Black Lives Matter

It was 2012 when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed at the hands of George Zimmerman. I was in my final semester at Candler School of Theology at the time. We were devastated. This crime was so clearly a result of racism and the ways we talk about and treat brown and black bodies in this country. We mourned deeply over Trayvon’s death. A year and a half later a jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. It was a Saturday and I was pastoring a small church in Montgomery, Alabama at the time. My Facebook timeline was filled with deep laments from many of my friends from Candler. And, to my shock and horror, with words of celebration from a couple of the members of the church I was pastoring.

I knew that the sermon I had written was headed to the “save for another day” pile, but what in the hell was I going to say? Stop being racist? While those were absolutely the words that came to mind, they seemed like words that would help people stop listening to anything I ever said, rather than helping folks to confront the racism that we carry in our bones. That Sunday morning, I stood before my people in that little church in Montgomery, Alabama, and told them I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to reconcile the deep hurt with the celebration of others. And I asked them to join me in doing the only thing I did know to do. We had communion. We gave thanks and remembered the story of God and heard the words that tell us that Jesus is the one whose broken body can make our broken souls whole.

And then there was Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Antwon Rose, and so many others. Black bodies killed because the color of their skin made them appear threatening. And now we have Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Ahmaud who was shot while out for a run and George who was killed by a police officer.

There are no words to adequately express my outrage.

In encounters with police or overly eager neighborhood watch presidents, I have never had to worry about what might happen to me. No one thinks I’m suspicious because we’ve been conditioned to believe that a white-skinned lady walking down the street is probably just out for a walk. Meanwhile, my black and Latinx kids are assumed to be armed and dangerous. Our Vietnamese daughter is presumed to be promiscuous.

When we say Black Lives Matter, it’s not because we don’t believe all lives matter. It’s because black lives have been treated as if they don’t. If someone is handing out slices of birthday cake and I get skipped over, it’s reasonable that I might say, “Hey, I’d like some cake.” The response to this isn’t, “Well, Sam, we all want cake,” as everyone eats their cake and I’m empty-handed. White lives are treated as if they matter every single day. But black lives? Black lives are carelessly discarded.

The murder of black people is unconscionable. I renounce the evil force of racism that resides in my mind, my body, and my soul. I wish I knew what could change this trajectory. I wish I knew a way to get every ounce of racism out of my country and myself right now. But I don’t.
So, for today, we’ll prepare a space on the wall for THIS poster our son has chosen. A tribute to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who held their fists high as a salute to human rights. My wife and I will continue to invite one another to see when we have unintentionally used coded language. And I will give thanks to God for every person of color I meet. Because they are made in the very image of God. After all, as James Cone taught, God is black.

“God is black…. There is no place in black theology for a colorless God in a society where human beings suffer precisely because of their color. The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God’s own condition.” -James Cone