leaves for nourishment to those who pray for help with unbelief.
These are times filled with the déjà vu of racial and political violence, times where the “sins of fathers” reverberate and cry aloud in these Groundhog Days of injustice. I believe it is important that we reconsider the words of the revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding the "white moderate." Albeit, in our "modem" time, I assert this includes the black moderate, the minority moderate, and the LGBTQ moderate. Those from communities, where systemic injustice is so greatly felt, yet who enjoy, at least from some physical position, comfortability and franchisement.
The moderate, often those of the self-proclaimed faithful, are those who have a “critique for the resistance,” but no “established record of critique of [the] oppression.” Those who gladly partake of the fruit from the table of sister and brotherhood, but ignore the blood and human fertilizer of innocents who nourished and watered the harvest and trees from whence that fruit came. These moderates will not partake of or serve a full meal, but provide a whitewashed fusion buffet of “all you can eat” rationalism. There are no Michelin stars at this buffet. However, you can find the “A+” rubber stamp of respectability, and belonging to the club from yesteryear, that tired, old certification of “taking the higher road to a better path.”
This moderation, this rationalism, that appears at inopportune times, proclaimed by an apparatchik people who rear their heads to sneer at injustice, is akin to the proverbial mote vs. beam in one’s hypocritical eye. Floyd's murder was not rational. His unheard cries for life’s breath on his last day on Earth simply were not rational. To expect then a rational response, a peaceful response, in the face of irrationality comes from a place of moderate comfortability and gain. I would posit that the moderate position obfuscates what is in truth, intellectual laziness. To assume that irrational behavior, predicated in violence, will be met with docility and an unexpressed rage, is a conclusion fomented with the admonishment, "Don't do as I do, do as I say I do."
Is it surprising that those whose humanity we have not dignified would destroy or take for themselves that which American society has consciously chosen as representations of human-ness, franchisement, and dignity, i.e., property and material possessions? Does not a response of "we will hear you” or “we will hear you better” if you do not touch property or take things, give the proverbial finger to those unheard, those crying out when property and possessions were not at stake? Intellectual chicanery permits a buffet service of Dr. King's words. The fractured soul calls for peace when facing the consequence of riot. This is not condoning behavior, but understanding it and, even though it may be uncomfortable, accepting it. As Mama Till cried, "Let the people see." We must stop and see. We must stop and hear.
I choose to comment on this moderate perspective because, while physical attributes bring me skin to skin next to George Floyd, my lived life is nearer to those that cry for moderation. It is comfortable; I enjoy privileges and an enfranchisement that others who look like me often do not participate in. And while I do partake in certain privileges, it is not lost on me that those who scavenge at the table, who accept my enfranchisement, may do so only because my visage aligns with their fabrication of what it means to be a respectable, worthy Black man.
As I look to the higher calling, of a believer in the teachings of Jesus, I ask myself, how can I be an engaged, proactive peacemaker? How do I balance the anger, pain, and hurt I feel as skin kin to George, with the selfish fears I encounter in my heart about misrepresenting myself as a minority in the places where I partake of privilege and gain? How can I help build the Kingdom of Heaven and concurrently build the streets of gold, so often discussed in the context of unknown futurity? I think it is helpful to remember that a man so engaged with the political movement of his time that he is remembered as Simon the Zealot. He too, Jesus called. James and John, the Sons of Wrath, were also his disciples. Keeping this in mind internally, I try to parlay it into understanding and acceptance of individuals whose means I may disagree with, but whose ends are for Kingdom justice.
Notes & References:
Jamison Howard is a non-practicing lawyer and recent-ish transplant to NYC. He has a J.D. and LL.M. in Rule of Law of Development from Loyola University Chicago. He is a proud alumnus of Union College. #slingadaink
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10566