A Riot In The Temple: Disrupting "Normal" Christianity in Social Justice


I tried to feel good about a young Black gospel singer and a young Black R&B/pop singer performing at the Inauguration.  I tried to go ahead and rock with their spiritually-asserted and "being-a-light-in-dark-places" rationale for taking that stage.  No, honestly, that's a lie.  I didn't try to rock with it at all.  I shook my head, rolled my eyes and stopped reading the article.  I've seen this before and I have felt this before and you have too.

It is seducing to be handed a platform and a paycheck larger than you've ever seen.  It whispers in your ear and tugs at your ego to go ahead and do it.  It causes believers to seek out counsel who will say, "Go 'head on and do it for the kingdom" because you know you'll need a cosigner to carry out an act so confusing to your community. The one presenting the opportunity makes no difference in the grand scheme of things because the forced explanation always rests on God's will, being used by Him to reach others, or any other cliche rendition of that tune. 

And this has become my heart's biggest hurt with believers.  I include myself because I have not always been comfortable with discomfort but the more I read my Bible and the closer my relationship with Christ grows, the more I know if I'm always comfortable, I'm an ineffective Christian.

I saw political movements going on during my years in undergrad.  I saw young people getting involved with initiatives like Rock The Vote and I loved the hype of it all.  I wore the buttons and even wrote an A+ English Composition term paper on the influence of hip hop on politics.  The fact that the general public halfway seemed to care what young people thought about politics in my lifetime was cool; it didn't compel me to get involved, though.  I liked the idea of it but in real time, I stayed far away from politics.  I stayed away because I knew my church community would not approve.  We were "the light" and "what fellowship hath light with darkness?"  I stayed away because I didn't want to be deep.  I didn't want to care on that level.  I only wanted to care enough to be outraged when someone said or did something racist, but I didn't want to care enough to do my part to topple the systems that institutionalized racism and marginalization.  I didn't want to get involved to help blaze unifying paths.  God's will was going on.  He'd decide those things.  All I needed to do was pray.  You know, because prayer changes things.

While that saying is unequivocally true, so is the often-quoted but rarely truly lived verse of scripture: "Faith without works is dead."  How often we recite these five words but ignore the true context:

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
— James 2:14-18

Our faith in Christ is only the gateway, the jumpstart to a Christian life.  Our faith, the verbal professing of it, means nothing if we do not muster the courage to ACT.

When did we as Christians become too afraid to DO something?  When did we decide that God's will included absolutely no effort but prayer on our part?

How did we go from being the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement to passively sitting in our concert-churches singing/rapping/miming the gospel and ocassionally hosting pitiful clothing/food drives during the holidays? We wring our hands and shrug off the deep need for justice in 2017 while the streets our parents and grandparents walked in boycott and protest are waiting for courage to trickle down to our feet.  We look at the killing of unarmed Black bodies with apathy.  We see instances of sexual assault and we shake our heads and simply pray over the victim.  We choose not to see the need for strategic and specific movement for the marginalized because it is too great a burden to bear when the God we claim to follow suffered the burden of a gruesome lonely, and barbaric death.

It deepens the hurt to think of the thousands of young people of color who follow the ministries of musicians like Travis Greene.  For many young people, their musical heroes and sheroes set the tone for how they live their lives.  Think about the danger in seeing Travis Greene, a proclaimer of The Gospel, welcome with open arms a president who has invoked the treachery of hate, mocked the disabled, bragged about sexual assault, and built a life on greed, narcissism, and fraud.  What message does that send to a generation of impressionable young Christians about what to accept?  At what point do we stop putting words in God's mouth?  At what point do we stop copping out for our own gain or out of fear?

The call to social justice is sounding in clarion tone and because the atrocities of racism, sexism, economic injustice, classism, etc. have not confronted us on our own doorsteps we have decided to simply bow out of the conversation for convenience and comfort's sake.  We put it on God.  And while I 100% believe that He makes no mistakes I do believe He is constantly fixing ours.

After her son, Emmit Till's mortifying death, Mamie Till said this:

Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.
— Mamie Till, 1955

The church has washed its hands of the matter of social justice saying, "That's their business, not mine."  And what a terrible disservice we have done to ourselves and our communities by giving apathy a seat at the table.  We have intentionally chosen to disregard the call to action of the prophet Micah, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)  

The truth is that our comfort is not the hallmark of Christianity; The Great Commission is.  Or have we forgotten that Jesus, the one whom we claim as our God commanded us to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching others all that He taught us? It begs the question, Who do we think Jesus is?  We're afraid of words like "justice" and "revolution" when everything about The Christ defined them.

When I read my Bible, I do not read about a passive, 'fraidy cat Jesus.  None of those identifiers invoke His name.  I don't read about a Jesus who was subdued or silenced by fear.  Strategic, yes but silenced? Never that.  I do not read about a Jesus too lazy to learn and understand what was taking place economically, socially, and politically in His community and abroad.  Though not a politician, He was well-versed enough to leave the top theologians and politicians speechless in everyday conversation.  I do not read about a Jesus who performed miracles for hire under the guise of "being a light in a dark place."  He performed miracles to draw those whose hearts were not already hardened toward God.  I do not read about a Jesus who spent His 33 years of ministry inside the cold, stone walls of the synagogue.  He took His message into deserts.  On boats.  Into people's home.  Onto doorsteps.  At the feet of His own disciples, washing them. 

I read about a Jesus who boldly opposed the atrocities of those directly in power.  I read about a Jesus who publicly took a stand when it was MOST inconvenient, MOST uncomfortable, and MOST humiliating.  I read about a Jesus who invited Himself to the dinner tables of sinners.  I read about a Jesus who covered the body and life of a woman whose sin, men can shamelessly brag about.  I read about a Jesus whose heart called to those who had even an inkling that they were made for greater.  I read about a Jesus who struggled with His assignment to the point that He halfway begged not to have to go through with it - but did it because He counted up the cost and honored His commission.  I read about a Jesus whose main focus was being about his father's business, which was THE PEOPLE.  

So, I cannot, being of sound mind and body, applaud Chrisette Michele and Travis Greene.  I cannot take scriptures out of context to make their performances at the Inauguration ok.  A dance with the devil is a dance with the devil, no matter the soundtrack. 

I DO, however, show my gratitude for people like Reverend William A. Barber who organized Moral Mondays in North Carolina and brought people of all races, beliefs, and backgrounds together for change.  I DO applaud Christians who are not afraid of really modeling Christlike behavior when it means simply speaking up or putting their bodies on the line.  When it means rejecting the invitation to perform for evil men.  We can't hide behind The Bible, mismanaging Scripture to avoid doing the work of revolution and truly taking up the banner of justice.  Is it frightening? Yes.  I would be a complete and utter phony if I said it wasn't.  But what is our alternative?  We have to live out revolution if we are who we say we are and we serve who we say we serve.  We have to live out revolution because it is right.  And according to my Bible, the legacy and history of my ancestors and the sum total of my life to-date, the God I serve *is* a God of revolution.