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Race and religion: their intersections today and in the past Chadwick Smith

In his speech at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in 2012, the Rev. Dr. Mack King Carter said, “Part of the attraction to the eschaton is seeing how he [God] will work things out.”

For many black people, we look at what has happened to our people throughout history and at our current situation in America and wonder how God will make sense of the nonsense we have experienced as a people. In the spirit of the Easter holiday, I believe Jesus has responded and will further respond.

When looking at black suffering and asking God why He allows it to exist, I think it is important to take a look at Jesus’ historical context. Jesus of Nazareth was born in an oppressive state. During his lifetime, the Roman Empire had taken over most of the known world. They had oppressive systems in place where the people were unfairly taxed and over-policed.

In addition to Rome’s strict governance, the way the Jewish law was interpreted at the time was such that people had little freedom to simply be themselves.

If I take what my friend Jahqwahn Watson ’17 always says, “Jesus was strategic and planned to come to the earth at the time he did,” and apply it to this situation, then I must believe that God wanted to place himself in an oppressive society as the person being oppressed. Personally, I believe that it was so he could identify with our situation as black people.

Being omniscient, God knew the suffering we would face and he wanted to be sure that we knew that he knew what it felt like to be us. Jesus’ ability to relate gives me a little peace because that means he knew what it is like to be oppressed therefore he knows how to fix the problem, if he is omnipotent. And because Jesus knows what it is like to be oppressed he promises to “set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

I do not know what this will look like or when it will happen, but I do know that I can trust the promises of God and that if he says something, He will deliver. My black brothers, sisters and non-gender conforming folks; God will deliver us from this state of oppression. That is the hope of the cross: that through death and resurrection He’ll make all things wrong in this world right.

Not only does Jesus speak to those who are oppressed but also to those committing the act of oppression. In Luke 19 while traveling, Jesus runs into a man by the name Zacchaeus. He is a man who works on behalf of the Roman government to collect taxes from the Israelites. People viewed him as the person who was directly responsible for their repressive state. He was stealing money from his own people and becoming rich off it. It was taboo in their society to interact with people like Zacchaeus, but Jesus, being the counter-cultural person He was, not only spoke to Zacchaeus first but also went into his house and ate with him.

No one knows the words exchanged between Jesus and Zacchaeus at dinner, but the Bible does tell us the outcome. Zacchaeus was so touched by Jesus that he promised that he would repay anyone he had stolen money from four times over in addition to giving over half of his possessions to the poor.

When Jesus, who is God and who is also oppressed, interacts with the oppressor, hearts and motives are changed. The oppressor is so changed through an interaction with God that he decides to repay the oppressed for their oppression.

To my white brothers and sisters, even though you may not actively take part in oppression, you still reap the benefits from the oppression of black folks, and it is now time for you to rectify the wrongs of the past. That is also the hope of the cross, that those who have done wrong will receive conviction and respond accordingly.

Jesus has a lot to say about black suffering. He offers hope to both groups, the oppressor and the oppressed. It is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that He plans for all people to live life without burdens.

It is in the spirit of Jesus (a person of color executed by the state), the first 20 or so Africans to arrive in British North America in 1619, the millions of Africans who lost their lives in the middle passage, Crispus Attucks, the thousands of blacks who witnessed and suffered brutal beatings during slavery, the hundreds of black men and women lynched before and after the Civil War, the many freedom warriors of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Harlem Renaissance, the children of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the black men who suffered from post tramatic stress disorder after the Vietnam War, the black girls and women who have lost their brothers, sons and fathers due to the war on drugs and the crack era, the many black males and females who were and were not exonerated from the crimes they did and did not commit while serving time on death row and inside the “prison industrial” complex, the hundreds of black people in New Orleans who lost their lives and or were displaced by Hurricane Katrina due to lack of planning and preparation by the government, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the countless other blacks who suffer from racism and post-colonialism that I write this.

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