#Charleston, Black Christians, and the pathology of forgiveness.

Copyright: Creative commons

The horrific events in Charleston that happened over a week ago are another line in the painful story that is the Black experience in America. In Europe we mourn with those in America, and we sadly recognise that although their experience is different from ours in the overtness of brutality and numbers of lives lost, the face of white supremacy does not disappear, it only changes its mask .

The predictability of the media portrayal of the terrorist who committed these acts is boring. We are tired of the endless questioning of whether racism was the motivating factor. We are tired of white society pretending that the perpetrator is a ‘lone soldier’ in a culture that otherwise is largely tolerant (whatever that means), of black people. We are tired of the fact that grown white men are treated as misguided boys whenever they unleash mass acts of terror, but black boys are killed in cold blood as if they were grown men for simply playing in parks. We are tired of the lies. We are tired of the white liberals who are more concerned with  making sure that we understand that ‘not all white people are racist’, as if their fragile emotions and self-centred need to be seen as one of the “good white folk”  are supposed to be our priority or concern at this time. We are tired.

I personally, am even more tired of the unrelenting focus on the forgiveness that the victims of this atrocity have offered to the attacker. This might seem strange. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that forgiveness is something that all Christians are commanded, not requested to freely give. Yes, I believe that forgiveness is healing for those who experience it.

But I’m sick and tired of black people being dehumanised by the expectation of forgiveness in the place of anger. My first reaction when I heard the news in Charleston was shock, sadness and very quickly, rage. Yes, rage. Anger. Blazing, red hot, singe you if you come at me, anger. I make no apology for it and I will make no repentance for it. My anger was entirely justifiable, healthy and dare I say it, God ordained.

Some black people think that Christianity is slave religion. I think there’s a huge difference between the gospel of the Bible and slave religion.

Slave religion selectively quotes text from the New Testament about turning the other cheek while conveniently ignoring the texts in the Old Testament where God commands death on those who harm innocent children.  Slave religion ignores Jesus with a whip in hand overturning the tables at the temple, angry at the money changers who used a sacred place for profit, and instead targets poor, disenfranchised communities on Sunday mornings, assuring them that they must line preacher’s pockets in order to receive a blessing. Slave religion demonises anger at injustice and tells communities that are being terrorised to focus on praying and pearly gates instead of solutions to their oppression. Slave religion completely rewrites the Bible story of a God who in the side of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans and the outcasts, and instead puts him on the side of big business, church institutions, deceitful police departments, and racist government.

Slave religion is convenient to masters and that is why it was forced down our throats with such relish.

Thankfully, our ancestors were able to read between the lines and  understood that the story of Pharaoh’s army being drowned in the sea could apply to them also. That when Daniel saw the stone being carved from the mountain and smashing an ungodly earthly kingdom to pieces, that maybe, just maybe, God could smash the earthly kingdom that was oppressing them also.  That when God said “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” * that He was willing to do this both physically and spiritually.

Let us not dishonour them by regressing into a reading of the text that only facilitates forgiveness but never anger that can be galvanised into action. Let us not dishonour those in America, the Caribbean, Africa, South America and here in Europe who protested on the streets, who were hung, who were shot, and who were fiercely committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ by saying that the rights we now enjoy were ill gotten. Let us not dishonour them by saying that we have no time for racial issues because of the gospel, while we enjoy the legacy of relative freedom they have handed down to us.

Who the Son sets free is free indeed, and I will not be a slave to a warped version of the gospel that tells me that although I am created in the image of God who became so angry that the earth shook, that that emotion is denied me. That when 9 innocent people entered their safe, scared space and were gunned down mercilessly by a man (not a boy) who maliciously and coldly watched them while they petitioned the almighty God, that my only reaction must be forgiveness and not anger.

Forgiveness is Godly and it is good. And so is our anger.

Say their names:

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr

Rev. Sharonda Singleton

Myra Thompson


N.B. Speaking of action, please consider donating to a charity or fund that provides support to the victims of Charleston, families of victims of police brutality here in the UK, or any other charity of your choosing be that church or other that facilitates healing.

*Isaiah 58:6

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