By Rev. Andrew Wilkes,
Racism and state-sponsored violence nullify another sun-kissed life in America. Innards, as the Black Youth Project laments, cover boulevards across the land. Law enforcement divisions spin truth into fiction. Red herring press releases abound and critiques of deadly force are misconstrued as resentment of police officers. Part of our democratic dilemma is that law enforcement personnel too often shoot first, draft talking points next, and then grudgingly investigate after residents organize for equal justice under the law. Meanwhile, from sea to shining sea, black folks are being brutalized, stripped naked, executed, maimed — in a word, crucified — on the asphalt of our suburban settings and central city cores.
As a millennial minister of Jesus Christ, I fear that our ideas about the Master of misphat cannot sustain the leadership our times demand. Theology alone doesn’t undergird social movements or faith, but without coherent reasons — including transcendent rationales — both movements and faith fizzle out. Outraged tweets and incendiary Instagram pictures aside, the Jesus of most Christian sermons would not be in Ferguson, but inside the corridors of a storefront congregation or suburban megachurch calling saints to praise through pain, worship through worry, and utter positive confessions — above all, speak life! — into the atmosphere of America. Praise is always due God, but praise unhinged from protest in this hour dishonors God and disfigures those who do the praising. When the ever-present wounds of racism are this open, worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth means confronting the bitter reality that America has spoken of New Deals, Fair Deals, and Square Deals, but never implemented an equitable deal for people of color. The Christological consensus of American Christendom — and its corollary ecclesial equation — is that our Savior changes persons that, in turn, change the world. No sense of institutional iniquity or social sin here, just an excessively voluntarist, volitional account of discipleship and good works. This Christology does not resemble the Jesus of the Gospels or Paul’s epistles, is politically untenable, sociologically flat-footed, and inadvertently anoints hierarchies of power, wealth, and opportunity. Further, this self-help Savior is a privatized pardoner of individual indiscretions and secret sins — not the Righteous Reconciler, Palestinian prophet, and cosmic Lord of the New Testament. Let us bury the New York Times-bestselling, life coach Jesus, along with the ecclesiology of egoism it implies.
Instead, I propose that we restate a conviction that requires interpretation in every generation: Jesus saves us from sin. One sin from which we need saving now is our unjust treatment of and implicit bias about who bears God’s image. The idea that each human refracts, however imperfectly, the qualities of a just and loving God, is a precondition for Christian redemption. Everyone who breathes — even when police officers choke out their capacity to do so — mirrors the ineffable yet discernible attributes of God. Black folks are not candidates for redemption when our inalienable rights, endowed to us by our just and loving Creator, cannot be asserted without rigorous rejoinder. If these things be true, where do we go from here?
To the foot of the cross, equally needed by all, where Jesus redeems the privileged and the precarious — red, yellow, black, brown, and white — by renewing our embodied minds from self-sovereignty, God-hostility, and interior acceptance of ugly, social asymmetries of power, opportunity, and wealth along the fault lines of race. Jesus can save us from sin, especially the sin of white supremacy and all its imago Dei-negating works.
Rev. Andrew Wilkes is the Co-Minister to Young Adults, Director of Social Justice Ministry at the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York
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