Churches Must Bring a Fight

BY Rev. Dr. Brianna K. Parker

From Sunday, Sept.24, throughout the coming weeks, every Black pastor delivering sermons should focus on the issues facing communities of color – the push to end the Affordable Care Act, the immorality of police violence and the criminalization of communities of color.

After the introduction of the latest substitute for the ACA, the Cassidy-Graham Bill, people of color once again face the possibility that they will no longer have life-saving health care. The communities that will be most impacted if this latest iteration of a woefully inadequate measure is passed are seniors, poor families and communities of color.

Even as we grapple with the possible loss of health insurance for millions of Americans, we continue to see police shootings of African Americans and Latinos.

On Friday, Sept. 15, yet another white police officer, Jason Stockley, was acquitted of murder in the 2011 fatal shooting of an unarmed African American man, 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. The highlights from this case are chilling. Stockley was heard on dashcam telling his partner, “we’re killing this mother******.” A short time later, the police SUV Stockley was in slammed into Smith’s car, and a few moments later, Stockley allegedly shot Smith five times. The prosecution alleged Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car, a gun that reportedly bore Stockley’s DNA, not Smith’s.

Smith’s family is irrevocably changed. And so is a generation of Black millennials, following the killing of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and others. They see Smith’s killing as another reminder that police officers can kill people of color fear of being punished for their crimes.

This week we discussed a man who in title is the President of the United States but lacks character, integrity and the simplest intelligence. A man who, at the very least supports racism, trades insults with world leaders and uses slave master speech toward black men taking a stand, declaring those who protest by kneeling were a “son of a b****” who should be fired. This uproar caused many, including those boycotting the NFL, to watch to see if their favorite teams would take a knee. The question of why they were kneeling slowly emerged from within the chatter of whether they would kneel but there was no answer.

Black millennials searching to make meaning of this and other forms of injustice need a faith that sees and hears their pain. Too often congregations can cling to respectability politics and a theology that rests on morality.

Millennials who find themselves on the fence and grappling with their faith, often observe the passiveness of the church in response to social issues. Smith is one of hundreds of police officers who have been exonerated after using excessive or deadly force against African Americans and Latinos. Except for a handful of church leaders, the Black church is not a force to be reckoned with when it comes to holding the criminal justice system accountable. Because the church has not been as aggressive as it should in the face of these and other social injustices, Black millennials now look to other institutions in the pursuit of justice, change and progress.

While America has provided the Black church ample opportunity to gravitate back to its core – fighting systems of injustice, changing policy and promoting righteousness – the church and its lack of activity translates as disinterest. It's easy for religious leaders to demand unity and action following natural disasters and devastation because there are no relationships at stake, but it takes a long-term commitment to justice to advocate for a dismissed and devalued community of people.

If the Black church wants to effectively engage millennials, and remain relevant in the lives of others, it must commit to building faith communities within, or outside the church, that immediately and purposefully respond in times of unrest. It also needs to become more vocal in supporting proactive public policy that improves conditions for people of color. Failure to do so, and do so quickly, will result in the church sealing her fate as a waning institution of songs and conversations.

Even as the church thinks through the appropriate response to the crisis of police violence, and other racial and social injustices, it must include the voices of Black millennials. Like prior generations, Black millennials rightly insist on being a part of the solution.

This isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s the only way for the Black church to establish herself as relevant in the lives of Black millennials and youth of color. Religious institutions can no longer expect Black millennials and youth of color to faithfully support their cause without a temporal return on investment. A despondent church can no longer sing of victory, or hope for victory, if it fails to bring a fight when necessary.

The Rev. Dr. Brianna K. Parker is curator of the Black Millennial Café, a data resource center and consulting center for institutions seeking healthy engagement with Black millennials and Black Millennials of Face. You can learn more about her work at BlackMillennialCafe.com.

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