I am in the midst of working on a book project in which I am exploring what I am calling a “thick thread” in Scripture that gives voice to emotions and thoughts that are often not considered expressions of faith or the expressions of a righteous person. These are the words of frustration, pain, doubt, protest, anger and even rage. These are not only human voices, but noticeably in the prophetic books, the Lord speaks with angry and even profane speech in addressing the idolatry and injustice pervasive in Israel’s culture. If you find it hard to believe the Lord would use his prophet to speak an extremely profane message read Ezekiel 23. The purpose of such language is the verbal equivalent of a slap in the face, an extreme measure designed to capture the attention of a complacent and self-righteous people. Or perhaps read Matthew 23 and hear how Jesus speaks to the Pharisees. Better yet read Paul’s angry response to those who were attempting to require Gentiles be circumcised (Gal. 5:12).
We happened to be in Minneapolis, moving our youngest daughter into a new apartment when George Floyd was murdered by four Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. Coming so soon after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the U.S. saw scenes of angry protesters taking to the streets and demanding justice in Minneapolis. These protests quickly spread across not only the U.S., but across the globe. We returned to Richmond and angry protests were occurring here as well. In the past two weeks the statues that glorify Confederate “heroes” have been artistically reworked and the statue of Jefferson Davis has actually been torn down by angry protesters. The racial tension that simmers just below the surface of American culture occasionally boils over and angry people of color and others take to the streets in protest. As James Baldwin famously observed decades ago, “To be a Negro in this country and relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” However, will all these current protests actually provoke any real change this time or will it be like all the other prior occurrences where promises are made for reform in our policing and more broadly in our justice system but there is not the political will for any meaningful dismantling of our racially prejudiced criminal and justice system?
I return to the theme of prophetic anger and the repentance the Lord required of his people. I am not referring to America, even though the drive for meaningful systemic change is something I desire. However, I am more concerned that this time of ongoing angry demonstrations result in sincere repentance among White Christianity. The Church is the people of God that continues on from Israel, not America. Do all these visceral expressions of anger and rage make you nervous or uncomfortable? I believe all this anger can serve a prophetic role if we will only hear the word of the Lord. It can jar us out of our complacency, out of our desire for things to return to normal both in our news and social media feed. You may be getting fatigued with the almost constant exposure to the anger on the streets and in various forms of mass media; rest assured, the vast majority of people of color do not share that opinion.
I am extremely privileged to be in relationships with many African-American brothers and sisters. Many are in my church here in Richmond but several others are part of my cohort at Northern Seminary in Chicago. I see all their angry, hurtful and pain filled posts on social media. If you are not blessed to be in relationships with angry and hurting people of color, as strange as this sounds, I would implore you to actively look for ways to expose yourself to their anger. Don’t be offended by anger. Don’t get defensive about charges of White privilege. Don’t get sidetracked by questions like, “well maybe but what about . . .?” Experientially we can never enter into the frustration of being a person of color but as best you can attempt to get close enough to feel the anger and pain they live with. Let the prophetic words, no matter how profane and offensive they are, accomplish their holy purpose. For instance, watch Dave Chappelle, 8:46. Will this finally be the time in our history when White Christianity repents of its complicity as well as it active role in oppressing people of color? Will we finally uproot and throw down the idol of White supremacy that has been and continues to be an integral part of American Christianity? Will this finally be time we move beyond words of repentance to acts of reconciliation.