I’m troubled: A personal reflection from a CBF leader on Charleston tragedy

Fellowship Weekly, July 2015
By Ronald Fairley

I’m African-American, I have sons and I attend a black church.

The likelihood of attending the funeral of my sons or being killed myself has just increased. It seems the Christian ministry of reconciliation has failed in its transformative purpose of reconciling us to God then reconciling us to each other.

We have instead maintained the racial division by alienating each other in times of normalcy, so when a tragedy occurs we are uncertain of how to proceed at the time of our Christian brothers and sisters greatest need. How can those of us who call Christ our Savior do things differently in the midst of this great turmoil?

Do we need to add indifference and complacency to the list of the deadly sins? Because African-American men and women are dying, and I refuse to believe we can’t do something different that will save lives in the coming days, months and years.

I’m not angry.

In the last year I have openly cried for my sons. Each for different reasons at different times, but I have also cried for them collectively while I prayed for their safety as young African-American men in America. What can I do for their safety? What can I do for their future? Why is it that when I lay them at the foot of the cross in prayer I want to run back and hold them close to protect them from a world that seems to want to do them harm?

Lord I believe. Help my unbelief. I’m not angry, but as my wife has observed — I’m troubled.

Troubled because of our seeming inaction to do things differently in regards to race. We are not post-racial. We’re smack in the middle of racial tension that has been building up to what we see today. The Negro problem became the Black civil rights problem which has become the African-American 21st century policing problem that has put so many African-American sons in jail or has contributed to them being shot down in the streets.

Our safe places aren’t safe anymore. Our sacred places have been defiled. Hate appears to be winning out. Is this war?

Are African-Americans playing checkers regarding racial equality while those who will do African-Americans harm are playing chess? Are we accepting the promise of a better tomorrow at the expense of justice today? We aren’t experiencing racial peace.

On the contrary, we are in a time of racial conflict that’s different from what we’ve experienced in the past—though just as deadly.

What will it take for there to be true peace? That God-given spiritual place must be sought after, but in the end is a gift from God—a gift that provides clarity of thought and discernment of intentions. This requires trust and dependence on Christ. This allows you to perform right action for the right reason in the midst of conflict. This allows for anger with the absence of sin. I’m troubled.

How do we make Charleston matter?

Nine African-Americans were killed on June 17 by a white racist while attending Bible study. In April a white police officer shot an unarmed African-American man in the back while he was fleeing. Both the police officer and the racist are in jail awaiting trial. But the mindsets that made them believe their actions were okay are still present.

How do we change the attitude that this is okay? How can Christians become the catalyst for spiritual transformation and racial reconciliation that we are called to be? Aren’t I your brother as you are mine? Don’t my sons have value? Are African-Americans alone in this? Am I alone in thinking this way?

How do churches—and the Christians in those churches—learn to do better, because God knows we know better. Have we let our color determine how we see our brothers and sisters? Have we let our fears suppress our love? Have we forgotten that our neighbors may not be like us?

I’m troubled; though I’m seeking peace and when I find that peace that only God provides in situations like this I will be angry. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I should have been angry long ago.

We need to do something to break the cycle of complacency. One suggestion is to create Covenants of Action Against Racism. It’s the simple action of agreeing with one or more individuals, churches or organizations to do something to combat racism. Wherever Christians are racism should be on the decline. Wherever you are, racism should be on the decline.

To be vulnerable and transparent on racial issues may cause us to be uncomfortable, but we must do the hard work of looking deep into our heart and do some honest self-reflection concerning our own actions and how we can facilitate racial progress. We must move from what we ought to be doing to actually doing it.

Sunday July 5th will provide one such opportunity. Churches throughout the nation will be called upon to participate in Freedom from Racism Sunday. This is an intentional day of reflection, repentance, confession and healing around the topic of race. Time and prayer should be put into making that day what your church needs. Because we all have issues, but we all don’t have the same issue in regards to racism. Make it matter.

At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we desire to create momentum for the dismantling of racism. This is scary work because the discussion is always easier than the action, but the action can no longer be delayed and the work is worth doing.

Join us in creating Covenants of Action Against Racism, Freedom from Racism Sunday on July 5 and in prayer for the families of those killed in Charleston. We can accomplish more together than we can alone and doing nothing is no longer an option.

Ronald Fairley serves as Associate Coordinator of Projects and Services for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Connect with him on Twitter at @ronfairley.