Last week, Chicago Theological Seminary hosted its annual Spring Conference. This year’s was entitled “Selma at 50: Still Marching.” The line up of speakers and performers was incredible, including Michelle Alexander, Jasiri X, and Deray McKesson, as well as some local heroes of mine such as student finalists from Louder Than a Bomb, Jessica Disu (FM Supreme), and Rami Nashashibi.
In other words, some decent folks were in the house along with faculty, staff, community members, and CTS alum. However, my favorite prophetic voice of the day came from Mikal (picture below in purple), a senior at the U of C Lab School who courageously asked questions that both challenged the speakers, as well as anyone else who would listen (“whoever has ears, let them hear…”).
Starting with Rev. Jesse Jackson’s talk of “the hungry and the homeless” during the opening plenary to the institutions’ stewardship of food resources throughout the conference:
“While we’re INSIDE talking about the hungry, I noticed some homeless folks sleeping on the Midway on my way here. I hope we will be taking the left over food OUTSIDE at some point,” he said.
We connected during the networking hour with Chuy Garcia, eventually taking food to the streets with a former classmate of mine, Rev. Jamie Hawley and his son (pictured above). Together we discussed the disappointing and all too often disconnect between academic discourse and prophetic action.
What continues to stick with me, however, particularly in light of what is happening on the ground in Baltimore, is something that was said during the panel on “Effecting Change in our Communities: Addressing Income Inequality, Immigration Reform, & Racial Inequities.” At some point the issue of racism, white supremacy, and white privilege came up and the only white person on the panel shared her “concerns” for bringing up these topics with her congregation.
“I am concerned that I will lose people,” she said.
Lose people?! Suddenly this image came to mind, as well as the names of Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Aiyana Stanley-Jones – and too many others killed by police. The names Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two teens of color shot and killed by white men in Florida also came to mind (Trayvon’s murder took place less than 30 minutes from my parent’s house).
Needless to say, I was stunned by this panelist’s response. We had just framed racism as sin. I wanted to ask one simple question: do you (or don’t you) believe that white supremacy is a sin that plagues our faith communities?
This is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question with life altering implications. Which is to say, how you answer it, matters.
I never want to be too ‘concerned’ with losing white people over confronting their (overt and/or covert) white supremacy. As faith leaders, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the salvation (i.e. liberation & freedom from sin) of our congregations?
In other words, to not confront the supremacy living within our communities, I believe, is to continue in some of our worst sins against God, humanity, and yes, even ourselves.
Indeed, our sins as white people – who have been compliant in the violence inflicted on black and brown, poor and marginalized communities daily – have rendered us criminally negligent bystanders. In other words, what’s happening right now in Baltimore (i.e. the uprising and “riots“) is directly connected to our silence as white people of faith. Yes, even my own.
If I could go back I would ask my sister, why aren’t we more concerned with the body count of black and brown people killed by white supremacy? With this in mind, I’m giving thanks this week for the prophetic voices of #CTSselma that continue to call us out, often into the streets, and hold us accountable:
- Deray McKesson’s response to Wolf Blitzer, who not surprisingly privileges broken windows over broken bones:
To quote a friend, “this is a proper schooling, and one of the best articulations of the ridiculousness of the sanctification of the property and peace and order argument propped up by the media in the face of so endless pain and injustice.”
- Jasiri X’s all too relevant cry for justice, “Don’t let them get away with murder.”
- Michelle Alexander talks about how white privilege allows criminals to go unpunished. Which raises the question, who are the real thugs in Baltimore?
For reliable on the ground coverage, check out Devin Allen’s instagram and twitter account. And if you’re interested in learning some creative practices for envisioning a world without police, you will want to be here.