But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The grieving mother spoke with grace and power. Hours after being deprived of the life she brought into the world, she urged those hearing her voice to remain diligent, avow a posture of non-violence, and to come together. Her resolve—like her voice—did not waver.
Some 300 people had gathered in St. Paul of the Shipwreck Parish following a peaceful march from the shrine erected on the sidewalk where police had backed Mario Woods to the wall and executed him the day before. An all too familiar scene, the crowd, mostly African-American, was hurting and angry; it wanted answers and assurances that this heinous miscarriage of justice would be vindicated. Attorneys and community leaders spoke; some urged patience while others urged action. All pled with the crowd to remain involved in the effort of holding the police force and government accountable during the long pursuit of justice for Mario ahead.
The church’s Filipino pastor Rev. Manuel Igrobay, Jr. had provided the meeting place for the post-vigil crowd when other churches had turned down Black community leaders’ request out of fear. A contingency of mostly Black clergy was present along with a handful of seminary students—four of us white. I went, believing my presence in this city that was not mine among a people I did not know was twofold: one, to be a visible white face standing in solidarity; and two, to live-broadcast the event to the world, particularly so that white people could see firsthand the expressions and passion of a group reeling from another act of injustice.
As I filmed, I looked around the room at the sea of tear-stained faces, others grimacing with the weight of grief and anger. I said to myself—as I have at too many such gatherings: “Where are the white people?” Are the “moderate whites” still “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” preferring, “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”? (295)
As the crowed poured back onto the street to stand in the intersection of Jamestown Avenue and 3rd Street, we lit candles, chanted, and sang songs, determined to engage in non-violent social protest by using our bodies to block traffic and public transportation, risking citation or even arrest. From the middle of the intersection, I resumed live-streaming the protest via Periscope and quickly discovered where a lot of white people were: hiding behind screen typing out hate-filled, insensitive comments about the people who had gathered. The racial epithets, immoral judgments, bias, and bigotry born of white supremacy jarred me. A young Black man had been shot 15 times at close range and people had the vile nerve to criticize the grievous, angry protestors and their First Amendment rights!
This week as I reread Rev. Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail with the video of Mario’s execution and the face of his grieving mother fresh in my mind, my heart broke and anger stirred in my soul! So little has changed since Birmingham! White culture remains entrenched in racism. Lukewarm churches have become impotent. The ability of people of faith to empathize has been dulled by indifference and passivity.
King’s indictment of white culture remains just as true today as when he wrote, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance.” (p. 561) Absent from movements such as #BlackLivesMatters, people of faith register very clear implicit and null curricula, amounting to We love God but are not willing to get involved. Further, we really don’t believe black lives matter. The status quo King spoke of allows white people to look way and not see the Black body taking the bullets and avoid the tear-filled eyes of a mother robbed of her son looking directly at us.
The Church and her people are lost in a fog of complacence and indifference. We live in a time where the body of Christ—the body of a radical Palestinian Jew lynched on a tree on Golgotha—has forgotten that black lives matter. And until the Church and her people overturn the sin of the status quo, we will never reach that “not too distant tomorrow” where the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine.” (302)
In hope, I commit these words to the Universe in the name of all things holy and through Jesus whose lynched body proclaims #BlackLivesMatter.
Written December 9, 2015 for Spirituality and Non-Violent Social Transformation taught by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake at Pacific School of Religion.
 Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015), 176.