One of the books I am currently working through is Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. There is a fascinating chapter on John Brown and his friendship with Douglass.
In 1854 Brown wrote to Douglass and sounded like at Old Testament prophet as he railed against the evils of American leaders and their poisoned institutions. Brown was in doubt of the continuing of the American republic and he had no doubt as to what stood in the path to freedom: the proslavery support of political and religious leadership at all levels, even the “marshals, sheriffs, constables, and policemen.”
The setting Brown observed in 1854 still is problematic in today’s situation. It’s not just political opposition. It is religious opposition. It is the silence of religious leaders that is egregious … and violence in its own way.
It is also the way we use policing… and have for a very long time.
Here’s the crux of the issue: I know folks who would gladly point this out historically and simply say, “See? We’ve had problems for a long time.” (It’s a way of being able to use their privilege to stay silent and try to keep their life normal.)
The challenge is to understand these key moments and move forward. It is not to remove religion from the public space, as some would love to do, but for Christians to step up and follow the biblical mandate to do justice.
In the area where I live, there was a discussion with black and white pastors on next steps for our area and one black pastor proposed moving forward with talking to cities about policing policies. A white pastor jumped in and said he would be glad to go with the black pastor. “I want a white face with a black face so the police understand this isn’t just another black man complaining, which can easily be brushed off.” Do justice.
No more silence. No more complicity.