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 egg...it 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.

1. Social Justice for Single People
Despite the fact that I’m committed to self-care, one of the challenges I’ve faced as an unmarried person is how to deal with the daily hits of justice work without a spouse with whom I can daily process those hits. I wish there were someone who knew the intimate details of my life story, knew my past and present pain, encouraged my eschatological hope, and was present in my daily life as a support partner...continue reading

2. Renouncing 'the Magic Negro' urge
I refuse to be a “the Magic Negro” of any organization. Common, you know what I am talking about. Many Christian organizations in the U.S. have a myriad of ways of tokenizing black people. It is only appropriate to think about what it means to be “a black face in a white space” right now as a constructive conversation around race will hopefully jump off after the debut of the movie Dear White People. Tokenizing black women and men in white Christian spaces is an old practice. And while most people of color tend to hate being tokenized in general, there still are particular lures to being a community or institutions “Magic Negro”...continue reading

3. Pseudo-Pacifism: Why Privileged People Love Quoting MLK
If you’re someone that is outspoken on the issue of race chances are, at one point or another, you’ve had a conversation with a so-called “pacifist” who has cited MLK as a pacifistic example. They then use MLK’s life as a means in which you need to be exactly like. This quickly turns from a back and forth dialogue to a dead-end conversation. To say that the way in which Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Jesus, or Nelson Mandela are the only options in which the marginalized can choose from when fighting against an oppression and for their humanity is ridiculous...continue reading

4. Why Is a Black Monk Seated So Prominently Next to Paul the Apostle?
In a stone sculpture that pays tribute to the preaching saint and his ardent follower, the virgin martyr Thecla, lies a clue to the role of Africans in Christianity...continue reading

5. When white friends don’t believe what blacks go through, they’re not friends
I still remember it perfectly, more than 10 years later. It’s terrifying to be stopped in your car and approached by first one and then two more white police officers with their hands resting on their holstered guns. I kept my hands in plain sight on the wheel while they inspected my license and registration. On second thought, I recall thinking during the 15-minute stop, perhaps the scruffy sweats and baseball cap that were perfect for my spin class weren’t the best choices when you’re African American and you’ve just bought a red car. (Why didn’t I pick the gray Camry?) I was given a written warning about running a stop sign that I’d actually stopped at, but I knew better than to argue...continue reading

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