- Last Words:A Black Theological Response to Ferguson and Anti-Blackness
I returned to Newark, New Jersey, after spending time in Ferguson, Missouri, heartbroken yet full of hope. The protests that took place around the country following the horrific shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson were life-giving affirmations amid an otherwise death-dealing reality. A cop or vigilante kills a black person every twenty-eight hours in the United States.
As an ordained minister of a gospel that critiques empire and focuses on the victims of state violence, I wanted to know: Where is God in the midst of black suffering? How may we theologize Christian faith in post-Ferguson America? And, in what ways can we reimagine the crucifixion of Jesus in light of the modern-day lynching of black bodies in the United States? If “[e]very time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus,” as theologian James Cone argues in his groundbreaking work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, then what does the crucifixion of Christ mean in light of the execution (modern-day lynching) of Michael Brown? The blood of Jesus speaks, theologically and politically, to the blood of countless black people whose bodies have been sacrificed on the altar of white supremacy. It’s time for black churches to name deathly systems of oppression—racism and patriarchy, queer and transphobia, capitalism and the prison-industrial complex (just to name a few)—as “sins” to be resisted and rebuked. I want my people, black people, to know that if there is a God, then God fights on the side of the [End Page 208] oppressed. That means, in a system of anti-blackness, God fights for black folk. That means, under the yoke of white supremacy, God fights for black freedom.
“Hands up don’t shoot!” “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” and “Turn up don’t turn down, we do this for Mike Brown!” were just a few chants that together formed a collective chorus of revolutionary resistance. The streets were our sanctuary. Facing police tanks and teargas, we used our most powerful weapon: our voices. We tweeted, and shared images of the repression and resistance, all while the world watched a tragic moment evolve into a transformative movement. We’re not done. Still, we refuse to be silent. We refuse for state-sponsored death to have the last word. Our message is simple: that our lives matter—black lives matter!
But what is the message of the church in the aftermath of Michael Brown? What is our response as black Christians to the hell and horror of white supremacy? Silence is not an option. Long as oppression lives, silence is sin. We must speak truth to power! On the last day of the Black Lives Matter Ride to Ferguson, our host, Rev. Starksy Wilson, pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ, preached a word for our times. Rev. Wilson reminded us that Christian theology is talk of the soul and the body, and that our faith is political. When I returned to Newark, it was clear to me that some of us needed spaces beyond Ferguson to think critically and theologically about police violence and other forms of state-sanctioned anti-blackness. The “7 Last Words: Strange Fruit Speaks” series was conceptualized as a result.
The two sermons appearing in this volume, “The Blessing in the Curse” and “Scream,” were written in response to the racist shooting deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin by white vigilantes Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman. They were originally delivered during the inaugural 7 Last Words Service on October 24, 2014 at a local black church, Shiloh Baptist Church, in Trenton, New Jersey.
“The Blessing in the Curse” by Nyle Fort
I am not here to preach to you. As far as I’m concerned, Jordan Davis—both in and through his last words—has already preached the sermon we ought to be humble enough to not only hear, but to heed. I am here, not to preach to you, but rather to...