On Taking Action for Black Lives

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Protestors react after the killer of Philando Castile is found not guilty. Startribune.com

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Protestors block I-94. startribune.com

This post is not for people who wish to argue about Philando Castile’s death. It’s not for people who are scandalized by the radical notion that black people matter. It’s not for people who consistently impugn and insult black Christians so they can stay on the good side of white conservatives. This post is for white people who want to do the right thing, who want to be useful in the struggle for racial justice and human rights.

After the verdict, a black Christian woman challenged nonblack Christians with this question:

What are you doing (simply talking about it and having the conversation doesn’t count in the context of this question) to correct the systemic injustice and racism/white supremacy that allowed Philando Castile to be murdered in broad daylight and his murderer to be acquitted and freed?

I am challenged and convicted by this question.

In a way, Alicia and I have built our lives around providing an answer to a question similar to this. And yet…In all that we do there is a nagging sense that it is really more useful for us than for oppressed people. You don’t get points for living in a black neighborhood. You don’t get points for good intentions. Our usefulness is measured not by our self-image, but by oppressed people themselves. And by that measure, I wonder if I am failing. In itself, that’s a matter of little public interest. But it matters a great deal if we—the collective us, white people who want to be useful—are failing.

The scale, depth, and intractability of racial injustice in this country call for action on all fronts. White Christians of the left, we dare not call for redistribution in public policy without practicing redistribution in our personal lives. White Christians of the right, we dare not call for redistribution in our personal lives without demanding it of our public policies. If we are one-dimensional we are part of the problem.

If you’re not financially supporting organizations run by people of color, why not?

If you’re not a member of a black activist organization, why not?

If you don’t support reparations, why not?

If you’re not an advocate of life-giving policing policies, why not?

If you aren’t making a ruckus in your church, or starting a reading group, why not?

If you’re not deliberately supporting black businesses, why not?

If you live in a community zoned to keep out the poor, are you working to change the zoning laws? If not, why not?

I need to make this absolutely clear: some of these questions hit me in the gut. I am a convicted fellow traveler.

Are all your relationships with white people comfortable? I don’t believe that is possible if you resist white supremacy. Challenging white supremacy challenges white self-interest. People will protect their interests—including, above all, their self-image—at all costs. If all the white people in your life are comfortable with your views, you need to go back to the drawing board. You’re swimming in sewage and thinking it’s fresh water. Tune in to people of color. Listen, learn, and repent.

If your church, your neighborhood, your kids’ school—or all three—are white, stop pretending you haven’t used the wages whiteness gives you. Take responsibility for your racial decisions. It may be that you should stay in all those white places! Ignorant white people need you. But they certainly don’t need semi-woke white people more preoccupied with claiming innocence than taking responsibility.

And nobody needs guilty white people. Nobody needs White Christians who are suddenly anti-gospel when racism enters the conversation: “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” It’s hard to top that as a statement of anti-Christian pride. Scripture tells us different:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

We don’t need guilty white Christians. We need committed white Christians who have enough confidence in the gospel to take responsibility for the sin in and around them.

Take Action: Protest

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Protest in Philadelphia, January 26, 2017

When my six-year-old son asked me this morning why I was going to the protest today I said, “Because President Trump is coming to our city and he is trying to take away people’s health care so rich people can have more money.” Let us not lose sight of this basic obscenity.

As this barbarous administration takes initial steps to oppress the sick, the poor, and the immigrant, our bodies on the street can make a difference. Large protests now can affect media narratives of this presidency, activate people who haven’t been engaged before, and make politicians fearful.

It is important for us to protest. Don’t think it doesn’t matter. Especially if you’re a conflict-avoidant, apolitical person, your protest can have an impact on the people in your social network. It is important for people like us to protest and to be seen protesting. Not because we’re grandstanding, but because we want to provoke questions. People might stop and wonder what made a quiet person like you take to the streets.

It is especially important for us to protest if we have little personally to lose under a Trump presidency. I’m a white heterosexual Christian male. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be ok! But my conscience tells me my complacency is a grave sin. I must protest for the millions of people who have so much to lose.

And it is important for Christians to protest. We protest not as advocates of a particular political program—the kingdom of God cannot be contained in any such program—but as people who intrinsically seek solidarity with the oppressed. When I attend a protest, I’m always able to pray the Lord’s Prayer: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Because that prayer reflects our hopes and not our realities, we protest.

Take Action: Join the NAACP

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NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers

In the fall of 1954, tensions were rising in Mississippi. The Supreme Court had decided Brown v Board in May, and NAACP chapters around the state were preparing to bring school desegregation suits. Meanwhile, the first White Citizens’ Councils–determined to uphold segregation–had already formed and were on their way to spreading throughout the South.

In October, Byron De La Beckwith of Greenwood, Mississippi, wrote to Senator John Stennis urging him to stand strong against the forces of integration:

This is to let you know that I insist that you openly, clearly, and definitely fight and destroy all those persons in any way connected with integration. Segregation must be maintained at all cost & with any means we find most expedient. I pledge my life to maintain segregation. We must…destroy all those associated with integration.¹

Stennis lamely replied, “Dear Friend Beckwith, I certainly appreciate your letter in which you so forcefully expressed your views on segregation.” It was Stennis’s custom to indulge the violent fantasies of his white constituents with formulaic friendly replies, as he did on this occasion. In contrast, when the NAACP wrote to him, he studiously ignored their queries. In February of 1960 the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP asked Stennis to do something about the Citizens’ Councils:

We want to be free. We want the truth to be known about the Negro in Mississippi. All Negroes are entitled to equal justice, many of whom are afraid to voice their sentiments because of economic reprisals sinfully heaped upon them by their white employers. They are afraid to speak the convictions of their souls because of the hate virus spread by the White Citizens Council and similar organizations. May we impress upon you, Mr. Stennis that America cannot maintain its great heritage with its citizens half free and half slaves?²

As usual, Stennis did not respond to his black constituents. After all, he was busy supporting the Citizens’ Councils behind the scenes. He understood, correctly, that the NAACP was a mortal threat to the white supremacy he held dear.

Though the NAACP by the 1950s and 1960s already had a reputation as the cautious and stodgy old guard of the civil rights movement, it played a crucial role in the struggle. Everyone from white terrorists to U.S. senators correctly perceived that the NAACP was one of their most dangerous opponents.

And so, in the summer of 1963, Byron De La Beckwith would finally make good on his violent intentions. He assassinated NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in the driveway of his own home.

Today, long after other civil rights organizations have faded, the NAACP is still around. And it’s still doing vital work, especially through the legal defense fund. The NAACP is at the forefront of efforts to protect voting rights and resist the resegregation of schools. Joining the NAACP adds your money (a small amount!) and name to the national clout of the organization, but it’s also a way to organize locally, as you can connect with the chapter in your area.

On this shameful day, as a barbarous administration comes to power, let’s take action. Do something positive. Join the NAACP. It–and you–will be needed in the years ahead.


¹Byron De La Beckwith to John C. Stennis, October 25, 1954. Series 29 Box 1 Folder 38. John C. Stennis Collection, Congressional and Political Research Center, Mississippi State University Libraries.

²Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP to John C. Stennis, February 18, 1960, Series 29 Box 7 Folder 16. John C. Stennis Collection, Congressional and Political Research Center, Mississippi State University Libraries.

Take Action: Save Reps’ Numbers In Your Phone

As the Republican Congress proposes legislation to oppress the poor and afflict the sick, your voice is needed. Do not stay on the sidelines. One small thing you can do is call your representatives. But how do you move from intending to do that to actually doing it? And not just doing it once in a fit of rage, but doing it consistently? Save their numbers in your phone. Are you with me? Here’s what you do:

  1. Find your senators here and house member here
  2. Click on their name to go to their website
  3. On their website there will be a list of their office locations and phone numbers. It may be under a “Contact” tab or “Office Locations” or something like that.
  4. Once you’ve found the list, save the phone number for their D.C. office and their local office in your area.
  5. Now, when you read the news or when the thought occurs to you, you can call your representatives very easily. Call them in D.C. and at their local offices. You’ll often get to talk to real live staffers. Make their jobs hard.

If someone knows an easier way to find contact information please let me know! But this is pretty easy.

Do not assume that your voice doesn’t matter. The situation is fluid and there is a group of Republican senators that is very nervous about repealing Obamacare without having a real replacement ready. Now is the time to lean on those senators, and on all of our representatives. You may want to save the phone numbers of key congressional leaders in addition to your own representatives.

What should your message to them be? Here in Pennsylvania, I have one Republican senator, so he is the key leverage point. I am not asking Senator Toomey to invest in Obamacare as such. I understand the politics of this. As a Republican, he will feel required to vote for at least a symbolic repeal of the law. That’s ok. My message to him is three-fold:

  1. My family and many others in our community depend on Obamacare. For some, this is a matter of life and death.
  2. Repealing the law without replacing it is unacceptable.
  3. Any replacement must absolutely prioritize the sick and the poor.

Let’s stand together and care for each other, especially when our leaders won’t.