Not my Jesus: Faith and Police Brutality

After Eric Garner, I couldn’t.

The sound of him saying breathlessly, “I can’t breathe.” Over and over again. But the men, the police officers, that held him down didn’t care. They only saw him as a threat. Something to be taken down.

After that, I couldn’t watch another video. View another abridged clip of a black man being shot when it made absolutely NO sense for him to end up dead.

Alton Sterling broke me.

I watched the press conference of his young son sobbing at the death of his father. I saw in his tears a face that was so familiar to me. I saw my nephew. They flashed a picture of Alton Sterling and I saw my brother.

I wasn’t ready for the clip of his death. I didn’t have time to click away before I saw it.

Only a day later, the Black Lives Matter Austin organized a rally/candlelight vigil and I was determined to go. The flood of people was overwhelming. The knot in my chest since I saw the video had only gotten bigger. 

I circled the block. No parking. Each time I circled the block, the knot expanded until I was having a full blown panic attack in my car and hyperventilating.  I pulled over.  It took ten minutes to stop hyperventilating but and an additional ten minutes for the fog to clear from my brain so I could think straight.

I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to explain to my roommates why I was bawling (I never stopped crying, btw). I reached for my phone and called the only friend I could think of.

I called my Christian friend who is also white.

I arrived on her doorstep and she wrapped me up in a tight hug. She listened as I unpacked the tangle of emotions. By the end, emotionally, I felt like I was on the floor. I wanted to stay on the floor.

She didn’t know what to say. What do you say at a time like that?  Instead she suggested we pray. She clasped hands with me and prayed over me.

It was prayer. It was God that picked me up off that floor.

Each day, I live and breathe is revolutionary. An act of defiance in a society that seems to grow increasingly apathetic to the plight of the marginalized.

It is during these times that I turn to God.  For the past two months, I have been moving slowly through Isaiah. After an extensive reading of Paul’s letters to the churches, Isaiah was a breath of fresh air. To be able to understand a verse without having to read it at least four times.

What immediately jumped out at me was Isaiah 1:16-17. It reads:

16 – Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from

before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,

17 – Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor;

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.

Long story short: Judah was no longer faithful to God. Rather, they turned to foreign powers for protection instead of trusting in God who always had their back. As a result, they readily accepted the ways and religious beliefs of these foreign powers.

In their disobedience, they distanced themselves from God. They grew apathetic.

Isaiah goes on to delve more into the Messiah and this shifted my focus to Jesus. A few weeks back I read Zealot and it altered my perception of Jesus.

Jesus was subversive to the established order. Jesus healed and helped the ceremonially unclean in Jewish society. He advocated for a break from the legalistic, pragmatic approach of the Pharisees. Adhering to laws and rituals would not save you.

Belief. Belief in him as the Messiah.

So why do I bring this up? Why did I start by relating my reaction to police brutality and the death of black men?

Because I ask as a Christian and a black woman: where are we? Why is the church silent?

And when Christians do speak it is:

a.)    Filled with empty platitudes that don’t really say anything

b.)    Encourages prayer and praying for your enemies

c.)    Filled with hate speech that condemns and judges those most oppressed or marginalized in society

I find myself growing increasingly frustrated, yes, even angry at the above responses.

I think of Jesus. Someone who did radical things that upended a society and birthed a new religion.

Jesus was in those streets. Yes, he did pray but let’s not get it twisted.

JESUS. WAS. IN. THOSE. STREETS.

The Jesus I meet. The Jesus promulgated in the church is one infected by the world. Infected by white supremacy that prides passivity, forgiveness, and being humble. That requires us to overlook the wrongs of this broken world and set our sights solely on the hereafter.

Where is the rebuke, where is the defense of the oppressed at the hands of the oppressor, where is seeking justice that Isaiah called Judah to do?

Where is the willingness to pick up your cross and die daily for God? Even if that requires you to lay down your life for others.

Jesus healed the leper. Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood. All of whom where the overlooked of that society.

Jesus flipped tables.

JESUS FLIPPED MOTHERF**KIN’ TABLES.

Rather, I have a new interpretation. The church sees (and abuses) this whole concept of submission and obedience. Where some see Jesus submitting to the corrupt Jewish authority to be crucified. I see Jesus submitting to the will of God. I see Jesus obeying what God called him to do.

The church infected by white supremacy calls us to be submissive and humble. But what that really means is submit and be humble to the institutions that uphold systemic racism. Because in their thinking, that’s what Jesus would do.

No, son. That’s not what Jesus did. Jesus submitted to the will of his Father. A Father that told him that he would come to this Earth and die for sins so all may be forgiven. He was called to help. He was called to do what others wouldn’t do.

Today, the church responds by calling people to pray. As if prayer is the only action. The only response in the face of wrong doing. 

Jesus prayed but then he got up and did.

Where is our get up and do as Christians? This is an indictment on all who call themselves Christians (myself included).

It’s time to get off our knees and go flip some muthafucking tables.

In the name of the Father,

In the name of the Son,

In the name of the Holy Spirit,

In defense of the oppressed.

Amen.