BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, May 31, 2015

They Will Know We Are Christians*

Too often, communities of color find it difficult to differentiate between white Christians and white non-Christians when it comes to issues of racial justice. In his co-authored book More Than Equals, Spencer Perkins observes that:
Book cover: More Than Equals. Picture of authors Spencer Perkins and Chris RiceWhite Christians’ decisions to choose the comfort of their own race over the Christian ideals of brotherhood and oneness that our gospel so boldly preaches have undoubtedly weakened their witness to the African-American community.

His convicting statement reflects the reality that, in racialized debate, people of color feel they cannot count on their white Christian sisters and brothers to have their back.

Too often in moments of racial controversy, the white Christian response to those hurt by such events has been either muted, late, or nonexistent, leaving the marginalized to wonder if our sermons about unity and diversity were just for show. True, some folks may take a stand, but often they act (and are perceived) as individuals, rather than as representatives of Christ and his Church. As a body of believers, we distance ourselves from controversy, and we fail to manifest Christ’s love in solidarity. At our worst, we add to the voices second-guessing the cries of racism.

Tshirt: "They will know we are Christians by our t-shirts"
Yet we know from scripture that we are to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression,” and “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke” (Isaiah 1:1758:6). If we are to be the Body of Christ, we have to understand that the reconciliation for which our souls long cannot come without the justice that our racial brokenness requires.

After all, isn’t that the miracle of Christ? That “we have now been justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9), as a gift from God “who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). In his death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished both perfect reconciliation and perfect justice, both of which are necessary for the redemption of a broken world.

So too must we achieve reconciliation through acknowledging racial injustice, followed by action against it. This means going beyond proclamations of unity and community, and gaining a willingness to bear with each other’s burdens.

"They will know we are Christians by our doctrine [crossed out], by our love.We can start by educating ourselves about the issues important to our sisters and brothers of color. Listen. Don’t argue, don’t try to refute. Begin to un-train the years of learned biases. Grow churches that are places of sanctuary, where all can be confident that their voices will be heard and their concerns will not be dismissed.

Once we commit to educating ourselves and bearing with each other, we then must become active agents of change in our communities. We become the first to speak up against injustice and ignorance. We initiate partnerships, and support the efforts of racial reconciliation initiatives already in place. We show up, we participate, and we make our voices heard.

Book cover of Kingdom ComeAnd then we will be different. Then we will bear witness to the power of Christ for justice and reconciliation in today’s world.

In his book Kingdom Come, Allen Wakabayashi asserts, “the world needs to see that our faith really does make a difference for life, especially as we deal with some of the most vexing social struggles, like race, gender, and class suppression.”

As we go through our daily lives, are we living the witness of Christ when it comes to racial justice and reconciliation?

Do we bear the same fruit as the rest of the world or are we different?

Do they know we are Christians?

*This post originally appeared on BTSF on March 5, 2012

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Fruit (05/29/15)

#SayHerName ProtestOn Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Learning from the Students: Activism Past and Present

Black students sitting at the counter at Woolworths in GreensboroThis post originally appeared on the blog of UMC Collegiate Ministry:

There is a great tradition of student- and youth-led activism in the United States. But we are often tempted to romanticize bygone eras, thinking today's efforts are lackluster in comparison. But there are striking parallels between today's student racial justice movements and those of our history--including in how they are perceived by the dominant culture of their day.

On February 1, 1960, having stayed up late in their dorms discussing recent personal racial indignities they had faced, four college freshmen decided to stage a lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, NC. That evening, they returned to campus and recruited even more students to join them at the Woolworth's five-and-dime the next day. The movement grew daily with students from the many surrounding universities taking part. By the 4th day, more than 300 people had joined in, and the tactic had caught on across the country.

Comparing images from the 1960s and today
Click to enlarge
Shortly thereafter, inspired by the efforts in Greensboro, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded (though to that point many independent actions had been staged without the need for a formal organization). The student movement was careful to maintain its independence from the established leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), They partnered on many events, but they were their own organization. SNCC, and other student groups like it across the country, placed a high value on consensus building and participatory democracy, avoiding centralized leadership and 'top down' control.

When the Freedom Rides began, they were initially sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, but when the buses were violently attacked in Alabama, the action was put on hold . It was the students that resolved to finish the ride, at great risk to themselves, allowing the movement to grow.

Time and again over the years of their work, the youth were told that their methods were foolish, that they were being too radical, that they should be more patient and work within the system. They were often told to tone down their language and to speak and act calmly. Instead, they continued to disrupt daily life for every-day citizens across the country. They tormented local businesses, costing them significant revenue. They broke laws, they disrespected authority.

Students gathering at a planning meeting in the 1960sTo show the outrageous use of force that the established power was willing to inflict, these youth risked prison, police violence, and death. They leveraged new media technology so that the nation could see these actions play out in living color on their own television sets.

Of note, even though SNCC eventually came to see him as the 'old establishment' of the movement, Dr. King himself was only 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, having only just finished graduate school earlier that same year. What if the Church had decided he was too young to lead? What if they had dismissed him and asked him come back when he had more experience?

Dr. King wasn't even 30 years old when he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Indeed, he was 27 when his house was bombed by the KKK. Malcolm X was 28 when he was appointed to Mosque No. 7 in New York. The same Civil Right movement that we sometimes remember as mature or stoic, was in reality young, passionate, and vibrate. Much like our youth movements today.

Crowd of students with hands up. Sign: "I am a human. Don't shoot"
Today, we have groups like the Ohio Students Association, which has led the protests for John Crawford (as well as for police reform across their state).  We have Ferguson Action, which leverages the emerging media of today's world to spread the growing protest movement.

Instead of sit-ins, they're hosting die-ins. Instead of buttons, they're using hashtags. And like those four freshmen in Greensboro, their actions are not the result of years of training, but rather spring out of felt need in the moment. Like their predecessors, they too are also being told they are too radical, too disruptive. They too are being told to step down and go quietly.

Like SNCC and others, our young activists today also express a wariness of the establishment and of the old methods of protest that may have run their course. Their fresh perspective is helping innovate and to creatively construct next steps for us to take as a nation.

Medical students in white coats lying on the floor in a 'die in'And like those that came before them, today's students are making tremendous personal sacrifices for the sake of the movement. We must remember to listen closely to what they have to say. After all, the very Lord and Savior who died for our sins, was barely 30 when he did so. Was He too young to lead??

We must trust the observations of our young movement leaders and learn from their lived experiences. Otherwise, we might never even realize we've let the movement pass us by.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Don't Habituate.

Faces of the many people of color who have been killed by policeDon't habituate.


Don't get used to it.


Don't become accustomed to the next hashtag, the next memorial, the next video.

#MeaganHockaday, #MyaHall,

It's just too much. It's easy to become immune. It's easy to want to ignore the pain.


But don't ignore it. Don't habituate.

The scale of our crisis is even more daunting when we remember that deaths at the hands of the authorities have continued for years, decades, centuries. This is not a new phenomenon, just one that only recently was so easy captured and disseminated. How many have been forgotten? How many hundreds have gone unnoticed, unprotected, un memorialized?

We have seen videos and have believed, but "blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe."

Rodney King and Eric Garner
Video isn't always enough
And in reality, these recording might not even make that much difference. Too many times we've seen injustice served up fresh in the face of damning video evidence. As long as there are systems are in place to maintain the status quo, no amount of "proof" will sway the tide.

Indeed, as the flood of evidence accumulates, we are at risk of habituating to them, losing them in the swirl of a fast-paced world. We will continue to uncover more videos, more testimonies. But they will do no good it they don't propel us to greater systemic change.

And how many will it take? How many before we will connect the dots? How many until we expand our view from looking at a single drop of water, to stepping back to see the entire ocean of institutionalized injustice that is before us?

And even should the mountain of evidence grow to compel an arrest, a trial, a sentencing, it is a small comfort until we can affect the sort of change that will prevent these deaths from ever happening in the first place. Because an indictment still leaves an empty seat at the dinner table, and a conviction won't bring loved ones back.
Black man holding sign: "How many more????"

As we've experienced this flood of testimonies, we quickly become numb. We've tried to tune it out, to move on. And we've habituated. We've habituated to death.

But we can't afford to do that. We cannot afford to turn our backs. As the Body of Christ, we cannot afford to lose one more limb, one more essential member.


Don't let these names become meaningless. Instead, bear witness to the toll it takes on your soul.
Yes, it's overwhelming. Yes, it exhausting. Yes, it becomes too much to bear.

That's the point. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Friday Fruit (05/15/15)

Two men with large sign: "Do not kill in my name. Abolish the death penalty"
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images via Colorlines
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Born into a Family of Fighters

Papi grew up in the streets of Chalatenango, El Salvador;
photo cred: Papi, April 2015
Please welcome back guest writer Drea Chicas, learner, artist, youth educator and community activist now working in full time urban ministry in Seattle, WA.

I was born into a family of fighters. Papi and his family were raised fighting injustice during the Salvadoran civil war. My brother learned to confront adversity with rage both in the street and at home. My sister used her voice and fists to protect herself. I actively threw left hooks of silence and Mami fought on her knees. Still, we descended from lineages of revolutionary warriors.

So when the youth of Baltimore rise and fight back with slogans of justice and closed fits, it makes sense to me. My spirit remembers my two uncles and aunty who fought to shift the locus of power in their land. The oligarchy known as "The Fourteen families,” owned the majority of El Salvador and brutally oppressed the field-workers. By the 1980s, these inequities inspired revolt across the land, led mainly by youth. Among them was Tia V, who armed herself and organized her pueblo. My two uncles, Jesus Chicas Cartagena and Norberto Chicas Cartagena, followed suit, and joined the uprising as guerilla soldiers. By the time the war "ended" in the early 1990s, the Salvadoran government had murdered and memorialized my uncles. And Tia V reluctantly fled as one of the few surviving luchadoras from her village.

Strapped with this legacy, my father and two of his sisters immigrated to the US carrying invisible knapsacks; heavy with stories of their traumatic yet heroic past. But trauma always has its aftermath; and growing up in the crossfire, with two murdered brothers, weighed Papi down. While survivors of violence need an outlet to heal and process the past, there was no healthy escape for my father. So the home became ground zero. As children, we learned from Papi to stand up to the weapons that came for us. I was born and bred to fight.

"Prayer in action is love, love in action is service. Mother Teresa"When cities like Baltimore rise up, my rebellious spirit activates. Under this climate, the urge to fight and defend resonates with me. I too want to grab my armor of rage and join others in this growing revolution; to fight alongside the masses, who are sick and tired of the inhumane racist practices that aim to destroy us.

Yet, before I walk out the door, girded and ready, I remember to use another weapon, prayer. I remember, Mami fought too. On bended-knee, Mami showed that prayer and meditation were powerful weapons that yielded results.

Others used influence, superiority and charged power, to face oppressive forces. But God’s strategies are different: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) To a fighter, every weapon counts, especially if it's effective.

While Baltimore makes sense to me, I ask the Great Spirit to shift something in me--to assuage the rage I feel for this beloved country. Because this rage can equally destroy me. With the hope of becoming a strategic fighter, I read more scripture: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:4) Armed with these sacred reminders, I am left with no other option but to continue fighting.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Friday Fruit (05/08/15)

Black woman with sign "Jesus was a victim of police brutality too..."
Photo: InterVarsity MEM
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Baltimore and The Unheard

Chalking names of those killed by police since 2014
Do you know the names #AkaiGurley, #MeaganHockaday, #HectorMorejon, #KendraJames, #TerrenceKellum?
(more here and here).

If you have learned about Freddie Gray this past week, but these names remain unfamiliar to you, examine your heart for the reason that might be.

For many, the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that followed were a wake up call. Many white folks woke up for the first time to the epidemic of violence against black and brown bodies in the United States. We woke up to the militarization of police forces. We woke up to the systemic injustices of the legal system. 

And then we fell back asleep.

Since the killing of Michael Brown, there have been ongoing protests against police violence for months on end. There have been hundreds of marches all across the country. A massive movement that has continued, unrelenting, week after week. 

Have you followed them? Have you payed attention to the movement over these many months? Or had it drifted from your attention? Settled into an unpleasant memory of last year?

Now, we stand aghast at the property damage in Baltimore and condemn the violence with moralistic indignation. But where were we for the months of peaceful protests that preceded it? Where was the media coverage? Where was the national attention? 

Interview of Deray McKesson by Wolf Blitzer on CNN
"Freddie Gray will never be back,
but those windows will be."
We have had months of videos, of evidence, of pleas. And yet you've simply shaken your head and mumbled "what a shame." 

What will compel you to compassion? Were not the hundreds of marches, and actions, and protests enough to cause your heart to cry out?

No. It wasn't enough. You did not pay attention to the broken lives. You only woke up again when it became broken windows (see interview by Deray McKesson). 

Baltimore saw weeks of peaceful protest advocating for the life of Freddie Gray. But his death didn't become a national story until the fires of injustice became a visible reality. His killers were not prosecuted until glass was broken.

You have clearly demonstrated to the city of Baltimore that this is what is necessary to merit your attention. You have shown which kinds of violence will move you to protest. You have shown that you will only listen when the oppressed are pushed to their very limit. So whose fault is it really when violence finally erupts?

Who is to blame when the message is sent the only way it will be heard? You were the one that has shown that this is what it takes to grab your attention. And so when it  finally does, why are you so surprised? 

The Nightly Show on the Baltimore Protests
Maybe you were one of those who were blissfully unaware before the Ferguson protests. Maybe you were jolted into reality by video of Eric Garner being suffocated. But if you have not continued to rail since then, you have no business being indignant now. 

While so many of us were all too ready to "move on", to "get over it", to "just stop talking about it", we left those affected by systemic violence every single day to deal with its consequences. They can never fall asleep to the perils of been black or brown in this country. Daily reminders keep the reality of this ever-present danger fresh in mind. On the other hand, those in power only pay attention long enough to ensure that the oppressed, the ones crying out for justice, will finally shut up about it. We don't want peace, we just want quite. 

So Baltimore went back to the strategy that first got your attention this past summer. If ever violence emerges, it is because we have not listening when it's peaceful. Pay attention, and then maybe it won't have to get to this point. 

"Though I cry, 'Violence!' I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice."
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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