Why Discuss Social and Racial Justice?

By Dr. Rob Collins

I do not have a funny story or an interesting metaphor to introduce the topic of racial inequality in our world. But to be honest, if I used a metaphor it might only cheapen the importance of the topic. I know that talking about racial justice feels difficult. It can create controversy, and it makes a lot of people feel uneasy. But I also know why that is. It is difficult. It is controversial. It is uneasy. It is also the right thing to do and, I believe, the very calling of God. The work of racial justice has long been a part of the legacy of American Baptists. Here’s a word from our denominational leader, the President of American Baptist Churches USA, Karen Podsiadly.

American Baptists have a historic legacy of addressing racial injustice. It is this history that calls us today as communities around the nation galvanize around several recent high-profile instances of injustice and the relation of these injustices to racism. The church has an opportunity and an obligation to interrogate its responsibility to support our members and communities.”

Karen Podsiadly

The first step in solving any problem is admitting that there is one. Racial injustice, racial inequality, racism and prejudice are plagues on our society, our communities, and on our faith.

I recall the story of the Ethiopian, a person of faith, who had traveled across the vast world to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem. Of course, he wasn’t allowed in the temple;, he was a eunuch and by religious law declared perpetually in sin for his sexuality. He was also very likely a person of color quite foreign to that part of the world. In Acts chapter eight, Phillip is sent by God to welcome this person into the fold of God’s church. This person was not only welcomed into the community of Christ, he was baptized and celebrated.

I believe that is the very love, affirmation, and celebration we are called to live with and share in the world.

But the only way we can accomplish this goal is through the disciplines of self reflection and self improvement. We must, each of us, look within ourselves for what is not Christ and then take steps to grow toward the grace and love of Christ.

Over the next several months we will be featuring reviews of books, films and other sources that you can use, and our church can use, to self reflect and self improve. Obviously, this is not the final solution, but it is a place to start. Each month in our newsletter (and collected here on our website) you will find recommendations for resources that can help educate us on racial injustice. These are recommendations that are meant to provide you with quality resources for anyone who is interested in improving, not just as a human being but also as a follower of Christ.

As the days go on, especially as the Covid restrictions slowly dissipate, we will do more. There are African-American leaders, young activists, scholars and pastors in our community who can teach us so much. We will work on including them and learning from them.

Let us remember the grace of God and the love that is found in Christ as we travel this difficult path. Let us pray for the many people in our communities who are still living with persecution and threat. Let us pray for the upright police officers working to reform the systems they work in. And let us hold ourselves accountable because this is our world, this is our community, and God has placed this responsibility upon us.

We journey together, we serve together, and we grow together!

OCTOBER Social Justice

GUEST ESSAYS

Well, Pierre …

By Pierre Paul

First Baptist has given me so much love and guidance over the years, so when I had this opportunity to give some of my knowledge and love back I could not resist. As followers of Christ, our dedication to our fellow brothers and sisters doesn’t stop when we cross street lines, city lines, state lines, or even a nation’s borders. As I have been traveling around the USA advocating for justice, I have learned so many lessons that I want to share, but here are just a few to start with:

  • We are not entitled to comfortability because it’s familiar. Fighting for justice and what is right is not always comfortable, but it is vital to ensure that we advance as a society. Fight diligently and use the scripture to guide you. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” —2 Timothy 1:7. We get to decide how we use this spirit.
  • Privilege does not have to be something that we fear talking about. Many times we feel bad or deny that we have privilege, but we don’t need to. Simply because of the way colonization happened in the United States, many of us have more privilege than others around us. There is no reason to apologize for this privilege that we may have; instead, we need to decide how we will use our privilege to love and respect others better. For example, I was born in Brazil, grew up between Guyana and Ohio and battled racism, poverty, lack of access to services; and even I have privilege in my life! With my realization, I am using my privileges to educate others and use my voice to give back.
  • Thank you everyone for the opportunity to write to you all! I miss singing with you and seeing your faces. I could write pages about the lessons I have learned, but I’ll keep it short-ish and sweet for now.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  1. Black history is American history: Even though it is rarely taught this way in schools, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to remain vigilant in our fight for knowledge.
  2. You don’t have to protest to be a part of the movement: It is okay not to be a part of Black Lives Matter as an organization, as long as you realize that black lives matter. BLM does not insinuate that all other lives don’t matter; instead, it is a cry for help asking for black lives to be valued more. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

Proverbs 29:7. This does not mean that the righteous ONLY care about justice for the poor, it means that while the right- eous care for all, they are ensuring that the group who receives the least amount of justice—in this verse, these people are the poor—begin to acquire it.

Recommended readings and movies:

If you like dense readings: Spruill, L. (2016). “Slave Patrols,” “Packs of Negro Dogs” and “Policing Black Communities.” Phylon

(1960-), 53(1), 42-66. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/phylon1960.53.1.42.

If you like simplified readings: “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

If you like videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5FBJyqfoLM (There is a clip of a comedian within the first 12 seconds that uses profanity, but aside from that the video is clean and very informative)

RACIAL JUSTICE REFLECTIONS:
GOOD BOOKS

Seeking racial justice requires educating ourselves – and that can begin with reading a good book. This is another in a series of newsletter articles recommending books that will help us do that.     – Barb Drake
White Fragility
  1. “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.” Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe how their reactions to racial issues – anger, fear, guilt, denial, silence — make it difficult for white people to deal with those issues and to have honest conversations with black peo- ple about them. Using knowledge and insight gained from running racial awareness workshops, DiAngelo has written a book intended to help us understand racism and find a way out. This could be helpful as our church grapples with racial justice issues.
I know why the caged bird sings
  1. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou. The author’s debut memoir is considered a mod- ern American classic.   Sent to live with her grandmother in Arkansas when she is just three, Angelou and her brother endure feelings of parental abandonment and the bigotry of the local “powhitetrash.” When she is eight years old and back with her mom, a man rapes her – and she must learn to live with that. Years later the kindness of others, her own strong spirit and the ideas of great authors, like Shakespeare, pick up her spirit. The “caged bird” begins to sing — brilliantly.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
  1. “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston. Another American classic, Hurston’s deeply soulful novel takes place in the South shortly after emancipation, when African-Americans were freed but not really free. As one reviewer puts it, “She illuminates an early Black community … and the barriers they encountered.” Another reviewer says early outrage because of her use of Black dialect “has been replaced by admiration for her depictions of Black life and especially the lives of Black women.” She manages to separate “the big people from the small of heart.”

VIDEO & MOVIE REVIEWS

13th The Movie

“13TH”

A Review by Chris Heine

Filmaker Ava DuVernay expores the history of racial inequality in the United States. If you’ve ever wondered why, after the 13th Amendment freed the slaves, African-Americans have not made greater progress, then this movie will open your eyes to the multiple ways in which African-Americans’ rights were curtailed.

It turns out that the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves had a loop-hole clause, which states that slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal “except as a punishment for crime.” The brief clause in the 13th Amendment allowed the South to rebuild its economy through prison labor. African-Americans were arrested in large numbers — often for minor crimes. “It was our nation’s first prison boom,” Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” explains in “13th.”

But it didn’t stop with that. The story of the years that follow will enlighten you and help you see how the fact that in 2020 1 out of every 3 African-American men can expect to be incarcerated is not accidental, nor is it without financial beneficiaries.

This is not a partisan film. There are many contributions to the status quo from both parties. This movie will help you see how you and I currently may be complicit in the new Jim Crow. How keeping 2 million black men in jail has in effect extended slavery into 2020.

SEPTEMBER Social Justice

RACIAL JUSTICE REFLECTIONS:
GOOD BOOKS

Seeking racial justice requires educating ourselves – and that can begin with reading a good book. This is the first of many newsletter articles to recommend books that will help us do that. We will be looking for books that reflect on our country’s racial struggles and help us abide by the commitment in our church covenant to understand Jesus’ demands for dealing with other people, especially “those of races and cultures other than our own.” – Barb Drake
The Fire Next Time
  1. “The Fire Next Time.” James Baldwin’s memoir of his youth in Harlem and his impassioned plea to “end the racial nightmare” in our country was a best seller when it was published in 1963. The Guardian called Baldwin “the great prophet of the civil rights movement” and the book “his seminal work.”
JUST MERCY
  1. “Just Mercy.” Bryan Stevenson’s account of racial bias in our justice system –     some- times with deadly consequences – and the legal practice he founded to counteract that is pas- sionate and stunning. CNN named it one of the most influential books of the decade. It has been made into a major motion picture, but it’s still a good idea to read the book.
CASTE - THE ORIGINS OF OUR DISCONTENTS
  1.    “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Isabel Wilkerson’s new book provides a different take on our racial hierarchy, suggesting that more than a color issue, it’s a caste issue; we have a historically perpetuated caste system. Her just updated introduction suggests that the killing of George Floyd and the disproportionate impact of the corona virus pandemic on communities of color prove there is an entrenched American hierarchy that influences where you live, the quality of your education, your net worth and what you can do in life. Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an extraordinary author, and her latest book is perfectly timed.
If Beale Street Could Talk

“IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”

A Review by Chris Heine

Based on a novel by James Baldwin, this movie is the story of a love so sweet, so tangible, that you feel you can reach through the screen and touch it. This 2018 romantic drama is the story of Tish and Fonny, who have been friends since childhood and fall in love when they are older. They are doing the things young lovers do when Fonny is falsely accused of rape – framed by an officer who has it in for him – even though Fonny has witnesses that put him miles from the scene.

Fonny is in jail when Tish visits him to tell him that she is going to have his baby. Each of their families does everything within their ability to raise money to pay for a lawyer. But the victim disappears, and in the end Fonny takes a plea deal for something he didn’t do.

While you watch this, be aware of the impact race, family wealth and police-community relations have on this story. How would this story play out if it happened to your family? How was it different for this family?

The movie is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu and YouTube.