I am a Black Man. We are not okay.
I grew up on Chicago’s Southside and I saw drugs, gangs and violence as common things in my childhood — heck, my dad was instrumental in some of it. Now I live in a predominately white, wealthy Boston suburb trying to plant a church and effectively redeem the evangelical name from the stereotypes it holds in this post-Christian secularized context.
The news of yet another black man’s execution by the hand of police gone viral is a danger my childhood did not prepare me for. I learned who to avoid, what route home was safest, and how to handle myself in order not to be mistaken for a “trouble-maker.” Jesus and school were my rearing, but in the context of a minefield of possible entrapments for black boys, I found bootstraps and pulled myself up. I made it out, went to college, married a beautiful, godly, hardworking career woman, got three master’s degrees, pastored, had two sons, and planted a church in America’s northeast; arguably one of the hardest areas to do so — it isn’t called the “pastor’s graveyard” for nothing. And still, I didn’t know that the hardest battle to fight would be one I could never control or seem to “win” – the color of my skin.
I am a Black Christian. We are not okay.
African American Christians have learned to play the game; be level-headed, talented, trustworthy, calm, and my personal favorite “articulate” in order to be heard. We’ve learned to speak two languages; the one that is native to who we are and the one that is less threatening, for whatever reason, to everyone else. Somehow, it is custom for us to be less of who we are for the sake of the “community,” even the church community. “Don’t get too unhinged,” try not to bring “politics into the church,” yet we have been asked to do the reading during Black History Month, be “the face” of church webpages and social media. We along with women have been asked to sit on boards and as ministerial staff — yet only after a long journey and years of proving ourselves. We waited our turn, we complied and made the church look good.
But when we celebrated electing the first Black president in 2008, we rejoiced alone and with people that looked just like us. When we tried to speak up prophetically about the dangerous state of the country during the 2016 elections, the evangelical church replied, “we are voting for religious freedom.”
I am a Black Evangelical Pastor. We are not okay.
Now here we are. Everyone is appalled by what they see on TV — a black man strangled by a police officer, a black woman sleeping in her home shot by police, and a jogging black man shot by a retired police officer and his son and a white woman using her privilege to harm an innocent black man by calling the police. NOW, we post on social media, NOW, we weep. But where were the voices of evangelicals in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed and every year after that as black lives were removed from this earth? The evangelical was silent — at most a faint whisper. No colleagues reached out to me, wanted to interview me, needed my voice — it was wholly ignored.
So, we are not okay.
And NOW, we need the church to do what it should have done all those years we served Her: LISTEN. Hear our stories, check-in on us, allow us to be the “experts of blackness” that our entire life has taught us to be. The deepest pain and fear is that “living while black” (jogging, sleeping, birdwatching, and shopping) is the most dangerous way to live. We feel scared. We feel frustrated. We feel hopeless. But don’t to try to fix it yet. First, weep with us. Mourn with us.
Because, Church, your black brothers and sisters are not okay.