On this Martin Luther King day, I break my blog silence (long coming) to share some of my inner reflections on what I’ve observed in: American.Circles.Christian. There is sadly a rise in what I’ve started to call in my head “Critical Christianity”. This is what it means:
Critical Christianity – is the all too familiar and dreaded experience of leaders in debrief meetings or brainstorms, when everyone wants to point out what went wrong, what they don’t like or agree with, and vague injunctions that better could be done…yet at the same time offer no concrete steps, or God forbid offer themselves up to lead/do anything.
Critical Christianity – is the age old “Back when Pastor Bobby was around we did things like this” or “Your mother will roll in her grave if she could see you now” or a variety of other biased speaking for the dead (not an Orson Scott Card reference) instead of speaking for the living (yourself).
Critical Christianity – is the rampant spirit in our nations debates about race, #BlackLivesMatter, gender, immigration, gun control, social class & economic status that causes many to try to verbally remove the ‘apparent’ plank from their brothers eye while vigorously denying that they have any splinters in their eye at all!
Critical Christianity – shockingly, blames victims for not coping ‘well enough’, ‘quickly enough’ or the one size fits all ‘how we would like to see you cope’ with conditions that they now find themselves in, when other Christians but somehow never the ‘critical christian’ caused these situations either directly, or by supporting oppression and broken systems, often by inaction.
Critical Christianity – Is the consistent refusal to hear the story that others are telling, or their life, or experiences, and simply let it stand on it’s own, without seeking to invalidate it with statistics, unrelated stories and exceptions.**
Critical Christianity – likely to disagree with all activism, or always react to demonstrations, with a word, that it is “untimely”, “ineffective”, “unnecessary” and “not a good place to start”.
Might you be a ‘critical christian’? Let me give a tangible example.
On January 11th I shared on my facebook wall a post of an article entitled “This is an American disaster” It was about the water in Flint, Michigan where for 18months! 18. months. Thousands of children have been drinking toxic, contaminated water while the city governor/government refused to treat the water; A paltry cost to do so. And apparently ignored complaints for the entire duration to do something about this.
Let me say again 18months. 18. Lead poisoning for Flint, 18 months.
Flint has a population of ~100,000 , is poor and has a demographic of ~56% black, ~37% white, ~4% Latino. I posted the article with a comment(rare for me), something to the effect that ‘this isn’t just a disaster it is a crime’. This post got 6 likes (total). A picture I had posted 4 days earlier on the same had gotten 3 likes. The ‘critical christian’ was largely silent…
When was the ‘critical christian’ loud? Not on the 15th of January when the governor asked Obama to declare a federal emergency in Flint and deliver 96million dollars in disaster relief. Certainly not when the problem could have been avoided for $100 a day! Not at all the whole 18 months prior,
When protestors shut down westbound traffic on the bay bridge.
And THEN the facebook messages pour in! ‘Critical Christians’ in their element. The vast majority of ‘critical christians’ couldn’t decode the ‘cryptic message’ “Black Health Matters”. Now…to be sure, they mean more than Flint (Oakland, S.F., affordable housing, divestments, etc) but most seeing the sign, stuck in traffic, had no idea of any issues of health injustice in the black community. I read the comments section (a scary proposal) and let me just say, in the comments sections I find it impossible to distinguish the ‘critical christian’ from the ‘non-christian’…this is what I read: “these actions do more harm than good”, “ineffective”, “sickening”, “annoying”,”stupidest thing” , and my favorite “there is a time and place”. I digress and won’t share the profanity filled comments also posted. For the ‘critical christian’ or ‘non-christian’ that might have posted these…may I be so bold as to ask a few questions of your criticisms?
Q: ‘these actions do more harm than good’ – Is this really true? Who was harmed? The protestors were certainly all arrested, financially harmful,possibly physically harmful, and definitely socially harmful. Were there other harms? I think the harm referred to is the person in traffic, impossibly inconvenienced, has been ‘so wounded’ by this egregious sin against them (1.5 hours) that they will now vow to never support the cause for which the protest was carried out. Injustice in the areas of health for black people. Part of me wonders two things 1. Would you have ever been a champion for this cause? (Clearly you haven’t heard anything about it till now…and if you did, were content to ignore it this long). I say this as, none of these commenters ever say anything about ‘how they support the cause in another way, and a different approach that they HAVE tried'(emphasis definitely needed). Let’s be honest, you either knew and didn’t care, or now that you know, you still don’t care. My second thing 2. Would this posture of holding onto this hurt, grudge, pain and not forgiving the protesters be like Christ? This protest, certainly inconvenient, has brought more attention to this issue than it had previously, and for every ‘mad person’ stuck in traffic, someone is asking ‘what was it all about?’ and moving from ignorance to knowledge. You know, I’ve experienced inefficiency, this would be that one time I sliced into my hand and waited far longer than 1.5 hours in the emergency room to be seen; Or just ask the residents of Flint. 18 months, or even this morning when I was in tears for the first two hours of my day for the residents of Flint, and the kids that will likely have messed up brains and developmental diabilities b/c some govenor valued his time, efficiency and money over their very lives. 18 months; And we are angry about 1.5 hours. To the critic that says ‘these actions do more harm than good’ I must say, own your OWN actions. Say rightly “I will do more harm than good, because I’m annoyed, I’m inconvenienced, and I still don’t care”
Q:’sickening’ – really? This sickens you, but deplorable health conditions do not? This sickens you so much that you post on facebook about it, but learning that ten of thousands of city resident must drink lead poisoned water leaves you silent and apparently not sick. This sickens you? I wonder how sick the people are that are experiencing these health injustices? For them..sick to the point of death! Are you that sick by a bridge protest? How I long for Americans to be sick of our economic system and inequality and corruption. To be sick of elected officials covering up scandals, or ignoring citizens cries for justice. To be less sickened by their time interrupted, and more sickened by the lives constantly interrupted and disrupted by lack of policies or abusive policies, policemen, politicians, people. Isaiah 10:1-3 Woe to those who enact evil statutes And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice And rob the poor of My people of their rights, So that widows may be their spoil And that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, And in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth?
Q:”There is a time and place” – ? no words. When exactly is a good time, for injustice to end? Isn’t the answer always now? Ironic really, on Martin Luther King day, how many inadvertently dare to utter the exact same words he was told while in a Birmingham Jail. Lots of progress made(very sarcastic). Really, I have nothing. Please just read his letter from a Birmingham Jail.
You know…I often think of this quick one liner passage of scripture when I think of the ‘critical christian’. There is this interesting thing that happens in Luke’s & Mark’s gospels in Luke 9:49, 50; Mark 9:38-40.
49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
The disciples come across somebody else casting out demons in Jesus name and try to stop them from doing so. The logic somewhat makes sense, they think that they have the exclusive claim to discipleship and the work of the kingdom. They ‘know how it should be done’ and the people doing the work…’don’t look like the, or sound like them, in fact are not ‘one of them’ and likely weren’t doing it the way they would. I like that it is the ‘hothead’ John that brings this to Jesus. Surprising to me, for most of my life until recently, is that Jesus doesn’t congratulate John on a job well done, but corrects him, to cease and desist with his ‘exclusive claim to truth’, ‘hateration’,’hating’, ‘critiquing’, ‘policing’? Choose whatever word you think fits. I notice the problem isn’t that the person doesn’t follow Jesus it’s that they “don’t follow with us”
May I submit that most of the ‘Critical Christian’s’ complaints amount to just this…you don’t follow Jesus the way I do. Though, you may be following him by demanding justice, by loving your neighbor as yourself, by looking out for not only your own interests, but also the interests of others, and in humility counting others more significant than yourself…you don’t follow Jesus the way I do. Brothers & sisters can we stop dissuading others to the cause of justice? And please….lets get out and do the work of the kingdom and declare that title of a book that sits on my shelf begging to be read “All Truth is God’s Truth”.
Every so often someone asks me what time period I would like to live in? if I could time travel. (I know, I just did a concept jump). This is a bad question to ask a black woman such as myself because much of History is a ‘bad time’ for me to live in. I answer that I’m not interested in traveling back in time but secretly I wonder what would it be like to live in another era? I truly wrestle with thinking of a time period when there were people agitating for justice while others were saying ‘wait’, ‘not now’, ‘too risky’ and wondering if I would be one of these whispering dissenters that history has now shown to be shameful, or would I be someone risking it all for the cause of Christ? I live aware that the dissenters are as vocal today as they were ‘then’ whenever then is, and sadly the issues don’t seem to change. To accept or not to except refugees from a holocaust/genocide in their country. To protest or not to protest? I’m secretly terrified of living a life of safety, comfort, and caution, and hearing from Jesus on the last of days “I don’t know you, get away from me you apathetic! (my substitute for his word evildoer: defined here to mean someone who upholds evil systems(which do evil) by inaction and maintaining the status quo)”. I wonder what he might say to the fictional ‘critical christian’ I’ve created in my head?
I think the ‘critical christian’ is waiting for a leader, someone that will be perfect and hit all the tiny check boxes: republican, pro-life, not too loud, not disruptive, magically can right our violent and repressive systems after 300 hundred more years of moving so slow towards justice we won’t even realize we were going there. I apologize, it was a low blow to criticize imperfect humans for wanting a perfect human leader. Maybe we can settle for a perfect God, and be led by imperfect people? Better yet….not a vague imperfect person…YOU. YOU lead us! YOU don’t like the way #BlackLivesMatter protests, good point, when are YOU going to protest the ‘right way’? The bridge shut down was inconvenient? OK YOU schedule a protest that is convenient for YOU, but inevitably inconvenient for somebody else, and know what?, those people that YOU are currently criticizing will show up to join YOU…In fact if YOU preach a message of hope like Dr. King, they might completely give up their ‘ineffective’ protest in the face of your soon to be called ‘ineffective’ one and perhaps some time after YOU turn 35 and before YOU turn 39, if YOU are as ‘ineffective’ as Dr. King, there might be a faint gleam of progress. But rest assured, if your life is to indeed go the route of Dr. King, YOU will know that YOU were a champion for justice, that YOU kept good company with the suffering Christ and that YOU didn’t just sit around making mudpies with the ‘Critical Christian’. Wow, if we would stop our critiques and move into action…why that sounds like a holiday at sea! Won’t YOU, join me?
**[a brief aside, please focus on one thing at a time, every protest is not about ‘black on black crime’, those protests do happen…you are strangely silent when they do, and when any other protests happens, you want to shout about it from the rooftops. This makes no sense.]