No Justice, No Peace.
A phrase I have heard all of my life. I easily understood what it meant. Those seeking justice would disrupt peace until justice is served. However, it was not until very recently that I thought about that phrase as being as interconnected as it truly is. It has become so common place over the last half decade that it feels too routine. The chants by protesting crowds have a very constant ring. My most inner connections comes when those protests are trying to call out injustice on people who look like me. Those moments when justice prevails are few and far between.
We had two of those moments this week. The first when the New York Police Department fired Daniel Pantaleo. Pantaleo is the officer responsible for the death of Eric Gardner in New York in what became execution for selling illegal cigarettes. It’s worth noting that it took five years. The irony is the shouts of injustice are now coming from the New York Police Union and how this is unfair and will keep police officers from being able to do their jobs. Really? But I’ll park that right there and leave it alone for now.
The second moment of satisfying justice came Friday when Michael Drejka was found guilty of manslaughter in Florida for the death of Markeis McGlockton. Drejka was hiding behind the infamous Stand Your Ground law in Florida, the same law that justified the murder of Travon Martin, in which Drejka claimed he was fearful of his life and that a retreating McGlockton was a threat to his life.
These are two small wins in an Everest sized mountain of other injustices perpetuated against people of color, and specifically African Americans. These are small wins in the war on African Americans. Don’t get me wrong. I know that such has not been declared a war by anyone officially. But when you wear my skin it’s a war you always know you are in. It’s a war in which we are in battle on a daily basis. And I don’t use the term war lightly.
Peace, Justice, Blackness, and Brethreness. I’ve been on a journey. It’s been a reflective journey and an inward journey. And even in someways a spiritual journey. The last four weeks some of you have been in community with me and joined me on the expedition. As some of us have gathered on Wednesday nights for the Peace, Justice and Blackness Connect series, I have been able to explore my space in this congregation, this church and this society with you. And you have engaged me. It’s been scary, and empowering. It’s been being vulnerable and challenging. There has been good discussion and food for thought and debate of perspectives.
But being Black in today’s society is hard and being Black and Brethren is harder. And I know that in general the human condition is complex. There’s no doubt that being Black is in itself complicated. And being Brethren in the context of today’s society is complex. My relationship with the church is founded on two principles. The first is that All War is Sin. The second is that we observe no creed except the New Testament. I can be Black and Brethren, but there is a multiplexity in the psychosis of the two that makes me walk a blurred line of which is the dominate and which is the passive.
No Justice, No Peace.
When we talk about all war is sin then we are talking about maintaining peace. But what is the cost of peace. If all war is sin then how do we define war. When does war become war? Who declares a war? The term war has become so commonplace that the term is regularly used throughout everyday society by everyday people. It begins with kids who play sports when coaches declare war on the opposing team and when we go into battle against our opponents. It is so colloquial that we use it for any form of competition.
But we find one answer in today’s scripture. Rather than declaring war on our enemies, we are to declare peace. We are to turn the other cheek. It is to be kind to those who are unkind to us. It speaks to my Brethren side. As a person it speaks to me. But it does not always speak to my Blackness. When you feel as though you are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of society and the wrong side of everything opportunity, decision and process, turning the other cheek is hard. Forgiving is hard. I often feel as though society is at war with me. And when I am at war, that makes me defensive. That makes it harder to be peaceful and Brethren.
The nature of my Blackness is multifaceted. While I have lived in the suburbs more than half of my life, I grew up in an urban setting. A setting that was made up of gangs, drugs, poverty, over policing. I have personally witnessed things that I would never want my daughter to see. That perspective gives you a different view of violence and peace. Peace is not something idyllic. It is not something that comes naturally, nor is it given. The idea of turning the other cheek or of making friends with my enemy was as foreign as macaroni and cheese being a main dish entrée.
When all war is sin, it is natural for me to ask what about the war on Black people, especially men? And the war on immigrants, the war on the homeless and the war on homosexuals, and the war on Muslims? It’s funny that these wars go largely unnoticed by the greater society. Is it because if it doesn’t affect you, then you don’t see it. That’s the question I have for our larger church.
In her Patheos article, “The Silence of the American Church is Deafening,” Susan Wright writes that, “The church has often failed to be up front in calling out the more prolific evils in the world. On any given Sunday, you may hear from the pulpit condemnation of the sins of man, as it pertains to the Word of God. If you’ve got a really spirit-filled pastor, you may hear the accompanying message of grace, as we seek to draw the lost to new life in Christ.” She goes on to note that, “It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. From the issue of slavery to even Hitler’s march through Europe, American Christians dragged their feet about responding from the pulpit.”
That’s where we are today. We are waiting for the voices from our churches. I am waiting for the voice from the church, especially my church to speak the truth to power and declare that without justice there is no peace. One note in her writing is that she talks about bringing the lost to a new life in Christ. One of the fundamental religious differences between Black and White Americans in our society is the view of religion. You’ve probably heard the phrase that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in our country. Note that this comes because in most African Americans resonate with Jesus far more than our White counterparts, who generally, resonate more with Christ.
David Cone points out that, “In the mystery of God’s revelation, Black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.”
There is significance that Blacks resonate with Jesus the man who suffered and was oppressed and hunted and ultimately “lynched” on a cross. The cross and the lynching tree can be tied to a connection in our faith. I think one of my draws to my Brethren roots is the low Christology that is part of the church. The simple living philosophy is much closer to the experience of African Americans than you might think. The idea of thinking that Jesus was lynched is a place of comfort that makes our oppression in this country worth following in his footsteps.
Our current societal context draws lines of support and distinction. But we know that the complexity of the human condition is greater than that. I am African American. More specifically, I am an African American male. That means I live now, and always have lived with a target on my back. I believe that Black lives matter does not mean that I do not care for my non-African American brothers and sisters. My desire to see police officers held accountable for serving as judge, jury, executioner with their vigilante justice does not mean that I do not support the law enforcement members who do things right and are willing to see me as a human being and equal first. I can want both. I want justice and I can want peace. The recognition is that Black live matter, too, because other lives have always mattered.
What we have begun to discover in our Wednesday night sessions was that maybe our belief that All War is Sin, is outdated in our current societal context. Maybe we as a denomination and as a church need to replace war with violence. How’s that sound. All Violence is Sin. Such a position might give the church a greater platform in its desire to be justice seekers and peacemakers. The question was posed to me, “What am I going to do about it?” But the better question is what are we going to do about it? I am Black man and I am a Brethren man. The duality in that is ripe for psychoanalysis. But I can say, that I may be at the point in my journey where analysis, reflection and questioning may be over. Maybe there is an action that needs to happen. Maybe that is the evolution of this journey of being Black and Brethren.
Because for there to be peace, there needs to be justice. And maybe the time has come to draw the line in the sand and ask my church whether it is with me, or would it rather be without me.