So God created human beings in his own image. Genesis 1:27
As black evangelical leaders, we believe it is important to respond to The Gospel Coalition’s publishing of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Thoughts on Ferguson, a perspective we deem to be extremely anti-black. First, we condemn The Gospel Coalition’s editorial leadership for its moral and pastoral failure in publishing such an anti-black viewpoint. No Christian organization should ever participate in dishonoring the image of God in black people, especially at a time when so many black Americans are in pain. Second, we lament the internalized anti-black racism that Pastor Voddie conveyed in his article and the fact that it has been used to further support White-on-Black violence among Christians. Here, we offer a different perspective, one that we believe honors the image of God in black people.
A Brief History of White-on-Black Violence
Racism is White-on-Black violence.
In 1619, the first twenty Africans were brought over as labor for the new colonies. Within one generation the white majority had defined black people as permanent slaves and non-human property. This created a social order in which black people were only valuable for their ability to support a white dominated society that was economically prospering off of the stolen land of Native Americans and the stolen labor of African Americans. Consequently, a system of White-on-Black violence was born.
This system of White-on-Black violence has defined the last 400 years of American history. For example:
- Millions of Africans died during the middle passage journey from Africa to the so-called ‘new land’, even before ever stepping foot in America.
- Slavery lasted for 246 years, beginning in 1619 and ending in 1865.
- From 1865 until 1945, well over one hundred thousand black people were re-enslaved through the convict-leasing system, in which whites arrested blacks for minor crimes such as changing employers without permission, vagrancy, engaging in sexual activity or loud talk with white women.
- Simultaneously, white (mostly Christian) Americans sought to retain white control through racial terrorism. About 5,000 African American men, women, and children were lynched by white mobs.
- Jesus, who was both the Son of God and a poor Galilean Jew living in solidarity withthose under Roman occupation and those vulnerable to crucifixion, has been transformed into a powerful white man. This image is a form of idolatrous systemic white violence against black people and all people of color.
Despite such White-on-Black violence and much more, black people have always resisted. For example, dissident voices like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass rejected ‘the Christianity of this land’ in its complicit endorsement of white domination over black bodies, proclaiming that it had nothing to do with the true peaceable Christ. Protests like these continued until the 1970s, always triggering systemic white backlash.
In the 1960s black consciousness arrived in mainstream public discourse, affirming the value of black people in the face of historical and ongoing White-on-Black violence. Not surprisingly, the system in which Whites were always on top, responded. Taking a cue from the convict-leasing system, White law enforcement began arresting black men en masse for nonviolent drug crimes. Since the 1970s, the prison population has boomed from about 300,000 inmates to beyond 2 million people caged like animals, a disportionately large number of them black men. Black bodies continue to be controlled by this system of White-on-Black violence.
Now in the present, black people in Ferguson and around the country are fed up. We are fed up that 1 out of 3 African American males will be arrested and go through the American injustice system at some point in their lives, primarily for nonviolent drug charges, despite studies revealing that black youth and white youth use drugs at comparable rates. Research also tells us that black males are 21 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police than their white counterparts.[iv] Just as critical, schools are being defunded all around the country in many black neighborhoods while prisons are being expanded — yet another example of systemic White-on-Black violence.
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Austin Channing Brown, M.A. is a Resident Director and Multicultural Liason at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.
Christena Cleveland, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
Drew Hart, M.Div. is a pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Efrem Smith, M.A. is President/CEO of World Impact, Inc. and the author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church.