Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name. Amen.
I am not ashamed to call myself a Christian.
I am not ashamed to stand and recite the Creed every Sunday morning. I do believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty (Although, for the record, I also believe that Father is one of many ways God can reveal Godself to us– to some, God is Father; to others, Mother, or Friend, or Companion… God can be revealed to God’s children in infinitely-many ways.) I do believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. I do believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.
I am not ashamed to proclaim the Gospel as the Good News to all God’s people (in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free) for salvation. I use the word “salvation” here not to mean fire insurance, but rather, hope for healing, liberation, peace, and restoration of right relationships for all of creation. (Which, if you ask me, is way more amazing than just an admit-one, individual get-out-of-Hell-free card.)
I am not ashamed of the faith that calls me to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”
I am not ashamed to call the whole Church Universal my home, and the whole Communion of Saints my family. I am not ashamed to follow in the footsteps of the Saints who have come before me, nor am I ashamed to take part in the formation and shaping of generations yet to come.
I am not ashamed to claim the legacy of the Resurrection– that new life comes out of death, that joy comes out of suffering, that violence will never claim the final word, and that God can make all things new.
I am not ashamed to call myself a Christian. Nor am I ashamed of the Gospel.
But I’m often incredibly ashamed of actions, ideas, and words that Christianity is used to justify.
Last night at the Grammy Awards, several artists mentioned the tragic loss of a young life that occurred last year in Ferguson, Missouri. Prince explicitly used the words “black lives matter” during his speech, and Beyonce incorporated the “hands up/don’t shoot” gesture into her rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, which Mahalia Jackson famously sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Both that gesture and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter have become cultural symbols of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, as well as the broader problem of prejudice against young men of color– prejudice that has, on far too many occasions, proven fatal for its young victims.
With the recent release of the movie Selma (which I still need to see), it’s hard not to link this issue with the Civil Rights Movement of my parents’ generation. #BlackLivesMatter is perhaps to my generation what “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” and “We Shall Overcome” and “Woke Up This Mornin’ with my Mind Stayed on Freedom” were to those who marched in Selma and boycotted buses in Montgomery. Racism is still alive in America. Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and countless other lives cut short far too soon are proof of this. Beyonce’s musical performance last night very deliberately and explicitly made this connection– we are fighting the same fight in 2015 as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Medgar Evers, and their contemporaries. We may be equal at lunch counters and water fountains and on public transportation in 2015, but not we’re not equal at the business end of a gun. And, like the previous generation of civil rights warriors, we can’t let nobody turn us ’round. We must continue the fight for the equality and dignity of every human being. We must keep working toward the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.
Right on! What a beautiful, timely message, right? I certainly think so.
But many would disagree.
Last night, droves of people took to Twitter, enraged that Ferguson had been invoked as a civil rights issue, and placed alongside the events of the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the 1960s. “MLK and Rosa Parks were heroes,” many people said. “Mike Brown was a thug and a hoodlum.”
I’m fairly certain “thug” and “hoodlum” were levelled at plenty of young black men and women who participated in walk-outs, sit-ins, boycotts, and marches in the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.– too. I’m fairly certain Rosa Parks was breaking a law, too. And there were racists who claimed blacks weren’t suffering any actual injustice in the 1960s, too. Funny how that 20/20 hindsight works, isn’t it? And yet, even though we can see what happened just a generation ago, we seem hell-bent on repeating and continuing it.
What really infuriated me last night, though, was the fact that people were using Christianity— or at least their interpretation of Christianity– to justify their racism, their prejudice, their bigotry, and their hate. The same people who were thrilled that religious music and religious language were being used during an awards show were horrified that the same awards show was being used as a platform to promote the idea that black lives matter.
And that, my friends, is the kind of thing that makes me deeply ashamed of my fellow Christians.
We can’t just say the name of Jesus and call that Christianity. We can’t just sing songs about him and go to church and maybe toss a few bucks in the plate every once in a while. That’s all well and good, but that’s not Christianity.
Christianity isn’t about public piety. It isn’t about using churchy-sounding words or singing religious songs. It’s not about giving lip service to God.
It’s about sharing with the world what Jesus shared in the temple when he read from the book of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Or, to use the words of African-American theologian James Cone, “There can be no Christian theology which is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. In fact, theology ceases to be a theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed.”
Christianity is about proclaiming that abundance, inclusion, hope, peace, freedom, and love will ultimately win– not greed, bigotry, despair, fear, or hate. It’s about proclaiming the Good News of salvation– redemption, restoration, shalom— to all God’s people. It’s about the first being last and the last being first.
When you proclaim the message that hate wins, the Gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
When you justify violence, the Gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
When you favor one group of people over another, the Gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
When you hate, exclude, oppress, abuse, or hurt anyone, the Gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
When you say that some lives– gay lives, Muslim lives, transgender lives, prisoners’ lives, homeless lives, and yes, black lives– don’t matter, the Gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
Christianity isn’t just about believing in Jesus– it’s about following Jesus.
And if you can put MLK and Rosa Parks on a pedestal while calling Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin thugs, you aren’t following Jesus.
If #BlackLivesDon’tMatter, you aren’t following Jesus.
So, if you’re so inclined, be a racist all you want. Hate people. Support violence. Vote for policies that exclude, disenfranchise, and harm other people. Deny the image of God in those who look or act or believe differently than you do. Be the antithesis of that “freedom” ideal you claim to love.
But don’t you dare claim do it in the name of Jesus.