On June 28 the hashtag #whoisburningblackchurches started on Twitter in response to the recent spate of church fires. A multitude of voices have contributed to the discussion counting the number of current church burnings, recounting the history of black church burnings, and calling media and white Christians to the floor of accountability and responsibility.
We are losing safe spaces ,we deserve answers #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches
— nealcarter (@nealcarter) June 30, 2015
Almost 20 years later, we must again ask, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches?
— NAACP (@NAACP) June 30, 2015
Seven churches have been set on fire in the past week and a half. College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville on June 21; God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga on June 23; Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC on June 24; Fruitland Presbyerian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee; Greater Miracle Temple church in Tallahassee, Fl on June 26; Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina on June 26 and now, the seventh church, Mt. Zion AME church in Greelyville, South Carolina. Though the current burning of Mt. Zion AME hasn’t been ruled a hate crime or terrorist act, the church is no stranger to either as it was the site of destruction in 1995 when KKK members set the church on fire, destroying it.
Since Dylann Roof’s mass shooting that took the lives of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME and since the debates about removing the Confederate flag have ignited, we’ve seen an increase in hate crime and activities. The KKK has boosted its recruitment efforts and even has plans to hold a rally at the South Carolina statehouse on July 18th. And now here we are, many of us watching black church after black church burn. The church, the one place of refuge for many black people, is burning. What shall we do?
It’s time for a lot of people to step up including a lot of predominantly white churches. White silence in general has been a problem as we’ve grappled with the issue of violence and police brutality against black people with impunity. But white Christian silence in particular cannot be tolerated at this point. Several Twitter users called out Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, Rick Warren and other popular white pastors to find out their response to black churches burning and all of them were met with silence. At the time this story was published none of the aforementioned released statements about the black church burnings and this is problematic not only because of the sheer volume of incidents but the clear disregard for the church. Yes, inherent in white Christian silence on this matter is a disregard for the church.
the white church squanders its moral authority when it ignores the arson of black churches across this nation. #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches
— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) June 30, 2015
If black churches are burning that means the church is burning and there can be no separation there. If our church is burning, so is yours and it becomes a part of your concern and responsibility because you are, as we are, part of God’s body. #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches is an important question to ask because we must get to the root cause–although many of us can guess who the perpetrators are. But WHAT WE DO from here on out counts. This is no saccharin call to reconciliation that is often hard-won because very few understand racial reconciliation. Neither is this a call to prayer–which is necessary but not sufficient on its own. But it is a call to action to those who still hold the balance of power, to intercede on behalf of the oppressed, violated, and exploited. A call to express explicit concern and actively engage black church communities. This is also a call to the black church community that, somehow, we won’t lose faith in God and in the church that has been a place of refuge for us. That may be easier said than done but my prayer is that we continue to show up and boldly stand in the face of evil. That we continue to speak out against every injustice, including the one that is currently visiting us, and pray to not be overcome by fear.
Lastly, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The scripture is God’s response to Solomon who had just dedicated the temple to God, fulfilling the promise. David, Solomon’s father, wanted to build the temple but God told him, “You did well to consider building a house for my name; nevertheless you shall not build my house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build a house for my name.” 2 Chronicles 6 is Solomon’s dedication of the temple to God where he also establishes a long petition in hopes that God will hear and forgive God’s people when they sin against God and each other. God responds in the affirmative that He will respond to Solomon’s petitions and hear the prayer and the cries of His people. I often appeal to this scripture at times like this. At this moment it is relevant, in my opinion, because manifold are our sins against each other and God. I can make strong declarations about what we must do but I also recognize that we, too, must humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways. To me, this scripture speaks to all of us and the part all of us play in the destruction of our churches. Last week in a lecture at the Candler School of Theology, Cornel West said,
“White supremacy is in the souls of black and brown people. The imperial identity is inside of us. We are all a mess.”
As you can imagine, his words shook the room. It may not be something everyone will agree on but, in many ways, there is something “other” inside of some of us that has taken as far away from our first love. Given this, our asking #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches requires that we question ourselves as much as we question the perpetrators of this terroristic act. I don’t claim that we, black people, are at fault, but I claim that those of us in the black church are as much as part of the answer and the hateful cowards we are searching for. Many of us have turned our back on the black church because it hasn’t been what we want it to be. We’ve stepped away from it in its traditional iteration to do our own thing and left it to, symbolically burn, while we go to perceived greener pastures. But the grass is greener where you water it and the black church needs us now more than ever. So I call on those of us who have abandoned the black church as much as I call on those who never respected it in the first place. A house divided will not stand, but a house unified will persevere and it is times for us to turn back in on ourselves and our church to water it and protect it from further harm, internally and externally. Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming black people for burning black churches, but I am encouraging all of us who have a stake in the black church’s survival, literally and figuratively, to really put that question through the grinder and find all accountable parties.
Let us continue this discussion, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches.