In the midst of recent events and protests, a social media campaign entitled #sharethemicnow has emerged. The campaign asked white people and people of influence to use their platforms, quiet their voices, and highlight, heighten, and listen to their Black counterparts. I have been honored and privileged to be a monthly contributor here at FAR for 5 years. This month’s post will be in participation with the #sharethemicnow campaign. This campaign seeks to keep the momentum for the realization and implementation of equality and just treatment for all peoples – regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. I asked a dear friend of mine, whom I had the pleasure of working with at Whittier College, to write this post. Dr. Laurel Brown, whose discipline is in Social Work, shares with us some thoughts on Christianity and Social Justice in midst of our current issues.
The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and most recently Rayshard Brooks have led to renewed calls for reform, reparation, anti-racist policies and social justice across a broad spectrum of demographics and communities: young people, Black, White, Asian, Latina, straight, LGBTQ+. As I watched the posts and feeds on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, I was disheartened to see the number of self-proclaimed Christians who were critical of the call for reform and accountability of the criminal justice and law enforcement systems. It seems that some see a disconnect between the demand for racial and social justice and the Christian call to love one another.
I recently listened to a podcast on a Christian website, The Christian World View, where 2 black men who were leaders in their church denied the existence of “systemic racism” and rather felt the racism they may have experienced was a result of individual “ethnic sinfulness.” First of all, it is interesting that this organization found 2 black men to validate their premise; secondly, this premise helps white churches and congregations deny any responsibility for the systemic power iniquities in the religious organizations that they serve. Sunday mornings continue to be the most racially segregated time of the week.
It seems to me that these Christians who deny that there is systemic racism, power inequalities, etc., would like people to believe that if Jesus was here in the flesh, during this current time in history, he would gather the disciples in a room and hold a 24 hour prayer vigil, declare that sin was at the center of racism and all should pray for those afflicted, and then all go back to their homes continuing on as before.
The confusion for me comes from the fact that this is so contradictory to the Scriptural portrayal of Jesus, who was to say the least, a revolutionary and activist of his time. He knew that He was and possessed the power of God, yet he humbled himself and only used His power in order to serve and to advantage others who had no power. He openly and consistently contradicted and challenged the religious leaders of that time who used their power and position to oppress the poor, to abuse and take advantage of women and children, to exile and disenfranchise the sick and disabled, and to ignore and subordinate the foreigners among them.
Jesus’s behaviors and views on these topics can be seen throughout the Gospels. John 7:53-8:11 challenged the cultural practice of stoning women charged with adultery. Throughout the Gospels are stories of Jesus healing and touching those who were sick and diseased. The Gospels challenged the tradition of certain Jews holding themselves superior to others like that of the Samaritans. For instances, the Parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37 is a call to help the ‘neighbor’ regardless of who they are. Another example is in John 4:4-30 with Jesus’s interaction with the Samaritan “woman at the well.”
Jesus challenged the status quo of the time, disrupting their traditions, regulations and those systems that had become corrupt and oppressive. His followers were considered outlaws, terrorists, firestarters by spreading a message of service, love, and reconciliation that turned the power structures of the day upside down. Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…” which allowed for ethnic and racial dividers to be torn down. All were invited to the table, what a revolution.
So here we are again, confronting the power structures that continually and historically oppress, subordinate and disenfranchise the poor, the foreigners, those who are racially and ethnically different. The criminal justice system that creates laws that encourage the unequal sentencing of drug use depending on which communities use what drugs. (i.e. sentencing for use of powder cocaine vs. crack cocaine). The disproportionate incarceration of black and brown young men. The criminal justice and law enforcement systems that allow unarmed black men and women to be killed, while refusing to prosecute those officers, regardless of the overwhelming evidence provided by videos and other witnesses capturing the killings. Why? The simple answer is to continue to hold the reins of power, wealth, and control.
If those of us who call ourselves Christians are willing to stand by, to discourage those who courageously and boldly, even loudly challenge these systems, how are we followers of Jesus? Rather it is those who follow the example of Jesus, who should passionately use whatever power, position and resources they have to dismantle those systems that are corrupt and oppressive, to come along side of the weakest and smallest of us and make sure we all have a seat at the best table in the house.
Laurel E. Brown has a Ph.D. in Social Work and is currently an Assistant Professor at Whittier College located in Whittier, CA. Dr. Brown is an active leader, mentor and Bible teacher in the Women’s ministry at her church, which she has done for many years. Her professional and research interests include developing and encouraging strength-based interventions to prevent child abuse and neglect with an emphasis within the African American community.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is hunkering down during this pandemic and hopes all that reads this are safe and well. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She is focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. During this pandemic, she has started to tackle to read the mounds of books that have piled up and is simultaneously reading YA fantasy books and strenuous academic books.