Nekima Levy Armstrong, J.D.
Time for Church to Talk Candidly About Race
Time for Church to Talk Candidly About Race
In the law we learn that silence is acquiescence.
Attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds explains the oppression often felt by young African American men.
As a woman of faith, who is also an African American attorney, I find myself grappling with the faith community’s reluctance to talk candidly about race. For a long time, I had the expectation that the Church would serve as a place of refuge and retreat from the harsh realities of living in a world that tends to value “whiteness” and wealth over Kingdom principles such as the call to love one’s neighbor as
Attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds, St. Thomas Professor one’s self. I cannot count the number of church services that I have sat through over the years in which the gospel was preached, and yet notions of racial healing and reconciliation were not on the table; largely at the expense of those suffering under the weight of oppression and discrimination.
Part of why churches fail to tackle issues of race, marginalization, and oppression head-on is due to indifference on the part of those who experience privilege and whose life experiences are far removed from the burdens and hardships experienced within poor communities of color.
As an attorney, I am constantly bombarded with painful stories of African Americans who feel that they are being treated unfairly and unjustly under the law, with few places to turn for relief.
God has called us to be Kingdom-builders and to make manifest the love and power of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
For instance, I am regularly in contact with young African American men who relay feelings of social isolation, rejection, marginalization, and criminalization within the community. These young men feel as though they are seen as throwaways and scourges on society by white people in general and law enforcement in particular. I have watched first-hand how they are scrutinized in public, judged, harassed, and told to disperse if more than two of them are seen in a group together.
Regardless of how one may try to justify the harsh and degrading treatment of young Black men, the abuse and rejection they face is largely the result of our unreconciled history in this country. Since the days of slavery, the message has been transmitted from one generation to the next that Black men belong in subjugation, and whether we admit it or not, our conduct towards them, and the implementation of certain laws and policies tend to support this idea, with harmful and destructive consequences to boot.
It is a trick of the enemy to believe that one group of people deserves to be treated with such contempt and disdain, and yet rarely does our community of faith take a stand against these injustices or even validate the cries for justice by young Black men. Instead, we look the other way and silently reinforce the false notion that they experience dehumanizing treatment because they “are up to no good.” This begs the question of: How many more young Black men will be murdered in cold blood, such as Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis before we wake up to the truth that racism still exists in our society? In the law we learn that silence is acquiescence.
In light of the harms being perpetuated onto members of our most vulnerable communities, we must be willing to engage in honest discussions about race and class within our congregations and then resolve to move from talk to action. This requires both discipline and courage. It also requires a willingness to get outside of our comfort zones, a willingness to listen to the difficult stories of the “Other” and a willingness to be uncomfortable for a sustained period of time. Being willing to engage in such a challenging process will help us to develop a true sense of empathy and compassion for the “Other” and an ability to look beyond the surface at symptoms and to move towards understanding and addressing root causes of societal problems.
As people of faith, we can no longer afford to be comfortable with maintaining the status quo and accepting the false notion that we have no power to fight against oppression or to make life better for our fellow man, regardless of race or socio-economic status. We can no longer be comfortable sitting in pews in which nearly every person shares the same racial identification and similar income levels.
God has called us to be Kingdom-builders and to make manifest the love and power of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. His Kingdom is not off limits to the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the poor, the alien, the orphan, or the widow. They are equal partakers of the promises of the Gospel, so why should they not receive equal treatment and deference in our churches, our workplaces, and in our communities?
The Church, in all her majesty, should be influencing the world in this regard. Instead, in many ways, the world’s values and standards and preferences for certain racial groups over others are influencing the church and leading to corruption of the truth of the Gospel message. In the end, God calls us unequivocally to reject such corrupting influences and to demand freedom, justice, and equality for those who are experiencing oppression within our society.