Late last week, in response to the killings of George Floyd and others, Gushers tweeted in support of the black community.
Yes, that Gushers. They make chewy candy. There’s fruit-flavored liquid inside. While delicious, not exactly a bastion of civil rights activism.
It is certainly not at the core of their business.
They’re not the NAACP.
And even as Twitter joked about it, one thing was evident:
At least they said something.
Dear Church, we must be better than Gushers.
Some context: I grew up in the church. Small, rural, entirely white church. I don’t remember being at a church event with a person of color until college. While there, I went to an African Methodist Episcopal church. It was mesmerizing and beautiful. My college was in Florissant, Missouri, by the way.
Florissant is across the interstate from a town you may have heard of:
After school, I served as a youth minister in a diverse church in Florissant before moving to Texas. My youth ministry career ended in 2017. I no longer work at a church, but I still belong to one.
I’m no church-hater.
I’m not overly cynical.
I love the church deeply.
So know that when I say this:
If Fruit by the Foot and Gushers can link arms but we’re afraid to say anything on the topic, when we do all the theological dancing we can to excuse our silence, we’re practicing our faith wrong.
It is incumbent upon all churches to speak in solidarity with and in advocacy for the black community.
THE BIBLE SAYS SO
One common refrain from churchgoers in the wake of senseless black killings is to say that we have all we need to combat racism in the Bible. We don’t need to read books about racism — we have the Bible. Some refuse to read books on the subject by non-Christians.
To these sisters and brothers, I’ll gladly meet you halfway. Let’s look to the Scriptures for a moment…but let’s make sure we are using an appropriate lens.
Nearly every author of the Biblical text was:
1. A person of color.
2. Under the thumb of some oppressive government, or threatened by one.
3. Speaking from the margins of society. At its zenith, even mighty Israel was a kingdom that paled in comparison to Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rome, etc. New Testament authors were writing and running for their lives all the while.
The Bible is a text written by oppressed people about how to live in a kingdom that would keep it’s knee on their neck however long they were allowed to do so by the dominant culture.
Some suggest that civil rights voices, so-called “social justice” voices, and other allied voices are presenting a “different” Gospel.
A Gospel from and for and that is aligned with the oppressed (and is actively combating injustice) is the only Gospel we’ve ever had.
THAT GOSPEL APPLIES PARTICULARLY
I have heard many Christ-followers give the oppressed exactly one sentence before pivoting as fast as they can to make a general, vague statement about equality and love. You’ve probably heard it, too.
”Of course George Floyd shouldn’t have been killed, but don’t all lives matter to God?”
”There’s work to do, sure, but we can’t let something like this divide us as a church.”
Perhaps most disappointing of all — to sweep away the work of the Church on particular issues by stating generally that “the work of the church is to preach the Gospel of Jesus.”
It is lighter lifting to condemn hate in general than it is to confront the specific prejudices in our institutions, our systems, and ourselves.
I am in full agreement that the work of the church is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, if that Gospel does not apply particularly, then we can’t rightly argue that it applies in general.
If there’s no good news for the oppressed, then there is no good news for anyone. If there’s no good news in the face of grief, then our lobby-smiles fall short. If there’s no good news in the midst of trauma, then there’s no good news at all.
I believe in the Gospel. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, it is of utmost importance. But if we aren’t applying it particularly, then I’m not sure we know what it actually means.
Church, we must be better than Gushers. I am proud that my church in Houston has included specific action points in our gatherings with which we can engage, and hasn’t shied away from solidarity with the oppressed because it’s too “controversial.”
I’m also sad because I remember how speaking up for the rights of other marginalized people has cost me in the past. Writing about Ferguson, advocating for women teaching in the church, and arguing for civil rights for all earned me more than one talking-to and cost my nonprofit funding from people who disagreed. I’ve lost jobs.
Like the Minneapolis shop owner who lost his business to the flames of rioting, I say without hesitation: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served.”
There are far too many churches who find silence to be comforting and controllable. They would rather have their institutions stand and injustice continue.
They don’t want to cause a fuss.
“You’re just going to upset people.”
“That’s not the primary work of the church.”
“We need to show unity.”
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I condemn this pacificity. I condemn it in myself. I condemn it in others.
We have a choice, Church. Be a people that keep satisfying our spiritual sweet tooth or do the hard work of standing in the face of injustice:
“Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over. Open your mouth, judge fairly, and stand up for the rights of the afflicted and the poor.” Proverbs 31:8-9
Please, for God’s sake, Church, don’t let Gushers live out that verse better than we do.