In 1894, black racial justice activist Ida B. Wells sounded the alarm on racial injustice, imploring white Christians to put a stop to the lynching of black people. She spoke out saying, “Our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hell-fire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.”[i] Alas, white Christians continued their preoccupation with fire-and-brimstone sermons and their disregard for black lives. Their “whites only” version of the gospel compelled them to ignore the perspectives of black people, refuse to address lynching, and deny the value of black lives.
The lynching of black people continued for 60 more years.
In 1963, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also sounded the alarm, calling upon white Christians to stop criticizing the black civil rights movement and instead begin investigating the racist conditions that produced it. He wrote, “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”[ii] By and large, white Christians ignored his plea. Their “whites only” version of the gospel didn’t require them listen to the perspectives of black people or defend the lives and dignity of their black brothers and sisters.
Five months later, white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham – and 4 little black girls were killed.
Just last summer, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, many black Christian leaders did triple-duty. In addition to leading activism efforts in our local communities and providing pastoral care to those devastated by the verdict, we also took to Twitter, blogs, pulpits and conference podiums to call upon white Christians to wake up to the reality of racism in America. I wrote a widely-read piece for Christianity Today, asking white Christians to examine their privilege, recognize that racism persists, humbly listen to black perspectives on race, and follow Jesus’ footsteps by standing in cross-cultural solidarity with black people. A number of white Christians responded to the alarm, but prominent Christian justice leaders of diverse cultures and denominations perceived a general lack of engagement from white Christians.[iii]
It seems that, in the midst of black Christian outcry in 2013, the majority of white Christians pressed the snooze button on racial justice, sleepwalking into their churches where an individualistic gospel that doesn’t call them to say or do anything about racial injustice is preached, where white culture, rather than Christ, reigns supreme, and where the problems and perspectives of black people are ignored.
One year later, Michael Brown was killed, the black citizens of Ferguson took to the streets in protest, and Army tanks descended upon them.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Amy Julia Becker