Where Are The Pastors?: Clergy And The New Civil Rights Movement
A few days ago, I was at a City Council event where citizens, elected officials and community leaders alike all gathered in the same place to discuss issues going on in the city. In Columbus, Ohio, tensions between police officers and the public are high because of the deaths of Jaron Thomas, Ty’re King and Henry Green; all young African American men who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.
While at this event, as it was beginning and opening remarks were being made, a group of brothers & sisters began to walk down the left aisle of the gymnasium where the gathering was held. Carrying signs that read “The Whole D*** System Is Rigged” & “Racist Cops Should Go To Jail”, these demonstrators marched in & stood in front of the gathered crowd. Calling for the firing of the officers implicated in these tragedies, a social justice organization coordinated a protest where they purposefully disrupted this council meeting in order to raise awareness to the aforementioned injustices. The mothers of both Henry Green & Ty’re King bravely & boldly stood before the crowd that night and read a letter chronicling the details of her son’s demise. The protest lasted about 10 minutes but left people in their seats to ponder well after it ended. It was a blessed moment; a moment in which truth loudly lifted its voice in the face of power.
As I left the event, I was standing outside waiting to talk to a colleague when a sister came up to me and thanked me for my involvement and support. Humbled by the expression of gratitude, I told her it was my pleasure & privilege to serve in whatever way I could, but, as we spoke, the hurt in her eyes began to speak louder than her voice. I attempted to address her agony by asking her what was wrong. She replied with a question: “Where are the pastors”? Holding back tears, she explained to me that she is so disappointed that there aren’t more pastors supporting the efforts of their group. She went on to say that the absence of clergy in this time of crisis, in this time where spiritual guidance is needed, has her seriously questioning her faith in God. I attempted to comfort & encourage her to hold on to her faith knowing that God was with us despite whoever may not be. But, as I shared with her, I felt a sense of inadequacy & insufficiency; I felt like I was attempting to explain the inexplicable.
We hugged & I walked to my car to go home. As I drove off, I began to think through my feelings on what had just transpired. I was honest. My motives were genuine. I felt as if my compassion was clear. Why would I feel so poorly, almost embarrassed, by what I said if what I said was right? Did I do something wrong? It was in this moment where it hit me…smacked me in the face like a reality show “housewife”. I felt some type of way because what I said was wrong. My response, while meant to encourage and enliven, offered passive justification for something that I understand to be indefensible. How could I even attempt to offer a reason for absentee apostles when I know that Isaiah 1:17 teaches us to “seek out justice”? How could I offer an excuse to delinquent disciples when Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 that we are to not only seek out God’s Kingdom first but also God’s righteousness?
I could have told her that this vacancy shouldn’t be a shocker as I believe it to be at the epicenter of churches that tell you what to do with your life when you’re inside of them but don’t care about what life may be doing to you when you’re outside of them. I could have pointed to multitudinous examples of clergy who either support suffering with their silence or condone the continued crisis of their congregants by preaching with no prophetic particularity. I could have shared my own frustration with compassion in the name of our Christ that does not translate into cooperation and damages more than it delivers.
Nonetheless, this sister desired and deserved an account for the absence of those who were called to not only “walk humbly with God” & “love mercy”, but also to “do justice”, and all I offered was easement instead of explanation. The answer, my answer, should have been that I don’t know where they are or why they aren’t here…and I’m sorry.
When it comes to social movements in this country, it is only a small number of clergy that are involved, even less that are supportive. And while, in a historic context, men and women of God have not represented the majority of participants in any American Civil Rights movement, there is certainly a need for our presence and for the anointing of the Almighty that we (presumably) bring with us. We certainly may not be able to do everything, but the call is for us is to do something and certainly more than what we have been doing. With each passing moment, with each passing movement, we are allowing the oppressive, violent voices that move against us to go unaddressed and unspoken to. In this day of the New Jim Crow, broken window policing, and discrimination in every way imaginable, there is a high need for not only a word from the Lord but also the attendance and activity of those who deliver it.
Whether we are favored enough to lead an action or stand in silent solidarity with fellow children of God, we who are privileged to pastor must make our presence felt in the modern day fight for freedom. If the only service we involve ourselves in is from a pulpit on a Sunday morning, then we are more ‘mistake’ than ‘minister’. Accompanying a call to the pastorate ought be a divine call to be involved in this modern day Civil Rights movement. Our reply to the question, “Where are the Pastors?” must be “Right here…with you”.