A large group of African-American spectators stands on the banks of Buffalo Bayou to witness a baptism. Many umbrellas are present indicating an effort to provide some shade from the heat of the day (courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries). Recreation of Martin Luther King’s Cell in Birmingham Jail – National Civil Rights Museum – Downtown Memphis – Tennessee – USA (courtesy of Adam Jones, Ph.D.). Chasity Shavon Jones sings during the commissioning service of Global Mission Fellows at Grace UMC in Atlanta, Ga.
By Chasity Shavon Jones | Additional Photos by Mike DuBose and Wikipedia
Note: This week, clergy and laity from the PNWUMC will be sharing letters in the style of Bishop Woodie White celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Each letter will express some of the ideas, frustrations, questions and hopes from representatives in the PNW. Follow these letters here at The PNW News Blog!
Dear Dr. King,
Since I was young, I was raised to admire you. Recently, my adoration has gone beyond my upbringing and has inspired many of my major life decisions – including leaving my life in Louisiana to live in Seattle working for justice and making a difference.
Your words at the end of your ‘Mountaintop’ speech have taken root within my heart, producing a radical love that I have never known before for my people…black people. This year, I have intentionally learned more about pre-colonization, slavery, Civil Rights and everything in between than in the last 24 years of Black History Months. I am honored to be from a strong, intelligent, resilient and divine people. However, here and today, words like “strong,” “intelligent,” and “divine” are still not associated with black people.
I am so overwhelmed by how deeply rooted racism is within the fabric of the United States that I can feel myself on the precipice of giving up. How did you stay diligent? What motivated you to work hard in the name of justice for all?
There were many things people fought for during the Civil Rights Movement, yet I wonder if the natural ramifications of integration were considered during this time. New war tactics were unleashed onto the black community as a response to the Movement, maintaining an invisible force of separatism that is no longer as evident since 1968. Mass incarceration, police brutality, gentrification, abortion, miseducation, violence within the community, poverty, dehumanization, division, self-hatred and many other things reinforced by propaganda are constantly used as weapons rendering the black community defenseless.
One of the most dangerous means ensuring the struggle of black people continues are specific doctrines within Christian theology that elevate themes of suppression:
- the implication that Jesus is white (along with everything that is pure and good)
- those who lack should be content in their poverty and not want better for themselves, while those who are wealthy are reaping the ‘blessing’ and the ‘favor’ of the Lord
- Corrupted and one-sided, ethnocentric interpretations of the Bible devaluing the currency of the black community.
We are told that if we do not submit to this version of the gospel that we are sinful and rebellious, condemning our souls to hell. Questions are dismissed, feelings are neglected, and we are lead to destructive behavior. Just as scripture was used to justify slavery, today it is twisted and omitted at will to perpetuate the psychological and physical destruction of the black community.
As a black woman who loves the Most High with everything that I have, it was hard to reconcile ironic continuum that I have experienced both salvation and oppression simultaneously through an evangelistic doctrine within Christianity. It is a double-edged sword that can be used to comfort, motivate, and seek justice can be wielded as a weapon to dehumanize the souls of black men, women, and children. Very often, these realizations result in bitterness, however I am inspired to tread through vipers with no fear of being bitten. I am determined to not allow corruption and intentional dehumanization to separate me from the Most High.
As you wrote in the letter during your sentence in Birmingham jail, the most frustrating and dangerous to the cause of demolishing racism is not the extreme racists, but those that are moderate and claim to understand, brushing off the urgency of the justice that is called for. I am told to wait.
It is preached often that God is on the side of the oppressed, however my life is devalued consistently. I am predicted to have worse life outcomes than my white counterparts no matter what I do…Is God not for me? I am perceived as a sinner if I testify that the Most High values justice over peace. I can no longer sit silently in an attempt to be a peacekeeper while witnessing my brothers and sisters being swallowed and desolated in the name white supremacy that rules this land. Because the Most High is FOR me and not AGAINST me, I will stand against tyranny and demand justice just as you did, Dr. King.
In the moments that I feel overwhelmed and useless, I find myself looking to you, Dr. King, who was able to use the trespasses committed against you to draw closer to the Most High. You were able to transform your pain instead of transmitting it. Your unmovable faith led you down a path that has changed the world. There are many things for which people look up to you for, you are one of the reasons that I could be proud of my skin when I was younger. You inspire me to not remove my faith from Yahweh (I AM) regardless of the situation.
Thank you for the sacrifices that have led to the prevailing of your legacy for all of us who have after you to look to in times of need.
Lover of justice,