In his work Peace, Walter Brueggemann begins to address the differences between, for example, Shalom for the haves and have-nots: “A theology of blessing [celebration] for the well-off ‘haves’ is very different from a theology of salvation [suffering] for the precarious ‘have-nots.’” Rah once again contends that, “The tension between the theology of celebration and the theology of suffering is the tension between the now and the not yet” (The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity p.146). The “now” represents what you already have—“justice” is now; you have it; while the “not yet” is something you are waiting for; justice is still coming. But I ask myself, “How long do I have to wait for this justice and what measures might I have to take to attain it?” Therefore, we have a great gap between these two theological paradigms. Both are needed, but I would argue that a theology of suffering is one that we need to hear more of and learn from in these trying days.
What the “riots” were (as they became labeled, although we knew what the hell we were doing), was a symbolic—while violent—response to that question I posed. Moreover, April 29, 1992 represented a culmination of many ethnic groups who decided to not take the “passive” approach any longer. It was about seeking justice. It was about responding to the continual “blind eye & ear” approach America has had on issues of race, gender, and class for centuries. More importantly, it was a time to truly envelope Howard Thurman’s opening question: “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin? Is this impotency due to a betrayal of the genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the religion itself” (Jesus and the Disinherited)?
Where is God twenty years later? Why is there not more outcry from prominent White evangelicals on the continuing significance of racism in America? Why is it, twenty years later, we still have a Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mitrice Richardson, Troy Davis, the continuing obliviousness of undocumented peoples, and the widening wealth gap go literally untouched and unexamined by many Christians? Why is it that a “life” is worth something in the womb, but once it is out, it needs to “earn its keep” or perish? I have a hard time believing that these issues are not beating at the heart of God. I have an equally hard time believing that by pursuing justice, I am, by default, scheming some liberal, left-wing, pro-Satan agenda.
Twenty years later and yes, we have made some progress. Police beatings can at least be recorded (however not in all locations as police lobby to make recording them an “illegal” action) and used in court. And there are certain laws in place that say you cannot, at least openly, call me a “nigger.”
But what has truly changed since that week long invective of looting, violence, and social deviance? Have we convinced ourselves that “Things are just better” therefore, we can ease up a bit because “at least it’s not that bad anymore?” Or have we turned a blind eye to the issues until they reach our doorstep? As a young White foreclosed homeowner told me not too long ago, “I shouldn’t be losing my house. I’m not Black.” I see some of the same conditions swirling and culminating in our society that I did back in 1992 which fueled the lead up to the insurrections. What makes this social storm cell so much more dangerous is the three ring circus of injustice complicity, social unconsciousness, and abstract racism.
These three areas culminate to create a veil over a person’s eyes which, when reinforced by media, create an ethos which says: the world is fine, we are better off now, things are good, one or two incidents do not make a national epidemic—we’re ok. Slavoj Zizek tells us that to engage in reality, we must first begin in the shit. The funk. The mire. In order to truly understand, comprehend, and grasp the reality we are in, we venture into that theology of the profane.I continue to have flash backs from that week of mayhem. And even continuing to deal with my own post trauma, I still stand by my decision to act rather than to sit and complain. I still view militant action as a means of social action and part of the Gospel message. And while I do not advocate for us to start with violent means, condone senseless viciousness, appreciate anyone being harmed by ignorant groups of people, I do reserve 2% of my own “just war theory” for physical action. Still, I now have a family to consider when social action calls and twenty years ago I did not have the influence and networks I have now. Yet, I still believe it is part of our theological heritage to engage the powers that be when they oppress and continue to ignore the voice of the people. I owe it to my daughter to stand up against racism, White supremacy, sexism, classism, and the evils that take on human form against people of color. Because the alternate is to accept my current situation as normalcy and to condone the oppressor’s actions as welcoming and friendly. Once again, Freire reminds us that, “As long as the oppressed remain unaware of the causes of their conditions, they fatalistically ‘accept’ their exploitation” (p. 51).