How brave will we be?

First posted in early June in my newsletter which you can subscribe to here.

It’s Saturday evening. It’s been a hell of a week. A hellish week. From within a pandemic, the country has exploded, sparked by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Helicopters have hovered near our apartment most nights this week. Most of the groceries stores on this side of the city are boarded up. Earlier this week – I’ve lost track of the days – after putting the boys to bed, I walked five blocks from our home, drawn by the sounds of a protest. At an intersection I found a standoff: police in riot gear toe-to-toe with young women and men. I stood waiting and watching until, thankfully, the protesters turned away to continue their march.

I’m sitting on our back porch thinking about the many white people who reached out this week. They want to talked about what to do. This is new for me. For the past decade the white Christians I’ve talked to about racial justice have generally been politely – sometimes actively – disinterested. Maybe the truth is making itself impossible to ignore, save for those most actively committed to the lie.

It’s good that some white people have started to care about racist police brutality. I’m glad that some are finding their voices to speak against these brutal crimes.

Hidden in this week’s chaos was some reporting about the economic disparities between black and white communities. A study by the Sandford School of Public Policy at Duke University found that “black households with children had only one penny of wealth for every dollar held by their white counterparts.” An article in the Washington Post laid out the inequities with jaw-dropping detail:

  • The wealth gap between white and black households is greater now than it was in 1968.
  • ”…you would have to combine the net worth of 11.5 black households to get the net worth of a typical white U.S. household.”
  • “The typical black household headed by someone with an advanced degree has less wealth than a white household with only a high school diploma.”

The article goes on to show how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted black people:

  • Currently, only 49% of black adults are employed.
  • ”…2 out of 5 black small businesses and self-employed workers have been forced to shutter during the pandemic — well over twice the rate of white businesses.”
  • “More than 1 in 5 black families now report they often or sometimes do not have enough food — more than three times the rate for white families. Black families are also almost four times as likely as whites to report they missed a mortgage payment during the crisis — numbers that do not bode well for the already low black homeownership rate.”
  • “On average, black households had $8,762 in cash or equivalent liquid assets compared with $49,529 for white households…”

Here’s what I’m wondering as I think about white pastors putting the finishing touches on the sermons which they wrestled hard with this week: What sort of a vision will we now proclaim for the future? Yes, racist police brutality is obviously antithetical to the kingdom of God. The public murder of unarmed black people, this nation’s ancient legacy, should be publicly denounced without qualification from every pulpit tomorrow. But what of this other reality, less visible but intimately connected to the videos that provoke our shame and anger? What will we say about that?

If we are only brave when the violence is undeniable to a nation build on white supremacy, then we are simply perpetuating the instincts of our deaf and mute ancestors. We betray, at best, a disinterest in the testimonies of our black neighbors about how this nation continues its plundering ways. Our refusal to believe what our fellow citizens and members of the same body of Christ have told us is a bracing indictment about the extent of our cowardice.

This is what we should listen for tomorrow. We need a repentance that takes us deep, even as it spreads our remorse as wide as our collective sins. We need a vision of flourishing that does not depend on our malevolent privilege. We need to be led to a solidarity with neighbor and kin which might cost us the world.

After all, our souls are at stake.

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