An open letter to the black church
On behalf of white evangelical Christians everywhere, I’d like to congratulate the black church for a well-deserved victory. The election of Barack Hussein Obama as the first African American president of the United States is a watershed moment not only for America, but also for oppressed people everywhere.
I’m 30 years old, so I wasn’t around during the decade of the civil rights movement, but here is what I’ve heard. At a time when your people were considered less than human by mainstream America, you chose to love your oppressors. You faced the dogs and the fire hoses. You refused to ride in the back seat of buses. You walked into segregated schools with your heads held high. You sang in mass to the tune of “We Shall Overcome”—and overcame you did.
My message to the black church is simple, but urgent. To my fellow black Christians I’d like to say thank you and please. Thank you for winning the struggle for civil rights but please, oh please, do not give up your non-violent heritage that made it possible. In a world where the very presence of nuclear weapons puts the human race in jeopardy, if there ever was a time for the message of non-violence to reclaim its rightful place in American history, that time is now—and you’re the ones that can make it happen!
The irony is now that you have a man commanding the most powerful military in the world, the temptation is all too great to forget that, unlike the American revolution where victory came at the barrel of the gun, your victory came not by the power of might, but by the power of right. Your victory is a victory that came not from violence, but from non-violence.
Last year I was struck by the irony of hearing a speech by John McCain praising Dr. King for his life and legacy when, as I recall, it was Dr. King who said, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.” Dr. King was the most vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy in his day and yet how often is he praised for his courage to face down his own government?
This year I’m struck by another irony. In a blog post entitled “The forgotten heart of King’s dream,” author Greg Boyd points out that every year he and his wife attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King breakfast. This year the keynote speaker was four- star general Colin Powell. In Powell’s speech, he attributed the greatness of America to the greatness of our soldiers throughout history, and even equated soldiers today with Kings call to service. Colin Powell is perhaps one of the most honorable men to ever grace the U.S. military, and of course there are many honorable men and women serving in our armed forces today, but isn’t it ironic that a message praising U.S. military might would be given at a service commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King?
All of the evidence from his books, speeches, essays, and sermons suggests that Dr. Martin Luther King believed that violence never achieves lasting solutions. Dr. King taught that non-violent redemptive love is the most powerful force for good in the world—especially when directed towards one’s enemies. We all seem to know intuitively that Dr. King changed the world for the better, but few today seem to pay much attention to how he changed the world. Since September 11th, King’s values of loving the enemy and turning the other cheek are now viewed as hopelessly naïve by mainstream American culture—including by many in the black church.
As a lifelong member of the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition, I consider the historic shift of much of black Pentecostalism from pro-peace to pro-war to be nothing short of tragic. I have a hunch that the influence of Christian Zionism has a lot to do with this, but regardless of the reason, it’s high time for black Pentecostals—and the black church everywhere—to reclaim it’s non-violent heritage.
American Christianity as we know it today is in desperate need of a reformation. For the first three hundred years of Christian history, followers of Jesus were thrown to the lions because they renounced the sword and embraced the cross. The vast majority of American Christians today have forgotten this. Who better to remind us than you? The media may mock you. The world may laugh at you. But one thing you can know for sure. If you can once again bring non-violence to the forefront of the American psyche, there’s a white boy from Jefferson County Missouri cheering for you every step of the way.
Aaron D. Taylor is the author of “Alone with a Jihadist”, scheduled to be released in mid 2009. Aaron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org