The Common Good

'Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)'

Saturday night as I was waiting for the subway to take me from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Harlem I overheard an African-American cop tell his co-worker that George Zimmerman was not convicted of any charges. The face of his co-worker, an African-American woman, dropped and she silently turned towards the tracks to look for the next train.

The scene was disturbing to me because I saw powerlessness in both cops’ faces. This is disheartening — these are “New York’s Finest,” and yet with their badges and city-issued authority, they, like many African-Americans, were reminded of our powerlessness in a system that was founded on devaluing African life.

As I sat on the train heading uptown I was outraged by the verdict, but not surprised. When I arrived home I had to tell my African roommates from Tanzania the news, and we had a long discussion about the case. One of my roommates stated, “I guess we can only get justice from God.”

My African roommates, like myself, are followers of Jesus, yet we know that our faith cannot save us from white supremacy. The fact is that though the Apostle Paul proclaimed in Galatians that “we are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), this oneness has not occurred in our daily realties.

What struck me most about this case is that Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sabrina Fulton, was at church praying with her faith community when she heard the verdict — taking this tragedy out of the courtroom and into our pews.

Summertime is "revival season" for Christians of various denominations. Traditionally revivals, or "Great Awakenings", have preceded most major movements in American society, like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Revival involves not only a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit but an intense time of confession, repentance, and crying out to God to make us and our communities right.

This summer will mark two major Civil Rights anniversaries: the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and 58th Anniversary of Emmitt Till’s death. It is my belief that providence provides us with divine appointments that can be overlooked as coincidences if we do not have the spiritual eyes to see. This summer appears to be one of those times of divine appointment.

The American Church has never truly mourned and repented of its original sin of racism, and sadly this sin has infected the Body of Yahshua (Christ) globally. The African-American parts of the body have been on the mourners’ bench permanently since we were transported to the shores of America.

If the Church is going to survive we can no longer talk around the issue of racism. We can’t pray around it, and we can’t Holy Ghost dance around it. We truly have to deal with it.  

Younger Christians have expressed that they care more about what churches are doing as opposed to creeds, and even young white evangelicals have expressed disappointment over the church’s response to social issues. In this Sunday’s protest of the verdict, young people were highly represented — when it comes to reciting “we are all one in Christ” on Sunday but living segregated on Monday, maybe it's no surprise that this new generation will elect to be “spiritual not religious." 

We are in a Kairos moment where true repentance is needed to make sure the bodies and souls of every person are treated with dignity. Repentance is not sorrow for being caught in sin or having the sins of your society’s legal system exposed to the world. Repentance is godly sorrow that what you did or allowed to happen through silence not only oppressed your fellow brother or sister but oppressed the image of God in that person.

The American church has two choices: revival through repentance, which in this case would mean ending actions that keep the system of white supremacy in motion, or racism — and all the missions trips, interfaith dialogues, and social justice initiatives in the world won’t erase the stain of our country’s original sin.

As stated in the famous Civil Rights Movement hymn, when it comes to dealing with the sin of racism, “we've gotta keep running, trying to make 100 — 99 and a half won't do.”

Onleilove Alston is a community organizer living in Harlem. Her writing has appeared in Your Black World and the Huffington Post. She is a member of Sojourners' Emerging Voices Project and blogs at Wholeness4Love.

Photo: rui vale sousa / Shutterstock

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