Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial – Martin Luther King, Jr I am unapologetically a Christ follower. I am unapologetically black. And at times, I am apologetically a clergy leader in the American church. These self-descriptions attempt to gesture at the intersectionality of my own faith journey and perspective that informs the lens through which I see the world. While none of these self-descriptions give a full account of who I am, they are significant because they tell a story…
Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial – Martin Luther King, Jr
I am unapologetically a Christ follower. I am unapologetically black. And at times, I am apologetically a clergy leader in the American church. These self-descriptions attempt to gesture at the intersectionality of my own faith journey and perspective that informs the lens through which I see the world. While none of these self-descriptions give a full account of who I am, they are significant because they tell a story of what is shaping me. And this story deeply informs the way I see black faith relevant in a black future we dare to imagine.
On August 19, 2014 while in Ferguson during the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing, I was walking down W. Flourissant for the evening resistance and protests. This particular night, we called for one hundred clergy to show up and be present. While walking to “ground zero”, a group of young men asked “Why are all you preachers out here tonight? What’s going on?” I said to them, “We are here because we love you and we care!” One of the young men replied, “Fa real?”
My encounter with these young men reflect one of my hopes for our black future: an accelerated day when young people disconnected from our faith and community institutions don’t question why are we here. Nor respond with doubt, incredulity or skepticism when we reply with genuine love and concern.
I have grown to love the spirit and vision of this burgeoning revolutionary era, particularly its guiding leadership principles of low ego, high impact. It resonates with my theological assumptions of Jesus who was moved by such a depth of love that he willingly evacuated his privilege and learned obedience through his death on the cross. And because of his low ego and high impact, my physical and eternal destiny is transformed.
When I think of Black Future Month, and the kind of vision that could emerge from my Black Faith, it would be grounded in a similar spirit of low ego and high impact, showing up through what I will call the Body, the Ballot and the Buck.
In my vision, the Body serves as a double entendre describing two ways we can show up. As institutions of black faith, can we re-imagine our congregations as more than a house for weekly worship? Can we embrace the notion of our institutional Body as power bases of black power and agency that can be leveraged to invent a future for our black families that see the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven? Likewise, can we preach, pray and act in ways that disciple our congregants to be open and willing to put their personal Body in the fight for freedom through principled nonviolent direct action or mentoring or any form of physical engagement?
This would mean that clergy, seminaries and ongoing Christian education programs must develop a robust theology that collapses the false dichotomy between biblical understandings of righteousness and justice. Some of this work is emerging in places likePICO’s Live Free Campaign, The Samuel DeWittt Proctor Conference, and the The Black Church Center for Justice & Equality. And while the Body may show up differently for institutions and individuals, the non-negotiable in my vision would be the Body showing up in concrete ways that leverage our unique privileges of power, wealth, talent and numbers to reaffirm that Black Faith matters in the future of black lives.
Our Ballot could be utilized as a tool of accountability for elected officials and political interests who for too long have failed to respond with the requisite response that matches the depth and complexity of suffering in black communities through mass criminalization & incarceration, police brutality and state-sponsored violence. Can black faith incubate and unleash the moral outrage necessary to inspire sustained engagement in electoral and political engagement? This means regular social justice ministries committed to civic engagement, organizing and advocacy must be prioritized and resourced in our ministries. I believe black faith overflowing from neighborhood-based congregations can catalyze and sustain local political engagement between election cycles since all politics is really local. Organizations like the Values Partnership, Let My People Vote and National African American Clergy Network are powerful resources which have year round capacity to support our local efforts.
Our Buck gives us an opportunity to harness the $1 trillion dollars of economic wealth, which flows through the black community. Black faith can mine the theological and moral values of our traditions to critique the dominant and excessive spirit of materialism and unfettered capitalism grinding our communities into dust. Black Faith can sustain a rhythm of boycotts and economic interruptions that are targeted to demonstrate the power of wealth already at our disposal. Black faith institutions can channel business and parishioners to minority and women-owned businesses to keep our wealth circulating in our communities. I am inspired by Rahiel Tesfamariam’s Not One Dime Campaign and the Blackout for Human Rights Campaigns, which seek to provide structure for a sustainable movement. Showing up through our Buck would increase more access to jobs, entrepreneurship, opportunities and self-sufficiency, all the while alleviating economic poverty in our communities.
I can go on about many other ways that Black Faith can show up to create a black future where all of our families can live free. I could talk about: Re-entry ministries for the formerly incarcerated, health ministries for those living with HIV/AIDS, expanding our circle of concern to our LGBTQQI community members, and so much more.
My vision only makes sense to those young men we met in Ferguson, and the future we seek to create if Black Faith will show up. May we show up creating the moral and theological confrontation that makes the systems and forces of this world answer: Which Side Are You On? Our scriptures teach us that faith without works is dead. May the works of our Black Faith be so alive that the future being invented can never be surprised to see us walking down the street.
This post is part of the “Black Future Month” series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth — and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.