“You can take the day off. I completely understand.” My boss was the principal and I was seated in his office for some reason that I suddenly couldn’t remember. I had not asked for the day off from our Christian elementary school. All over town, schools would be closed on Monday. Except for us… and the nearby Christian college. This was the Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and I increasingly wondered, “Why aren’t we all taking the day off?” I am a pastor who doubled as a teacher in order to make ends meet. I was the only African American …
“You can take the day off. I completely understand.” My boss was the principal and I was seated in his office for some reason that I suddenly couldn’t remember. I had not asked for the day off from our Christian elementary school. All over town, schools would be closed on Monday. Except for us… and the nearby Christian college. This was the Friday before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and I increasingly wondered, “Why aren’t we all taking the day off?” I am a pastor who doubled as a teacher in order to make ends meet. I was the only African American teacher whose daughter, Charity, was the only African American student. I never asked that the school recognize the holiday. Dropping frequent hints about many issues, I was a quiet presence, convinced that my white Evangelical friends would quickly come around. Was I wrong to expect more of Christians than Americans in general?
Therapists, and often pastors work with households where someone, a spouse or child was being severely mistreated. In many cases there is at least one party who covers for another. I have concluded that America’s Evangelical church covers up America’s structural racism, helps to hide it, and is thereby complicit in the abuse. I feel like the child who tells mommy what daddy is doing to me but her faith is in the decency of this good man, except in this case the “good man” is my country. When well-meaning people claim that I “hate America” and ask, “is there some other country that will treat you better?” I am that child, again, violated but told that I have a good home.
I have shared my stories with Evangelicals, some quite famous and influential, occasionally eliciting empathy. But when were they going to say anything?
I once walked near a local church that proudly displayed in its windows the black faces of children in Uganda and Kenya that their missionaries were helping. My stomach churned while wondering how all-white churches do not scream about the conditions of black children on our own soil. The Gospel, in my perspective, instead of reaching the nations, was being funded to tame the nations. Too many people who are dear to me have embraced the notion that racial minorities and native peoples are barbaric, inferior and incompetent. To some, we can’t get anything done without white help. If there is some truth to that, it’s only since the days of colonialism and Manifest Destiny. Our society deprives the defenseless, protects the prosperous and reviles racial minorities, while the Evangelical church remains silent. When the church does speak, it often exonerates perpetrators while blaming and shaming victims
Is it inconceivable that Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner had their rights violated? This is harder to imagine for Christians who are accustomed to supporting the system. Not all of us are as comfortable with a system populated by people who do not share our experiences. This is true for everything from federal to local government, law enforcement, expert analysts in academia and the press.
Some children withstand years of abuse without telling anyone, or stop talking about it because they were not believed. They might act out in irrational ways. I know what it’s like to be mistreated because of my skin tone, and internalize the disappointment. There are childhood experiences I didn’t share with my parents until I was an adult. My wife and I have sometimes surmised, rightly or wrongly, that it was too burdensome to even tell each other of the inhumane remarks directed against us. It took him three years, but my own son told me, while being disrespected and falsely accused of a crime by a local sheriff, “Dad, I’ve never felt more like punching someone in my life, but I knew I couldn’t do that.”
I’ve been bewildered to often see Christians scandalized over current events that represented, in their eyes, a threat to our nation’s values. To see their outrage, fearing for their children and our collective future left me perplexed and often embarrassed. My grandparents’ children were victims of terrorism, not the Al Qaeda brand, but of American town councils and police departments. The Evangelical church was deaf to their cries. When King marched in Selma, demanding that America pay attention to horrors of being black in Alabama, the Evangelical church closed its eyes.
American schools are now more segregated than they were 20 years ago, according to a recent Stanford University study. One reason is that housing is more segregated. Is this something about which churches should be concerned? There’s a lot of talk about churches trying to become more diverse. How about diversifying your lives?
Have we Evangelicals grossly overrated our righteousness? Do we think we are morally better than other people, especially if those people are dark-skinned, or Spanish speaking? How virtuous can we be? We all live on stolen land.
My daughter’s Christian school did not recognize the King holiday that year nor for several more years. Although her classmates went to school, I kept her away from that unsafe environment, at least on that day. I wanted to teach her to stand up to Christians.
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