The Whole System is Guilty

While searching for a quote from Malcolm X I was led to a YouTube video of his Militant Labor Forum speech which he delivered on May 29, 1964. In this speech brother Malcolm addressed police brutality in Harlem and as he closed his remarks he offered a critique of the American systems we live under and their inability to liberate oppressed people. Malcolm says, "It's impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg...a chicken just doesn't have it within its system to produce a duck can only produce according to what that particular system was constructed to produce. The system of this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, this social system, this system period. It is impossible for it as it stands to produce freedom right now for Black [people] in this country."

As I began to reflect on the words spoken by Malcolm X, I eventually came to the conclusion that the American Church, birthed with Eurocentric theology, suffers from the same character defect as other American systems. The American Church was never constructed to produce freedom for Black people in this country. There is of course a long prophetic tradition within the Black Church that includes entire denominations committed to the work of social justice and Black liberation theology which has helped contextualize the church's role in ending oppression for the Black community in America, but neither of these represent the dominant narrative within the American Church.

I sat in church last Wednesday with my mind and heart still with those in Ferguson, MO. It was hard for me to sit there and receive the message the speaker was delivering after spending a weekend in St. Louis for #FergusonOctober, protesting side by side with my peers, staring down police in riot gear beating their batons against their shin guards. The preacher's sermon did not address what's happening in Missouri. His sermon did not speak to the pain felt throughout the Black community. A pain brought about from the brutalization of young and old Black women and men by people paid to protect and serve them. Rather, he chose to deliver a message tightly wrapped in individualism and private holiness. A message heard far too often from the pulpit these days. A message that is far from the collectivism found in the midst of protesters standing in solidarity every night for the past 80 days. I thought to myself, "For one second can we think collectively and outside of ourselves." The pain of police brutality and racial profiling is not an individual burden, we carry it together.

What happened on August 9th in Ferguson, MO was a microcosm of the reality for the majority of the Black community. With police departments across the nation under a microscope it is becoming even more clear that the data presented by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is unfortunately accurate.
An unarmed Black person is killed every 28 hours in America by a police officer, security guard, or a vigilante.
But the young people in Ferguson said this is enough and now an entire generation's eyes are focused on this suburb of St. Louis, MO.

Leaving Mike Brown's body uncovered for 4 and a half hours while his blood stained the concrete was an act of terror only trumped by the imagery of a body swinging in the Southern breeze. The killing of unarmed citizens of color is modern day lynching. In James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree he writes, "The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans in Jerusalem and the lynching of blacks by whites in the United States are so amazingly similar that one wonders what blocks the American Christian imagination from seeing the connection."

I too marvel at the inability of the American Christian imagination today. In the face of state-sponsored violence, there continues to be a failure to see the connection between what is representative as the worst in human beings. Many churches have been and continue to be complicit with not a broken system but a system that was corrupted from its beginning. It is imperative that these churches acknowledge this. But they can't because their theology was not constructed to properly deal with the plight of oppressed people, particularly Black Americans. What should one expect when church leaders have been influenced by theologians and past prominent church figures who permitted atrocities such as slavery, segregation, and lynching to take place under their watch?

I went to church last Wednesday broken and exhausted. It has been a long fight and the battle will extend far beyond the announcement of no indictment. I was in search of healing and a word that could help me make sense of all the world was throwing at my generation. Instead, I left feeling as though my faith community had abandoned me. James Baldwin once wrote regarding the nature of life, "It forces you, in any extremity, any extreme, to discover what you really live by, whereas most Americans Christians have been for so long, so safe and so sleepy, that they don't any longer have any real sense of what they live by."

What is your theology of Ferguson?

If you'd like to see how some have answered this question, please check out this site.
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  1. The black churches have abandon their people and have bowed down to the white race. If they're claiming to be Christains but won't stand up to the white comunity who will!? Their no help at all , they've turned their backs on their congregations because their afraid of the white man. What happened in Ferguson has me appalled and I'm white! I can only imagine what their going though. Where do they turn to for peace and comfort? Their paralized by fear and are of no hope for their congegation! They want them to just be silent and don't rock the boat.Nothing will Ever change until they quit being so afraid or at the very least start caring for their people. I am outraged that Wilson isn't in jail until theres a trial, and believe he will walk away a free man, even though he shot an unarmed man in cold blood. The black people might as well still be slaves as nothing has really happened to free them even today. It's disgusting the cops can get away with murder every time they shoot a person of color, and they know it because it happens almost daily! Why isn't our President doing something about this, surely he can see that Jim Crow is thriving in America to this day! I don't trust him anymore then I do the cops. But I truly believe he doesn't think hes black any longer. As soon as hes out of office he'll see hes just another ni**er like everyone else.Mikes killing is unacceptable, and we must deman justice for him or all hell is going to break out all over America! This racism is getting worse everyday and all the christains out there don't even care! How can you call yourself a christain if you won't stand with your fellowman?

  2. I am struck upside my head with the quote from Malcolm about systems. He is right as can be. And it is easier to see when one looks at, say, computer systems. If I am in Apple, I am not in something else. What that means to me is that it is possible to redesign, reprogram, add apps, etc.

    Now, mind you, I know it is possible, but I dont know HOW to do it. I need a leader. Bishop Desmond TUTU is a great help to me and he inspires me to do better than I ordinarily would. I need a leader, and have thought a number of people who would be such that I could work beside to make a better world (or (a better town or county, more realistically). When I became involved in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, I discovered that the Diocesan Churchwomen group was a gloriously mixed group, racially, programatically, spiritually. What a joy, and how satisfying. I have learned from that experience to look for wider and more concerned groups or those addressing more specific issues. Because most of our Churches - Houses of Worship are "programmed" back at least a generation or two. And big projects cost big money, so I am swimming in a little pool as I get older.