Brave Leaders are Never Silent
by Rev. Gary A. Marcelin, Fulford UMC Pastor
C.R.E.A.M. (Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me) this song by Wu-Tang Clan released in 1993 is still relevant today. The catchiest hook in this song is "Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar, dollar bill y'all!"
This acronym, C.R.E.A.M "Cash, Rules, Everything, Around Me," is the embodiment of American society, and it has the utmost seat of privilege at the center of American Christianity. This ethos stresses the value of material possession, a symbol of power in our culture.
Cash, green, resource, bank, call it what you want -- it's all about the "haves" and the "have nots." The mighty dollar equates to power, and power, in this sense, is all about control. The toxic waste of this obsession manifests in many oppressive forms.
The wealth in our country has been amassed by force and oppression of the other. In the book, Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, the author writes, "We don't want to hear that at its root, the economic growth depends to a large extent on slavery."
Slavery is one of the largest building blocks of American society, which was held up by Christianity.
In the name of Christianity, we have colonized, plundered, and accumulated most of the Church's wealth on the backs of those deemed less than.
From the inception of slavery, those at the bottom of this global economic power structure have always been black people. The black race around the world is seen as less than. This position has allowed the other to dehumanize and demonize black people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed this glaring reality at the forefront of our society.
Black communities are being affected at a much larger rate than our other fellow men.
The Guardian reported that in Chicago, black people make up 30% of the population, but 60% of COVID-19 deaths are in the black community. Dr. Sabrina Strings, a professor of sociology at the University of California, was asked why black people are disproportionately affected.
Her answer: "Slavery."
She goes on to say, "The era of slavery was when white Americans determined that black Americans needed only the bare necessities, not enough to keep them optimally safe and healthy. It set in motion black people's diminished access to healthy foods, safe working conditions, medical treatment, and a host of other social inequities that negatively impact health."
When black people, particularly men, perform even routine things such as legally owning a gun, relaxing at home, walking home with Skittles, walking from a corner store, or going to church, they can be seen as a threat to the system of white supremacy.
There are non-explicit societal norms in this system that put the lives of black men in danger, such as the right to exercise and go for a jog. Just recently, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed while he was jogging.
Arbery and countless other black men have fallen victim to living life while black.
The action of American society still counts black men as three-fifths of a man. Our system allowed a black man to be terrorized, hunted down, and killed as if he was an animal while his killers shared the graphic video for entertainment.
How long will we tolerate the insidious killing of black males?
White supremacy has infiltrated all aspects of our world. To some extent, we all have benefited from this system. This sickness is disguised in our institutions and our churches.
The experiences of black males murdered and terrorized by violence for generations between emancipation and the struggle for civil rights, as well as the inaction of the Church, lay the foundation for the discrimination and injustice we face today.
The Church of the future must be a place of healing as was intended by Christ. If it is to function as a living organism in the lives of people, it must appeal to the undiscovered part of humanity, to the vast hidden and latent forces within us. The Church must change its "come to Jesus" theology and move toward, "let Christ be formed in you."
When such heinous crimes against humanity occur, we write beautiful prayers to read one time on Sunday. We may feel compelled to run a few miles and post a hashtag on social media in the name of solidarity. It's easy for us to refuse to face these dark spots of life because it's difficult to address such issues.
We are comfortable and satisfied with less than the best and follow the line of least resistance. Most of us seek and find protection in the institution; we are reluctant to stand against the oppressive powers within it.
As leaders in the United Methodist Church, many reasons would warn us not to speak up.
What might this mean for our guaranteed appointments which are connected to our salaries and benefits? Some of us may be saying, "The givers in my church would oppose my stance."
I hear you saying, "I would come out and stand with you, I believe in your fight, but I have all of these relationships that take precedence over you."
I hear you loud and clear. The system tells us if we do our part, we will always be cared for. We are forever trying to dodge problems that are difficult, trying to run away or let time force us to forget about the countless deaths of black men, and the cycle repeats.
Instead of letting our light shine, we hide it under a basket.
Brene Brown calls us to lean into the tough conversations. "Brave leaders are never silent around hard things. Our job is to excavate the unsaid. That requires courage and vulnerability."
White supremacy is an ideology, not a people group.
White people just benefit from it the most, and because of that, it is on you to be conscious of your prejudices.
I am calling you to identify them and realize how you benefit from it. We are at a turning point in our society; generations can be changed forever by the decisions taken today.
When I scream, "Black Lives Matter!" it's not enough. I need my white clergy friends to stand with me. The very fact that you can choose to abstain from the conversation points to your dominance, power and privilege in an oppressive system.
My life and countless more black lives deserve to live a life free of being killed because of the color of our skin. The lives of Amaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Stephon Clark, Jordan Edwards, Alton Sterling, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice, Charleston 9, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Corey Jones, John Crawford, Terence Crutcher, Keith Scott, Clifford Glover, Claude Reese, Randy Evans, Yvonne Smallwood, Amadou Diallo, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and countless others killed for just living.
In the words of Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
A Voice for the Voiceless
by Rev. Dr. David Allen, Jr., Assistant Dean, School of Religion, Bethune-Cookman University & Stewart Memorial UMC Pastor
"Speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor." -- Proverbs 31:8-10 (CEB)
When I was asked to share my perspective about Ahmaud Arbery, I contemplated the life of Tertullian, a devout Christian thinker, author and lawyer from Carthage.
He wrote, "Plures efficimur, quitiens metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis Christianorum," which has been translated as "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
If the Church affirms that belief, then can we also affirm that Ahmaud Arbery's blood is the seed of a needed conversation in the United Methodist Church today?
Such silence and inaction amidst unconscionable acts of sinful violence contradict the church's reason for being.
As Abel's blood cried out from the earth and ascended to God in Genesis 4:10, I believe Arbery's blood cries out from a hot and dusty Brunswick, Ga. street, demanding a conversation that needs to occur in the UM church NOW.
I must ask, where are the conscious UM voices speaking out against this atrocity of an abomination on our watch? Would John Wesley be appalled by silence, the complicity of racism, and the preponderance of violence and hate crimes, that are so visibly present and active today?
As I watched the panoramic paradox of this plague play out against another unarmed innocent African-American male, my heart sank in sorrow, and my eyes filled with tears. This plague breeds racism, violence and hate crimes that often result in the loss of life.
As a former athlete who works out, jogs and plays basketball with my two sons every week in both white and diverse neighborhood parks, I can only imagine what was going through the heart and mind of Ahmaud Arbery, who, while innocently jogging, had to fight with force to save his life.
In contrast, a father (Gregory McMichael) and a son (Travis McMichael) fought even harder to take his life.
The McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder more than two months after Arbery was killed.
It took another two weeks before William "Roddie" Bryan, the man who filmed the shooting, met the same fate and was taken into custody. He also was charged with felony murder, along with a criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Many of my fellow brothers and sisters like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, William Chapman, Jeremy McDole, Jamar Clark, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Sam Dubose, Trayvon Martin, Atatiana Jefferson, and recently, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have been included in the unjust narrative that is told far too often in America.
I write this article with them in mind to express a call for needed change and for action to end racism, violence, and hate crimes that must be addressed in the U.S. and the UM church.
Living as an African-American in the U.S. involves the inevitability of existential tension of dual realities.
Paradoxically, in one reality, I am a proud African-American male, son, husband, father, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend. I am also a Christian ordained elder and pastor in the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
However, the other reality offers a more complex set of factors that I find challenging to live with because I am more likely to be unlawfully shot and killed because I've been kissed by the sun.
I am denied equitable health care, racially profiled in my community, and followed like a thief in grocery stores and shopping malls. I am perceived by many as three-fifths of a human being.
Yes, I reside in the nation that prides itself as "the land of the free, and home of the brave," but freedom in the U.S. has never been free for people of African descent. Ahmaud Arbery was forced to pay with his life a debt of injustice owed against people of color.
Friends, things must change, and I appeal for you to confront racism, violence and hate crimes. Let's recall the sacrifice of our heavenly father's son, and serve as a loving neighbor and fight for justice and reform to save lives.
Speak out. End the silence, which only supports consent.
Remember, Proverbs 31:8-10 encourages us to "Speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor."
Speak up, speak out, and let's end the silence, so God's justice can reign.