Michelle Higgins, director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group, and activist with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, has warned Evangelical churches against the sin of indifference in the face of racial injustice, such as the killing of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and other people of color, and encouraged them to instead seek racial reconciliation and unity.
Speaking at the Urbana 15 Student Missions Conference, which is being held this week by InterVarsity in St. Louis, Mo., Higgins revealed that when Mike Brown, an 18-year-old African-American male, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, she encouraged churches to host discussions about race and justice.
However, most churches simply told her, "We're not ready to talk about race and justice, we're not ready to talk about police brutality and mass incarceration...we don't want to talk about the fact that black bodies are grotesque to us, we don't want to admit that."
The Bible clearly warns us against this type of "editing" and indifference, Higgins contended, citing Deuteronomy 7:6-7 which states in part, "The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples."
"God loves you, thus you have dignity," she explained. "He made you, thus, you have dignity. People of faith, we declare with our mouths that it is God who defines dignity...God alone decides this. We say it, but how human history has betrayed us, because we don't act like it."
While God has challenged his people to tell the truth, Higgins lamented that far too often, churches attempt to twist or deny the truth of "who has power."
"We have committed adultery with white supremacy," she said. "The Evangelical church is taking dominance and power...and made it it's side-piece or part-time lover...The Evangelical church in North America is convinced that happiness is quiet, that sadness is quiet, that African worship is weird, that they shake their butts and stuff, that there's no place for God in the house of God. The Evangelical church is promoting the idea that 'White is right'. That is a burden that none of us can bear, especially my white brothers and sisters. Let me talk to you all and tell you that God wants to relieve you of the burden of being in control. He wants to do it today."
Racism is also prevalent in education, in communities, and in the justice system, Higgins charged, citing the cases of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, among others, but the church remains silent.
"Do you hear it? Do you see it?" she asked. "Maybe not, because if you're in an Evangelical church, you might not be hearing jack about it."
"Now, I don't want all people of color to go scot-free for wrongdoing - I don't want to see people of color never arrested for anything," she clarified. "Black lives matter doesn't mean all black folk can kill people and steal stuff...that's not what we want, that's not what I want. What do we want? Justice. And what is justice? Justice means my baby boy, my baby girl will not be tried, condemned...executed on the street. That's justice. Justice means the burden of supremacy..is not up on you, because God is pleased with you. Therefore, you can be pleased with everyone he has made."
She went on to charge that "this is our time to craft our narrative of repentance," as there are 100,000 children in the United States who are in foster homes, and 300,000 churches that identify as Protestant,
"We can wipe out the adoption crisis tomorrow, we could wipe it out this week," Higgins said. "But we're too busy arguing to have abortion banned, we're too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood, we're too busy withholding mercy from the living so that we might display...how much we want to show mercy to the unborn. Where is your mercy? What is your goal in only doing activism that makes you feel comfortable?"
She went on to acknowledge that many people are uncomfortable with the #BlackLivesMatter movement because it is "liberal" and "choppy with trans people" and people of unidentifiable gender.
"Our Evangelical brothers and sisters only have one piece of the story," she said. "Here's my word to all of you who are fearful..and my word to all of you who have been out there: You're not in control. My word to you is, you don't get to decide who has dignity...and who has access to it. You know what's beautiful about not being in control? You can freely dignify every person because that is what God does. You can free yourself from judging any person, because God is the judge."
Emphasizing that #BlackLivesMatter is not a mission of hate, Higgins said that the movement is actually about realizing the truth of God and a "foretaste of victory."
"BlackLivesMatter demands that we face facts and tell the truth...it demands that I know myself and that I see you, it demands that [we see] those that have been in prison...and executed...because of their skin color, and that we free them. It demands that white and black and brown and Asian and Hispanic brothers and sisters be treated as one. Redefine justice the way that God defines justice; your God is not white, he's not Japanese or Congolese -- your God is God."
Higgins warned against the sin of indifference: "Our inability to care, to have our hearts probed by the stories of suffering, that is the enemy of activism, it is the enemy of unity, it is the enemy of faith...Faith is the substance of things hoped for - we hope that justice will come, not just to our shores, but to the shores of Israel and Palestine."
She concluded her talk by encouraging churches to seek unity, to address the sin of racism, and to partner outside of the sanctuary doors: "How can I claim to love the God who did not ask me, 'How clean are you?' before he saved me unless I'm going to love the person who is dirty and filthy from their own bondage to sin even while they are not clean," she said. "We must rehearse the justice of equality right here on this shore before we export racism, before we export a classicism that is not easily repaired. The Evangelical church must commit to...giving control of our stories back to the God that wrote them. If you believe that black lives matter and that God brings worth to the human soul, then you, too, believe that we will win. If you believe that there is only one race on earth...then you already believe that we will win."