After Ferguson, churches must confess the sin of abandonment

August 22, 2014

(RNS) The ride to the church seemed too short to give me time to unleash all those tears. I had to preach. What would I say?

How do you preach what you feel when you’re one of only a few black people in the church?

What do you say to a mostly white congregation after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown? What do you say after prayers and litanies are offered to remind us that we are called to promote justice and peace?

I cried because I feared saying what I felt to members of Bethel Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., last Sunday. I cried because I wondered if they would understand. In that moment, the deep burden of division landed in my stomach and forced me to scream. Yes, the ache was about the death of another black man.

But I cried because I felt my blackness come to me in a way that exposed historical pain. I wondered if it ever goes away. I thought about what it takes to move beyond the trappings of history.

Have we evoked a language of peace devoid of a clear understanding of how it feels to be harassed by the police?

Is it possible to preach to those who haven’t lived that experience? Isn’t it much easier to drive away?

I wanted to leave the pain of the parking lot and find a congregation filled with black people. I wanted to find home — the affirmation, love and support of the black church.

But as easy as it is to drive away, change happens when we stay.

People keep asking what the church can do to move us past the pain of Ferguson. Maybe the answer is found in staying.

Staying is painful. The desire to leave is rooted in that deep sense of loneliness. The desire to depart is cultivated by the fear of not being affirmed and understood.

Ferguson is a story about abandonment. It began when white residents left due to the rise in black population. Some blacks left in search of the American dream defined by the percentage of white residents. Churches followed by abandoning their mission around the corner.

What service can churches offer among those they have abandoned?

“It’s not about what we can do, it’s about what they want us to do,” said Muriel Johnson, regional associate minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region. “We can offer to stand in solidarity with them in our giftedness to do what they tell us they need.”

Johnson is correct to suggest we listen. What else can churches offer?

Churches, black and white, can confess the sin of abandonment. They can confess the limits of their theological claims.

We can confess that our congregations are dying and becoming less relevant due to our unwillingness to listen. We can apologize for not being present with those who hurt. We can ask forgiveness for formulating views about people and their communities that negate their dignity. We should beg forgiveness for walking away.

We can admit how hard it is to be present. Congregations should talk about the fear of poverty and the consequences of walking in that space. Pastors should admit how they are lured into embracing congregations with wealthy members. We should confess packing sermons with language that satisfies the masses and maintains distance from those we fear.

Yes, we should confess not moving beyond the talk about race and racism. Yes, we must admit how difficult it is to stay in the parking lot, move into the church and preach to those who don’t understand what we have to share.

But we have to stay there until they get the message.

So, we’re sorry, Ferguson. We abandoned you. Be patient with us as we prove to you that we will not walk away again.


Blacks Are Harmed More By Insider Psuedo Religion

“Let the Church of Jesus Christ Say “Amen” –Others Say: “Oh My”!”

The definition of racism is NOT confined to skin color. People who sit in pews besides fellow members have become MORE racist than people being pointed at! Also, current protests some people are making about a Black Jesus show is for lots of people disingenuous. To many protesters the issue is regard is for personal esteem and social seals of approval for what their religion bestows on them before peers, business circles, and social arenas. It is not at all about love for God and His glory. And shame on even the (jail house?) ‘preachers’ who formerly were inmates, are not bothering to scratch the surface as far as what can be done regarding INCARCERATION and their families. Moreover, it’s despicable what’s going on with all federal $$$$$ for “Let’s Make A Deal” preachers who pretend helping people via federal and state funding, but actually becoming immensely enriched.
(It’s common –and pathetically a foregone conclusion among lots of Black church-going people, that becoming lethally wounded (Psalm 55:12-14) by fellow church member is ‘one of those things’ if it’s business advancement. GAG!!!!)

For some members, these can be their prisons: sexual confusion; insurmountable debt; suicide, homicide thoughts; medical conditions; jailed loved-ones; incest, molestation; domestic violence; BULLIED AT WORKPLACES; gambling; pharmaceutical, substance addiction; loneliness; AIDS –and some people’s troubles are linked to disconnect they feel at churches (unless they’re “prominent” in society!). Ironically, fame seeking pulpit celebrities who climb social ladders by means of their –not God’s– pulpit pretty much are saying to their flock who can't surmount their troubles: 'good luck with ALL that', and leave your money here!!!

To non-clergy church goers and others who hasten to interject that people are in their predicaments because of their poor choices –the "GO ALONG, TO GET ALONG FOLK" who are selfishly "at ease in Zion"! Much of the issue with people who assert the "poor choices" mantra, are those who make a practice of "passing by on the other side,"(-Luke 10:31-32) while looking away from hurting people with disdain. (And even worse: Or, are you among the shocking, shameless people who formed a nonprofit, and then obtained a skilled grant writer so you can tap in to those overflowing federal and state dollars –after all since people make poor choices; you should enrich yourself and your family with those funds by means of your favorite politician and courtroom judges!?).

Moreover, those who –without knowing all the details– blame people for their circumstances must be proud of your wonderful selves for all your good choices –and possibly social connections or whatever you were blessed with that enabled your "respectability" –until your dirty laundry becomes exposed. Regarding poor choices –even if peoples’ choices caused their predicament, should someone’s grandmother or auntie be involved in an auto accident because someone was so overwhelmed with his or her sorrows he / she drank alcohol? Also, should people who can’t find employment that includes DIGNITY so they won't feel so oppressed they won't resort to getting drunk or high or gamble or ultimately his / her disoriented thinking, result in their concluding the only CHOICE is home invasion? And would you please furnish your address for their next home for them to enter?! Alternately, would you offer your wisdom to your comrades about the value of dignity –even for “have nots”?

Regarding the person who's mentally distressed because life is too challenging, he / she should “get back with you when he gets himself together,” –right? And he should be avoided like an outcast -correct? As school shootings occur –society should be surprised; or blame "choices" after kids have lost their lives. Right?

I also wish to convey the following statements to whoever is being labeled, “first lady”, and to married or unmarried women, and fits any of the following characteristics:
•When you show up at your husband’s church or office, dressed in what you think looks good (and may / may not stand out above others), and as far as you’re concerned, people with problems could go see Jerry Springer, or enquire to “Madea,” you are a last lady!
•When you cannot state when and how you evangelized or helped some of the above people when the spotlight was not on –or what that even means; if you don’t bother complying with Matthew 28:19-20, (but you invite “walking dollars” to churches so there’ll be additional contributors), you are a last lady!
•If you don’t isolate time daily to pray for your church members to have blessed lives, so that they can be God’s Kingdom builders and healthy support system to your husband, you're a last lady!
•When you cannot recall when you’ve walked the street or considered walking –since “he that winneth souls is wise” (not walked because it’s within your job description, and you’re on the clock!), as Jesus did, a first lady you are not!
•If you get dressed for church with thoughts in mind of being seen, instead of simply enjoy looking nice; if you don’t hug people, or hold babies because you’re concerned about getting your clothes messed up, you're not a first lady!
•If you use your children for spying on your husband; giving reports of what they think they heard or saw; if you carry tales to drive who or what threatens you, you're a last lady!
• If you remain in the front of the church, or edifice gawking at audiences to see who's who; if you don't greet and interact with people as if they matter as much as you do and determine how you can help, you are a last lady!
• If you think you can talk your husband in to doing what you want, someone else can talk him out of it. But God’s preacher will do what God wants, and for such that kind of preacher, God's mission is not optional. . . “

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