Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An Open Letter

To my brothers and sisters in Christ-

I feel compelled by some things I've seen on Facebook this weekend to share some thoughts.

This country has a long history of taking issue with how black people protest & ask for their rights.

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who went on to become a powerful orator & abolitionist, wrote about it. Douglass’s detractors asked him to “persuade more and rebuke less” when discussing the evils of slavery. Douglass had called slavery the “great sin and shame” of America, and they wanted him to be less passionate and forthright; they felt his anti-slavery message would be more palatable to moderates if he would avoid calling it what it was.

He responded to detractors by pointing out that only struggle will bring change, saying “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground.” Agitation is never pleasant, convenient or wholly positive; think about the agitator in your washing machine or on your vacuum cleaner. It shakes everything up, yet without it, nothing would get clean. Without agitators like Douglass, slavery might still exist. Thank God for men and women who weren’t afraid to speak out. Read the rest of Douglass’s remarks here and here.

Martin Luther King Jr. also dealt with the uniquely American idea that, while peaceful protests are acknowledged to be a right, it is never a “good” time for black people to stage them (although white people can in fact stage armed protests, heck, even armed takeovers of government buildings- and get acquitted.

Martin Luther King had to address myriad complaints about the protests and sit-ins and marches that eventually changed Jim Crow laws and desegregated schools. His words to his detractors are pointed: “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But...[you fail] to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” In other words, he’s calling people out for being more concerned with the agitation and inconvenience of the protests than by the injustice that spurred the protests. King says they are wrong.

He goes on, calling out moderate white church leaders. He says that they have become more of an enemy to him than the KKK and white supremacist groups, because at least the KKK and the White Citizens Bureau reject him outright, instead of feigning support that never fully materializes. He says the church leaders are “more devoted to "order" than to justice; [and they prefer] a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Peace, he is saying, isn’t merely pretending that everything is fine, but actually MAKING things fine. Justice, not comfort, is the source of peace. (And if you want Biblical support, do a quick Bible search for the word “justice”- you’ll find that exhortations to create and seek justice come far more frequently than those that tell Christians to stand up for an anthem or fight over a Starbucks cup).

We look back now and revere MLK for his peaceful protests and yet, at the time he was organizing them, people were saying much the same things as they are saying to black people who protest today. “Why are you so angry?” “It’s not like things are that bad”, etc. And that passage I quoted above is from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Full text here.

King was jailed for the protests we now look back on misty eyed, believing that we would have stood up for him, believing we wouldn’t have been like those OTHER white people, believing we wouldn’t have called him an agitator, believing we wouldn’t have been “sick of the all the drama” he was creating by endlessly beating the drum about racism and injustice.

Our black brothers and sisters in Christ and our fellow black Americans need to know that we have their backs and will stand united with them against hate and racism. If we are going out of our way to be offended by and speak out against peaceful kneeling, how are we demonstrating the compassion that they need, particularly if we said nothing regarding the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia?

If you don’t support this weekend’s NFL demonstrations, maybe have some conversations with people who do, and ask them why; have a conversation. Ask people to talk about the experiences that drive them; ask them why they feel the way they do.

Maybe do some research on Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to take a knee, and who the President called a “son of a bitch” this weekend. News articles abound explaining why he protested and what it has cost him professionally; read some and know the situation thoroughly. If you still think he should stand for the anthem, then fine, but at least you can address the situation with the empathy born understanding instead of the anger born of ignorance.

Finally, remember to love one another deeply, for as Peter said, love covers over a multitude of sins. It’s by our love for ONE ANOTHER that all people will know that we are God’s.

With much love and respect,

Sarah Ford

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