Broken by Racism, Healed by Prayer.
by Ebony Adedayo
The killing of Mike Brown nearly a month ago has unfortunately proven that we do not live in a post-racial America. While a black man sits in the highest seat of authority in this country, his position has not lessened the degree to which black bodies are profiled and stereotyped on a daily basis. In fact, it can be argued that his appointment, along with the rapid browning of this country, has even intensified the resentment and anger among those who believe that black people do not have a right to do well for ourselves and our community.
Racism. It is America’s original sin.
Racism. It is America’s original sin.From our nation’s founding, race has been used to marginalize and categorize all of those who are not white including American Indians, blacks, Chinese, Japanese and Latinos. Although the days of colonization, slavery, and internment camps are behind us, our nation continues to enforce policies that systematically bankrupt communities of color. These policies not only take away opportunities that we need to thrive like employment and housing; in many cases they rob us of life itself.
In the wake of Mike Brown, many advocates and community leaders around the country have been calling attention to this country’s racist history. Unless we deal with it, tragedies like this will continue to happen. Anytime we challenge the structural foundations of America, we inevitably challenge the American church as the American church has been in bed with American policies and practices also from the beginning. In fact there was a time that to be American was to be a Christian, and to be a Christian was to be a (white) American. While this is a theological fallacy, it was an ideology that was propagated nonetheless.
Challenged by Power and Pride
Many white Christian leaders, unfortunately, have not swallowed the challenge to face our nation’s racist foundation easily. Without a doubt, it calls into question their identity. It also requires that they admit their own role in oppressing people of color — in both implicit and complicit ways. But people don’t like to be presented with such demanding truths that force them to come to terms with their own sin. Such was the case with Cain in Genesis 4 as described by Miroslov Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace. Though he and his brother Abel were formally equals, their names and occupations set them apart. Cain, meaning ‘to produce,’ was a name of honor whereas Abel meaning ‘vapor’ or ‘worthlessness’ was a name that made him positionally inferior to his brother from the time they were born. Likewise, Cain was a powerful farmer and landowner and Abel a poor man with a small enterprise of animals.
Cain was used to being in a position of power, and the fact that God was more pleased by Abel’s offering, forced him to consider the possibilities of losing that power. For all intents and purposes he freaked out, ignoring God’s caution about the sin that was ‘crouching out his door.’
In Acts 7, the Jews also ignored God’s caution over their own sin. As Stephen confronted them with the truth about their own identity, and their role in perpetuating oppression, they became vexed over what they heard. They simply could not deal with the fact that they were not the pious, religious people that they had always imagined themselves to be. For the sake of their religious pride, they had to find a way to silence the truth teller.
They simply could not deal with the fact that they were not the pious, religious people that they had always imagined themselves to be.
At this point in both narratives, when those in positions of power and authority were confronted with the truth, they reacted in rage and killed the persons who represented truth. While most Christians have not physically killed their black brothers and sisters in Christ as we have pointed out the truths of our nation’s sin, they have gone through great lengths to assassinate our character by both victim blaming and insisting that we pay more attention to black on black crime. An article published by Assist News on August 19 “Turning Evil into Blessing: The Ferguson, Missouri Conflict” doesn’t hesitate to pull out all of the punches and liken the killing of Mike Brown to violent activity that ‘regularly’ occurs in the area. Says the article:
(AG Missionary Jay) Covert is concerned that the riot in Ferguson might not be an isolated event,” he wrote. ‘That unless there’s a God-driven transformation in the hearts of people, riots and violence may happen and intensify as a trend throughout the country before things get any better.’
‘Where we’re at, murder is not uncommon,’ Covert explains simply. ‘Murders rarely get solved because no one talks, they’re fearful — “snitches get stitches” is the saying.’
(Pastor Aubrey) Kishna says that no matter what the outcome of the investigation, he feels deeply for the parents of Michael Brown. ‘We had a 26-year-old girl that we buried just a couple months ago,’ Kishna says. ‘She was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was caught in a gang shooting…. My heart breaks for Michael Brown’s family. But not just for them, but for all the “Michael Browns” who have been shot and killed on the streets by gangs. There’s no one crying foul for them.’
Comments like these outrightly deny the existence of racism by blaming people of color for our own oppression. We wont get to the bottom of racism in our society like this. In order to heal our society of the gaping wounds that racism has left we need to consider a new strategy. This strategy will have to bring together both whites and people of color, giving us a new paradigm for relating and doing community with each other.
In order to heal our society of the gaping wounds that racism has left we need to consider a new strategy.
Mapping a New Way Forward
Fortunately for us, the book of James in the New Testament scriptures provides us with great instructions that can help us map a way forward since the author’s original readers also faced conflict in their community. Whereas the tension in this community was not as a result of racism, the people were suffering from severe persecution which suggests that this was possibly the occasion of his letter. As a result of the hardship that they experienced from outside forces beyond their control, they turned against one another showing favoritism to those who had resources and connections at the expense of those who didn’t. In addition, they used their words to bring each other down and quarreled constantly. James’ prescription to the problem that surfaced within this new community of believers was to pray as described in chapter 5:
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5.13 — 16, NASB).
For James, prayer is a necessary component in the life of every believer. It doesn’t matter whether one is suffering under persecution, cheerful or sick — all are called to pray just the same. This is because prayer keeps us humble and causes us to remember that no matter what we face, the solution can be found in God. The prophet Jeremiah attests to this saying: “Thus says the LORD…Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33.2a, 3, NASB). While James suggests that everyone has a responsibility to pray, his words of wisdom are especially applicable here. In this particular instance, prayer will heal this new community of believers of the wounds that they have inflicted upon each other if they heed his words.
First, they must call for the elders of the church (v.14). And the elders will pray over the assembly, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. It is not that the elders have a special anointing that the parishioners do not, but the elders being present signifies that this is a process that demands the involvement of the entire body of believers. Separate congregations, fellowships, and even individuals cannot bring about the change that is needed in the body alone; it has to be a joint effort involving those who have the highest authority in the church.
Second, they must confess their sins to one another and pray for one another (v.15). This suggests that healing does not come without confession and repentance. In fact, the process of confession is powerful in and of itself. It causes us to admit that we have a problem and that we have fallen short of God’s glory. This admission not only heals our soul but begins to repair the relationships we have destroyed as a result of our sin.
James tells the believers what to expect as they prayed: restoration and healing. As they prayed, they could trust that God would restore their community. God would heal the gaping wounds that were caused by those who had power and resources exploiting those who did not. He himself would forgive their sins, allowing them to imagine a new way of relating with one another that was not based on unresolved conflict and resentment. And at last, they would become the beloved community that could stand united against the persecution coming down from the Roman Empire.
…at last, they would become the beloved community that could stand united against the persecution coming down from the Roman Empire.
Likewise, we can also expect and trust God to restore and heal our nation as we come together in prayer. While praying in our own individual prayer closets is important, we are at a point where we desperately need to corporately gather and call on the name of Jesus. The death of Mike Brown and so many like him as a result of our racist police practices demands it! As James points us, we will need the elders and others in church leadership to come and lead this broken body in acts of confession and repentance. We need them because we won’t dismantle racism without them. And when we confess, God will hear us and heal us:
…and if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7.14, NASB)
Ebony Adedayo was born in 1983 in Milwaukee, WI. She moved to the Twin Cities in 2001 to attend college, and earned a B.A. in Pastoral Studies (Cross Cultural minor) from North Central University in 2006, and a Master of Global and Contextual Studies from Bethel Seminary in 2010. A licensed minister, she has served in youth, young adult, and mission’s ministries. Ebony is passionate about the intersection of faith, justice, and reconciliation and is the author of Dancing on Hot Coals and Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice. She blogs at ebonyjohanna.com