“I can’t help but believe that at some time in the not too distant future, there is going to be another movement to change these systemic conditions of poverty, injustice, and violence in people’s lives. That’s where it’s got to go, and it’s going to be a struggle.“- Coretta Scott King
This past week, while the Country’s eyes and attentions were fixed on the NFL playoffs— a tragic video was released of a group of Memphis police officers detaining, beating, and murdering a young black man named Tyre Nichols at a traffic stop. One would say Nichols had been beaten within an inch of his life…if he had survived the brutal encounter that occurred on January 7th. Tyre clung to life for three days and died on January 10th of “excessive bleeding due to severe beating.” The now deactivated police team responsible for his death was called the SCORPION unit, which ironically stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. Some of us watched the news horrified as we saw officers and EMT personnel stand around Tyre as he cried out for his mom, who lived just down the road.
Even more shocking was the fact that the officers in question were black men. Their official photos had the American flag as a backdrop. CNN political commentator Van Jones wrote in this OPED piece that though the police officers were black, they still could have been driven by racism. Jones writes, “One of the sad facts about anti-Black racism is that Black people ourselves are not immune to its pernicious effects. Society’s message that Black people are inferior, unworthy and dangerous is pervasive. Over many decades, numerous experiments have shown that these ideas can infiltrate Black minds as well as White. Self-hatred is a real thing.” My heart sank as I thought of all of the losses that will result from this incident. Tyre’s parents have lost their son. Tyre’s son has lost his father. The Black police officers have lost their livelihoods and will likely lose their freedom. Their wives, children, and parents will lose husbands, fathers, and sons. Then there is the unspoken loss of peace and security for millions of African-American men and their families who wonder if anywhere is safe for them to be. It’s a time of mourning that can’t be relieved by football.
Dr. Michael Emerson, professor of sociology and author of “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America,” says we live in what he calls “a racialized society.” America is full of both individual and SYSTEMIC racism. SYSTEMIC means fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice; an adverse effect of an exposure that affects the whole, rather than one part. Emerson writes that the Church is not immune to systemic racism. 86% of American churches are mono-ethnic—meaning that all the parishioners are of a single race. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described 11 o’clock on Sunday as “The most segregated hour in America.” Dr. Emerson reveals that churches are 10 times more segregated than the neighborhoods people live in and 20 times more segregated than the schools their children attend. Racism in the name of the Lord is like the leaven of false teaching that Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:9 AMP, “A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church].” That’s what a corrupt system does, perverts and misleads.
It would be powerful if the Church that claims to represent Jesus Christ could stand up to the systemic racism that pervades our society.Sadly, though our creeds and mottos are about love of God and people—our witness in the arena of race is not credible. We are divided and not united. The church is oriented toward the same power politics which allows for this destructive system to continue to ravage our families, cities, nation, and world. Our salt has lost its savor, (Matt 5;13) and we have forfeited our ability to be the worlds preservation on race. I pray that the Church will come to repentance over its part in perpetuating racism’s ills. I pray that we as African-Americans will find enough healing and self-love to not inflict the wounds we have received on one another. I pray for Christ’s intervention by Word and Spirit so we, our children, and grandchildren can live in peace.