We Aren’t Doing Enough: The Church and Black Lives Matter

“We, as God’s people, have got to start holding these systems accountable” – Pastor Broderick Connessero

On the heels of Eric Garner, my pastor decided that all congregation members should wear black in protest as we hosted a special service in which we discussed recent deaths. When I posted the flyer to Facebook someone commented that protests are not why they attend church and we were bringing too much of the world into the church.

My annoyance level went through the roof; I could not believe that a black man would assert that the black church should not protest for black lives. I was stunned, I was frustrated, and I was hurt. This entire movement, I’ve been waiting for black churches to do more. And watching their silence angers me. As a Christian, as a black woman, as a historian that comprehends the value of the black church in the community, that one comment, that seemed to validate the church’s silence, rocked me to the core.

Historically, black churches have been the cornerstone of black justice. I assure you that a sizable number of the rights you now enjoy are the result of some form of protest that was organized in a black church and/or by a black pastor. There were other places, such as colleges, as well; but none shone like the church. The church was a beacon of hope for weary black souls and gospel spirituals were leaned on for inspiration.

What made the Civil Rights movement so phenomenal to me is that it showed just how much the church cared about injustice. The church cared about us. Unfortunately, that has all changed. As I have watched college students take their rightful place in protests, organizing mass marches just as students did through SNCC years ago, I have watched churches skirt their place in the movement and do minimal. I don’t understand.

It seems churches now clamor for the claim to be “less worldly.” As if the more we talk about God as an abstract concept, and the less we speak about the problems facing the world, the more holy we are. That doesn’t make sense to me. If Jesus truly is the answer for everything, why must we only discuss Jesus outside of problems that need answers?

What we are failing to realize is: God is the World. God specifically gave us a charge to heal the world, to love his people. Proverbs 31:8-9 charges us to:

Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.”

It is not worldly to speak up, it’s Godly. We’re seeing dead boys whose voices are taken from them but we are not speaking up and not defending. Is this Godly?

Moreover, we are followers of Christ. This means we are to follow the footsteps he set for us. Jesus himself was a revolutionary. He was not just a revolutionary in religion, but also in society at large. If we go back to the story of the adulterous woman (John 8) we note some key points. Everyone quotes “he that is without sin,” but few actually think on this story beyond that.

What Jesus did comes down to more than a simple “don’t judge this woman.” Jesus saw a woman about to be stoned for a crime that a man was getting away with. Jesus stood up against this injustice. Jesus stood up for this woman. Jesus himself stepped into the justice system and campaigned and spoke for this woman. We have police stoning black boys in the street; and we don’t step in, we don’t campaign, we sit in silence. Is this Christ-like?

Most importantly, Christianity means change. Not just personal change, either. People should note that a church is in their neighborhood because things should change in their neighborhood. They should have more resources, more support, more love, because the church is doing all it can to provide it. There should be transformation. More and more churches are popping up, yet less and less transformation is happening.

What is a church that doesn’t fight for change? How do we sit back and watch life after life, hashtag after hashtag, and not mobilize? How do we convince people Jesus cares without showing that we care? How do people notice our light if we refuse to let it shine in the darkest places? What is the point of fighting to save souls if we’re not fighting to save the lives that house those souls?

For the last year, I have seen my denomination plagued by racism. I’ve seen racist remarks made by students TWICE at two separate Adventist universities during Black History Month. I have seen students ask for the dismantling of the Black Student Union at a university. When my division put out a statement following Philando Castile, I saw the most hurtful, racist, and disgusting comments underneath. These comments came from people that claim to serve the same God I do. And in all of this, my world church has been silent. I see young adults in my church clamoring for recognition of our struggle. (Please check out Adventists for Social Justice.)

We get support from our conferences (that happen to be divided among racial lines), but the world church looks over us. I applaud preachers who have stood up, invited activists into their churches, and organized mass boycotts. But the church as a whole is still not doing enough.

Many believe that this is not our place and that the issue is “divisive.” I will concede that the issue is divisive, but so was the Civil Rights Movement. Should we have been silent then? So many churches opted to be quiet during slavery, so many chose to uphold Jim Crow. We accept now that the churches who were silent then were wrong.

Are we ready to be wrong again just for the sake of unity? And are we truly united if our unity can only come if we silence members of color? The idea that we should be united in racism and oppression is not of God. What is the point in unity if we’re wrong? The church needs to speak, and not leave it to the oppressed to speak for ourselves. We have to hold the system that fails God’s children accountable.

I understand that times are changing, and churches are no longer held as the cornerstone in many families. But this is no excuse. Time change or not, God is clear on our position in movements of justice. History has shown us that the church is vital in these movements. Of course, the church cannot do it alone, but the church must put forth the effort.

I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you exactly what each church needs to do to make an impact. What I can say is that we should be doing more than just offering silent prayer. God is telling us to speak up. We need more unifying, more protesting, more speaking, more campaigning. The church cannot be the church we say we are if it is silent. These are our kids. These are God’s kids. God doesn’t want his kids dying unjustly, and thus we should not stand for it. Isaiah 59:15-16 states:

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene.”

We cannot continue to ignore pleas for help. We cannot maintain silence as our community cries. We must intervene. It is our Christian duty.

Melissa Swauncy is a current graduate student who specializes in the criminology and history of hate crimes, war crimes, and genocide. She's also a blogger (both written and video), church communications leader, debate coach, teacher, and mom.

Image Credit: Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8358
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Forge ahead, Melissa. Do not let a comment from a Facebook posting have so much influence over your resolve to do something worthwhile. Brother or Sister X may have opinions that differ from yours. That is to be expected. Thank them for their opinions and then continue to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted and bring healing to the nations.

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Melissa Swauncy said,

Melissa, I request of you a comprehensive response to this quote from the Spirit of Prophecy; which is known as “The Testimony Of Jesus.” Certainly, God approves of the way His son conducted Himself; while on earth. This is why He said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”. The quote I would like you to respond to can be found in Desire of Ages pg. 509. The emphasis supplied at the end of the quote is mine.

The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart. { DA 509.3}

Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12, 13. Here is the only power that can work the uplifting of mankind. And the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the word of God. { DA 509.4}

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While I truly respect your view, in my humble opinion, this isn’t the case.
As referenced in the above post, Jesus stepped into the justice system to shield a woman from being stoned unjustly.
He ran into the temple to run out those taking advantage.
Pastor Knight had a great sermon at last year’s ASJ Summit where he broke down what Jesus did in the temple. If you are at all interested, here is the link to part 1: https://www.facebook.com/adventistsforsocialjustice/videos/1816614611928188/ (skip to about the 50 minute mark) and here is the link to part 2: https://www.facebook.com/adventistsforsocialjustice/videos/1816654488590867/

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Amen, Brother. I’m afraid too many of our well-meaning members are ignorant of the methods used by Jesus and His apostles. Paul would be vilified today for the things he said to Philemon about Onesimus, and for the fact that he had Onesimus deliver the letter. SHOCKING!

Your whole post was so much more eloquent than anything I could have come up with. Well said. Hope it doesn’t get deleted because of its “insensitivity.” :smirk:

Sir, while it is true that Jesus did not try to overthrow the government he did step in and become a beacon for the disinherited, the overlooked and the oppressed. See Luke 4:18-19. Neither are we talking about overthrowing the government, we’re talking about speaking up for the less fortunate and for the oppressed among us and fulfilling the mandate of Matt 25.

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"OK, Melissa, what do you want? You make it sound like “Black Lives Matter” is some humanitarian group, looking for justice. It started as an uncontrolled mob, calling for the killing of cops - “Piggs in a blanket, fried like bacon.” ; and another favorite, What do you want - dead cops. When do you want it -Now" and has morphed into somebody’s mouthpiece, creating chaos at every chance it can. To join this group, we’d have to pass out posters, clubs and bricks after potluck for a Sabbath afternoon at your nearest college campus.

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Melissa, Respectfully, I requested that you give a comprehensive response based on the quote that I posted. I believe that if an argument is sound… it should be able to withstand quotes that very much speak to the contrary or “seems to speak to the contrary” (if one wants to take that position). These are the pertinent parts of the quotes. “Government… was corrupt and oppressive…” “on every hand were crying abuses, extortion, intoIerance, and grinding cruelty”…“The Savior attempted no civil reforms”… “He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments"…“Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit.”** Here is the only power that can work the uplifting of mankind. And the human agency for the accomplishment of this work is the teaching and practicing of the word of God.”**

In these quotes we have 3 things:

  1. Social conditions during the time of Christ (crying abuses, extortion, intolerance, grinding cruelty)
  2. How Jesus responded to it (He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments)
  3. What was the right way; the salvific way to address the injustices in mankind (by the implanting of Christ’s nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit… through teaching and practicing of the word of God).

Suggestions outside of Jesus example says to me, “We have a better plan.” And I might add… we loose sight of the fact that every soul, no matter how unjust, unkind, racist, etc., is a soul to be saved. I say this as a black man.

Respectfully, it doesn’t matter how deep Pastor Wesley Knight went on this subject…correcting a problem in the church does not make him “a champion for social justice”… but a corrector of a problem in the church. There is a difference between correcting church problems and dealing with the issues in the world. In the church you can take the stance of “you should know better”. However, when we engage with the world, bringing to them the word of God and the truth of the gospel, we take the position “there’s a better way”. Interestingly enough, at 12:09 (on the countdown side of the counter) he says, “Jesus was the Christ; setting for us an example of how we ought to live” (quoted verbatim). Pastor Knight’s words demand, by extension, that we connect directly to the Desire of Ages quote to get directly what Jesus actually did.

While I’m at it… Tony R… I am an ardent researcher… and don’t ever dismiss “context”. I have read, many times over, the previous paragraph before the one I posted. Reading the previous paragraph does not, in any way, diminish the paragraph I posted. There are definite statements, in the paragraph I posted, that need no contextual examination, because the quote I posted deals with a state of mind and approach that Jesus had on the subject of injustices. When Ellen White says, “He was our example”… this tied Christ’s approach in His day to what should be our approach in our day (“our example”; meaning “in this day in time”). I might add that Ellen White wrote these words during the Reconstruction Era. This was a time when injustices against blacks was worst than during slavery; because slaves were no longer “owned” by anyone; and therefore fair game for the paddy rollers.

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HERE in Macon there have been BLACK LIVES MATTER group events [several, co-sponsered by black and white leaders] in down town.
BUT this year, and so far, we have had 27 deaths by guns, killed by 27 other persons.
MOST of the 27 DEAD, and the 27 SHOOTERS have been Black on Black.
Apparently those 27 DID NOT THINK that Black lives mattered.

The SICKNESS in society is NOT going to be cured by going to a park and holding up signs for a couple of hours, or wearing a T-shirt for a day. It certainly IS NOT here in Macon.
[And GUN CONTROL is not the answer either.]

Christ does NOT come into the lives – hearts and minds – of people by a MARCH, of by wearing a T-shirt.

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my understanding is that BLM began roughly four yrs ago with the death of trayvon martin…it then picked up steam through hugely acrimonious, well-publicized events like the deaths of michael brown in ferguson, and eric garner in NY…through much of this development, we’ve really only had a he said he said stand off…that is, while we’ve clearly had the deaths of black men at the hands of cops, we haven’t seen real evidence for BLM’s mantra that racist cops have been murdering hapless black individuals in cold blood…

in the case of trayvon martin, we had the claim by george zimmerman, substantiated by extensive bruising on the back of his head, that trayvon martin was on top of him, banging his head against the pavement, and within minutes of murdering him…in the case of michael brown, who had just robbed a corner store, there was a question of whether he was lunging towards officer darren wilson with arms raised, and whether there was a fight in wilson’s police car over wilson’s gun before wilson, in winning the battle over his gun, gave chase and shot brown because brown wouldn’t stop and submit to an arrest…and in the case of eric garner, who had already been arrested some 30 times, we had an escalating case, initiated by garner’s selling of illegal cigarettes, but fueled by his resistance of an arrest by officer daniel pantaleo…at some point pantaleo and other officers wrestled garner to the ground…kizzy adoni, a black female officer supervising the arrest, saw nothing unwarranted in the officers’ behavior…she also had no knowledge of garner’s asthma and heart disease…

in considering just these details, i don’t believe black adventist churches should identify too closely with BLM…while we should of course stand up against injustice, including racial injustice, we should pick allies who take stands on clear, legitimate grievances…nothing good can come of being embroiled in situations that lack convincing evidence and that take on a life of their own…BLM is now a very one-sided metanarrative that cannot enhance our mission, but can harm it…

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If he were alive today, Martin Luther King would most likely condemn the confrontational tactics of BLM. They are a bunch of radicals who create more racist feelings then they ever solve.

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Thanks, @MSwauncy.

Excellent, excellent essay. You have done well to describe, and vouch for, the frustrations of Black people as a globally despised class.

Plus, since you’re new here, rest assured: Despite a supposedly “liberal” take on theological matters in the SDA church, many who post on Spectrum@Sirje, @niteguy2, @bigtomwoodcutter, etc. —commonly express wildly unimaginative, uninformed, conservative-to-right views on race. So, as a result, we Black people rarely get the liberal dividend. :slight_smile:

Two thoughts:

1) I wonder if Ellen G. White ever voted, and if @pastdvt does. It seems to me that to be “aloof from earthly governments” requires more than just choosing to do nothing about the societal ill that makes you most jittery.

Put another way, representative governments, like the United States’s, intrude at every level, as one might expect they would. If one accepts E.G. White’s statement, in isolation, as authoritative, what are the limits of the “aloofness” @pastdvt claims is appropriate, here? Like, what else should one not do, in order to remain “aloof”?

Further, is “aloofness” an appropriate Christian response to a representative form of government; one that, by definition, requires interaction and maintenance? If Christians are to give governments their due (Matthew 22:21), how is being “aloof” an appropriate Christian response to a legislature?

Let’s go further: Why is @MSwauncy’s post being taken as a response to government, as opposed to its populace? More, what does that mean in a nation where the people are its government? Does EGW mean that we should be “aloof” to the opinions and actions of people around us, especially when those have large sway?

2) Right squat in the middle of Isaiah 1:17 (NIV), like a speed bump, are these three words:

"Defend the oppressed."

In fact, the entire verse says this: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” The text reads like it anticipated Black Lives Matter, because it did.

So, I’d just like someone here to tell me: a) Which part of this verse does not apply to Black people, and b) Which part of this verse do you feel most free to disobey, and why?

That is, should we change the group’s name to Samaritan Lives Matter? Would that keep you from crossing over to the other side of the road, in order to avoid the obvious?

HA

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These same words were said of MLK. He was a lot more radical than your high school history books left you thinking.

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I’m going to help you here.

Answering police brutality against African-Americans with black on black crime is a false statistic, false equivalency, false assumption, and false picture born out of false concern and historically coded rhetoric.
See more here:


(And before you ask; my degree is in Criminology as well as History. So yes, I am qualified. And I cited sources.)

Also, on a christian level: Was this the way Jesus approached people who were hurting? “Well there is sin in your community so why would I help you?”. Are you sure?

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Zimmerman stalked an unarmed teen with a gun after police had told him not to. I do wonder, if some man with a gun was chasing you, how you would react? You don’t get to attack a person and then scream self defense after they defend themselves. That’s simply not how it works. Also, as a criminology degree: What Wilson did was ABSOLUTELY far out of protocol, And everything that happened after was out of protocol as well. So there is that. Also, resisting arrest is not grounds to be shot. Just an FYI. Also, in case of Garner, chokeholds had been BANNED by NYPD for a decade prior. So the question is, why are cops using banned tactics? But I am not here to debate facts of the case. Because it is clear the facts might not really matter here.

BUT I am here to leave you with a Christian nugget: Being silent in face of injustice is what harms the mission. Especially considering the number of racist comments that have spilled out of Southern and Andrews in the last 2 years. What is a one sided narrative, is Christians who are not of color that are willing to look black members in the face and make light of their oppression. You truly want to see the unraveling of the SDA mission? Continue to demean and devalue black and brown members. A church that is silent in oppression is not a church that is truly of God. The bible says so.

Isaiah 1:17
"Learn to do good; seek justice, CORRECT OPPRESSION; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause."

Jeremiah 22:3
"I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. PROTECT THE PERSON WHO IS BEING CHEATED from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress FOREIGNERS, orphans, or widows; and DO NOT KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE in this holy place."

Proverbs 31:8-9
"SPEAK UP, judge righteously, and DEFEND THE CAUSE OF THE OPPRESSED AND NEEDY"

Isaiah 59:15-16
“The Lord looked & was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene.”

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Jesus was executed for sedition, for claiming to be the King of the Jews, a crime against the state. Pilot asked him if he had made such a claim and he did not refute it, and so was judged guilty. This is why he was given a crown of thorns, as a mockery of his claim. And it is why he was crucified, a punishment reserved by the empire for crimes against the state.

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Keep speaking out, Melissa. By doing so you ARE reaching ears that once were steeped in our privilege. I wish you only continued blessing.

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did zimmermann “stalk” trayvon, or did he simply follow him from a distance to make sure he wasn’t one of the robbers the neighborhood had seen on a regular basis…zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator…he was legally armed…it was reasonable for him to check up on someone who appeared to be looking closely at all the houses he passed…there is evidence that trayvon knew he was being followed, that the girl who trayvon was talking to on his cellphone thought zimmerman was gay, and sexually interested in trayvon, and that trayvon outdistanced zimmerman, only to circle around and come up to him from behind, without zimmerman’s knowledge…that is, trayvon had the opportunity to be clear of zimmerman, but made the decision not to be…

there is also evidence that a fight ensued, in which trayvon sustained no injuries, while zimmerman came away with a badly beaten face and nose, and large bruises and cuts on the back of his head…did these happen while zimmerman was chasing trayvon while brandishing a gun…one of the jurors said that the jury had found no evidence of actuating racism on zimmerman’s part…this is because they were given evidence that zimmerman had dated black women, had black relatives, had black friends, and had defended a black homeless man against an attack by the son of a white cop…

ultimately, the jury acquitted zimmerman, not because it was racist and looking to cover up the murder of a black young person, but because every piece of forensic evidence - gun powder splatter, the trajectory of the bullet, the site and angle of the bullet wound - corroborated zimmerman’s testimony…BLM’s metanarrative of a black youth being chased because he was black, shot and killed because he was black, and receiving no justice in court because he was black, isn’t borne out in this instance…and the other accounts - michael brown, eric garner - are equally vested with credible counter-evidence against the line that white on black murder is being sanctioned by the courts…

i believe that our black churches, and in fact all our churches, should be on the side of justice wherever possible…my point is that we should avoid affiliation with groups like BLM, whose agendas don’t stem from actual facts…i suspect that the reason our churches aren’t jumping on the BLM bandwagon is because others feel the same way…

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I will state the oblique, and concur with the thesis of this post, albeit to a specific point.

The church is NOT doing enough, even if the enough means that Samaritan Lives have always mattered.
The Black church, which ought stand in absolute solidarity with the struggle to end blatant gender discrimination in our shared church, seems to be completely silent on this point, at least from a corporate perspective.

This I do not comprehend-if straight old white men who used to hold that black lives did not matter to the point to exclude them from church have now pointed their unoblique discrimination at women, and the black church does not embrace said women directly, swiftly and without reservation, why do they believe that the rest of the church should stand with them when they take a knee, raise their (open) hands (or fist)?

No, it seems it is not quite as simple as “stand for the oppressed”, although it may be cloyingly convenient.cry. I sense another, a deeper undercurrent, one that undermines the whole of the faith community and the larger village. One wonders where the studies are which highlight the degree of black apathy in the black community? One wonders if the anger exhibiting outward (targeting “white cops” in this instance) is in fact a transference of the internal?
Or-like black on black crime, is it taboo to mention that, too?

I hope, in the pursuit of fairness, we mind protocol, here. And journalistic integrity.
And not just in what we demand of our peace officers (all who have also mastered criminology degrees to one extent or another) when faced with the same “out of protocol” dilemma.

I pray my church does not hitch its wagon to the tale of that lame mare.
There is another coming, on a better horse.

Thank you so much! Firstly for your kind words, secondly for your well thought out response and lastly for the great articles linked.

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