Why Black Churches Matter, Too

In 1893, Atticus G. Haygood, white supremacist and Georgia Methodist bishop, observed, “Now-a-days, it seems the killing of Negroes is not so extraordinary an occurrence as to need explanation; it has become so common that it no longer surprises. We read such things as we read of fires that burn a cabin or a town.”

Haygood’s words, cited in James Cone’s masterwork, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, could describe the American nation in 2020, personified in the murders of Ahmaud Aubery and Rayshard Brooks in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota, each perpetuated by individuals claiming to act in law enforcement.

Three of the four atrocities were recorded on video, a visual barbarism that stung the nation, evidenced in continuing multiracial protests in municipalities large and small. Rightly compared to the lynching era, the deaths brought the country face to face with systemic racism, a ravaging pandemic plaguing the Republic since the 1619 arrival of the first slave ship in Jamestown, Virginia. In those incidences, the evils of chattel slavery, Lost Cause-contrived history, Jim Crow’s cruel laws and white supremacy, white supremacy, white supremacy converged in what many have called a sea of American racism.

Enter the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, formed July 13, 2013, in response to the Florida shooting of the young African American Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his shooter, who pled the state’s “stand your ground” law. Founded by three community organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, BLM’s first public protest occurred August 17, 2014, in a “Freedom Ride” to Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of Michael Brown, another young black man.

While BLM’s earliest intent “was to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes,” over time that mission expanded “to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”

Long criticized and attacked, suddenly Black Lives Matter has become something of a national mantra, uniting individuals across racial, economic and regional lines. Public protests, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, have been large and unrelenting. Politicians, both Democrat and Republican, are pledging new legislation on policing practices; Lost Cause-era Confederate statues are being taken down; NASCAR has banned the presence of rebel flags from its races; professional sports executives have apologized for their opposition to players taking the knee during the national anthem; and “Aunt Jemima,” an enduring public symbol of slavery, will vanish from pancake mix.

Are recent actions such as these the early stages of awakened sensitivity to the legacy of American racism and a new commitment to long delayed reform? Or are they (yet again) a mere quick fix without continuing substance? Time will tell.

Within Christian communions, new multiracial alliances are taking shape and older ones are being strengthened in response to BLM initiatives and the heinous deaths of African Americans, often in the name of law and order. At this somewhat hopeful moment, let us affirm that Black Churches Matter too – those historic enclaves of safety and spirituality for African Americans and seedbeds of prophetic witness for gospel justice in church and public square. From slavery time to Trump time, African American churches have provided what Roger Williams called “a shelter for persons distressed of conscience,” an ever-important witness for all churches at this American moment.

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Source: Baptist News Global