My two young Black male sons, ages 23 and 20, have been called "nigger" too many times in their own neighborhood for me to be indifferent to the fact that racism is alive and well in America. I have before and will continue to "pull the race card" (as it's called) whenever it's truly warranted. I've picketed, boycotted, stormed the castle, and held up signs about "Equal Rights for All" just like my maternal grandmother did during the Civil Rights Movement before me.
I get righteously indignant at hasty judgments against the nuances of Black American Culture that I identify with and find downright endearing. See just one movie, any movie, with a mostly Black audience, and you'll understand what I'm talking about. While the less hateful may still complain, "Why can't they just act normal?", I celebrate what makes us unique. We are normal. Normal for us. And what's normal for us is far beyond, far deeper and far richer than what's portrayed in the media. (Except the baggy pants thing. Besides being unattractive, showing your underwear in public has its roots among prison inmates for signaling an invitation to fornicate. I'm just saying.)
And while I respect that many well-meaning non-Blacks have their own perspective on 400 years of American slavery; Jim Crow laws; job, housing, education and economic discrimination; racial profiling; so-called "white privilege;" and why we Blacks can't just let it go, I wish there was more equal respect for our perspective on these very same things. I wish they knew (without having to experience it) what it feels like to have to sit your boys down when they're barely teenagers to tell them what to do if they're ever confronted by a cop, or an angry group of skinheads, or a vengeful White ex-girlfriend.
None of these have happened to my boys, thankfully, except for skinheads shouting pure hate out of moving car windows in our neighborhood. But we had to have that talk with them nonetheless. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Oscar Grant III are three young Black males — three too many — who have been shot and killed while unarmed. They did not deserve the death penalty, regardless of what some people have said to the contrary. To the extent that it's in their control, I don't want my law-abiding, educated, smart (please stop calling us "articulate" or "well-spoken") and well-mannered sons to ever be mistaken as "just another angry Black thug" by someone with preconceived notions and a gun.
But, as I say all of that, I am a Christian. And I am a Christian before I am Black.
Yes, obviously, I was literally Black first because I was born that way, and 22 years passed before I became a Christian. Plus, it's kind of hard to say I'm a Christian before I'm Black in light of my maternal grandfather, the patriarch of my extended family, who has fought racial discrimination all his life. He is approaching his 100th birthday soon and still had on his own "I am Trayvon Martin" hoodie at protester rallies. At his age, it's quite extraordinary that he has actually lived to see the first Black President of the United States through not one but two terms in office. (Don't tell my grandfather I didn't "vote Black" either time.)
In spite of all that, my faith in Jesus Christ comes first. As important as it is to me personally to stand for my earthly heritage and culture — and it is very important because #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter in this life — it is much more important to me to stand for my Lord and Savior because #AllSoulsMatter for the afterlife to come. Including (if not especially) my proud, healthy, mentally sharp, Black grandfather who is also a 100-year-old agnostic/atheist. Sigh.
Here are seven reasons why my faith, not my race, comes first in relation to what's most important between the two.
Faith Before Race Reason #1: What Defines Me
I am defined more by my faith than my race. People may see the Black in me before they see the Christ in me, but I hope what they walk away with after that is indeed the Christ in me more than anything else. Being Black is certainly part of what defines me in this life. But being a Christian defines me in this life and in the life to come, a life that's going to last eternally longer.
Sure, I'm a child of a Black mother and a White father, and a Jewish step-father, and I'm proud of my mostly Black-slash-multi-cultural heritage. But nothing, absolutely nothing, makes me more proud and grateful than being a child of the Most High God.
It may be semantics, but Black is part of what I am, while Christian is all who I am. To me, it comes down to a matter of skin versus soul, because I am much more than my skin and my culture. So, the degree to which you see me or don't see me participating in social justice activities like public protests, marches, picket lines, sit-ins, die-ins, boycotts or Trayvon Martin hoodies has nothing to do with my Blackness (how "down" I am) and everything to do with my faith (how Christ-like I am trying to be).
Faith Before Race Reason #2: What Saves Me
Race doesn't get me into or keep me out of Heaven. Neither does social justice or injustice and the degree to which I do or don't take corresponding action. What gets me into Heaven and keeps me there forever is the grace of God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in whom I profess my faith.
I believe by faith that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh, who lived a perfect life and ministry, shed His blood on the Cross for my sins, three days later raised Himself from the dead while He was dead, later ascended into Heaven to the right hand of God the Father, and is coming again to gather up His people and establish His eternal kingdom. That's why, by the grace of God, I'm going to live forever in Heaven.
Comparatively, any stance I take as the mother of young Black males against the seemingly race-charged bloodshed of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and Oscar Grant will not merit me entry into eternal life with God. Indeed, and with all due respect, even Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, President Obama, attorney Crump, Iyanla or the NAACP are no more able to save me from my sins than Sarah Palin, any news anchor on Fox, or the Ku Klux Klan are able to condemn me to hell. I'm not accusing Palin or anybody on Fox as being racists. I'm just trying to make the strong point that only Jesus saves (and condemns), and just like He doesn't care that I'm Black, I don't care that He's not.
Faith Before Race Reason #3: What God Commands
The Lord's commandments and instructions to us say nothing about what we are to do with respect to individual racial heritage or culture. We are not instructed one way or the other to stand up for our rights as Black people (or White people, or any color of people).
Now, plenty of commandments do relate in varying ways to social justice. But these are more often in the sense of keeping your own self in check: you be kind, you be fair, you judge righteously, you put the needs of others before your own, you consider yourself lest you also be tempted, you don't forsake the assembling together, you confess, you forgive, you put away with all malice all envy, strife, evil speaking, etc.
On top of that, the commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us (Matthew 7:12) can be applied to modern issues of race — not to focus on race but rather to motivate us to not focus on it. These instructions presuppose that such things as race should be at most a secondary concern in the attitude and life of a Christian. How can I love you or treat you like I want to be loved or treated if either one of us is distracted by what makes us different from each other?
Instead, I should focus on my faith, which teaches me to love people regardless of race and allows me to be free to take a stand against racial and social injustice in a way that glorifies Christ without fear of disappointing (i.e., being called an Uncle Tom by) other Black folks.
Faith Before Race Reason #4: What Really Solves Problems
The fight for racial equality and social justice won't solve society's biggest woes. Speaking as a Black person and the mother of young Black males, yes, let's keep bringing attention to the undeniable fact that racism brews in this country, let's better train our kids and our cops on what to do in law enforcement situations, let's improve our laws, let's bring greater accountability, let's promote positivity in our communities. Fighting for these worthwhile things can bring practical change for the better.
But speaking as a Christian, fighting for racial equality and social justice in and of itself won't improve marriages, it won't deliver your child from drugs and alcohol, it won't heal you from cancer, and it won't stop racists from being racist, bad cops from being bad, and law breakers from breaking the law.
Most of all, it won't bring Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford or Oscar Grant back to life. Will it help to prevent more undeserved killings? Certainly, and it's a real hope that I share as a Black person, a mother and a Christian. I can't imagine any of my kids dying that way. Protest rallies and marches for that cause right there, are worth it.
But my faith reminds me, there's something far more urgent to stand against than another tragic death due to race, and that is another tragic soul dying without Christ. Souls destined to hell is the greatest problem in the world, and my faith, not my race, reminds me that only belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ can solve it. My faith, not my race, compels me to share the hope of eternal life in heaven for whosoever will believe, regardless of race, color, creed, culture or heritage, because death does not discriminate and neither does the Savior.
Plus, Jesus Christ can, in the meantime, help solve marriage problems, deliver your kid from addiction, heal cancer, and cause racists, bad cops and law breakers to repent.
Faith Before Race Reason #5: What Really Unifies Us
In my opinion, racial pride and the rallying cry for social justice may seem to bring unity, but they really only bring together people who are already on the same page, even if they're of different races. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. It's great! But we have to remember that equality and justice are not the same things as unity and harmony.
In my opinion, standing up for your race especially in this country with its history of slavery, is a tricky balance. Its inherent attention on racial and cultural differences only perpetuates the focus on what makes us all different. For instance, a natural phenomenon already exists whereby people of the same race tend to congregate together. Even in Christendom, that's in large part why we have "Black" churches and "White" churches and "Hispanic" churches and "Korean" churches, etc. along with "mixed" or "multi-cultural" churches. It's not necessarily racism, but just a tendency to gather based on perceived ability to relate better, comfort level with cultural differences, and personal preferences about styles of music, worship or preaching.
Perhaps it shouldn't be that way, but it is that way, and it's real, and it's exasperated by the media and by people — Black and White — who perpetuate our separation by refusing to allow for other people's perspectives on race in America.
Christianity, on the other hand, transcends skin color, cultural differences and personal preferences. It transcends nationalities, socio-economic status and political bent. As a Black person who is also now a Christian, my faith in Jesus means I have something in common with Uncle Si from "Duck Dynasty" — the blood of Christ — that has more eternal weight and meaning than the blood with DNA I have in common with my brothers and sisters according to the flesh.
The love of Christ is far more unifying than a multi-cultural movement about #BlackLivesMatter. Believers should focus more on the fact that #AllSoulsMatter because all the "whosoevers" who believe in Jesus, regardless of their race or culture, are part of the same spiritual family where real unity and harmony, not just equality and justice, will thrive.
Faith Before Race Reason #6: What Gets Glorified
Racial pride and social justice can cause Christians to glorify man — what makes Blacks special, what makes Whites special, what makes any race or culture special or worthy of attention, honor, defense or sacrifice. In fact, as much as I deeply hurt for the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the rest, I equally cringe every time I see them almost deified when they were just ordinary human beings like you and me, not looking to die for anyone.
I just want to be careful in how I balance my loyalties. Loyalty to the Black community and loyalty to Christ are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, my Lord and Savior deserves more, especially where there might be conflict. Man should never be glorified more than he deserves, and certainly not at the expense of giving Jesus the best of our attention, honor, defense and sacrifice.
Frankly, I don't want my support of my race to turn into idolatry. There are things I'll support because I'm Black, but not if it contradicts or distracts me from God's Word. Black lives matter to me, but all lives also matter to me because they matter to God whom I serve and to whom I owe everything. He is worth infinitely more to me than the color of my skin, the brutal slavery of my ancestors, and the continued discrimination and unfair targeting of my brothers and sisters in the flesh. #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. But #AllSoulsMatter more.
That's why, as a Black person, I want to pick and choose my battles wisely in how I protest racism and injustice. But as a follower of Christ, I have no choice but to be in battle daily for my faith, ready to defend it "in season and out of season" because it is being attacked more and more, every day, from all sides. Indeed, not everyone needs racial sensitivity training. But everyone needs Jesus. Including Black folks.
Christians need to glorify Christ more than the color of our skin. Why? Because while our bold witness for the Gospel can help turn a non-Christian into a Christian, our bold witness for the Black experience in America can never turn a non-Black person into a Black person. Sure, we want non-Blacks to understand and respect our history of struggle which continues to rage, but the satisfaction of knowing if they ever do come to understand pales in comparison to knowing you had something to do with leading a lost soul to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Besides, I wonder how much the devil himself is using these social injustices to get well-meaning Christians focused on earthly more than spiritual concerns.
Faith Before Race Reason #7: What to Expect
Racial equality and social justice are a worthwhile fight, but it can only go so far. Jesus said His Word shall never pass away but that heaven and earth shall pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Racism will indeed one day pass away. But it won't be because of the people's protests, picket signs, die-ins and boycotts. It will be because Jesus makes all things new, in His way and in His timing, as He wills.
That is why, at least for me, my expectation is in Christ, not in my skin color and not in the people who are fighting for it, including me. If I suffer as a Black person (and yes, I have), I may never get the satisfaction of retribution. But if I suffer as a Christian, as Paul says at Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present afflictions are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." The suffering of my Black race offers no such eternal promise. #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter for this life only, while #AllSoulsMatter for eternal life to come.
I want to close with a story from my college days at UCLA. One day I went into the office of the special interest newspaper for Black students, "Nommo" (Swahili for "the word," interestingly enough). I met a young Black male there, Todd, and I told him I wanted to offer my services as a writer.
Todd's immediate response was — and I quote — "Man, you're so proper, just like a White girl!"
"Well, gosh golly!" I replied.
You can't win for losing in this game we call race in America! Oh, the trials and tribulations of a light-skinned, half-White girl with good diction and "good" hair to match!
Of course, Todd and I became best buds right after that laugh. I chose not to be offended, and he appreciated my sense of humor in spite of his own poor attempt at it.
Bottomline, we all need Jesus! And Christians need to be loyal to Him first before anything and everything else.