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Monday, July 3, 2017

Should I Celebrate Independence Day?

What isn’t fun about the 4th of July? Countless Americans will gather together for cookouts, enjoy delicious BBQ, and revel in the tradition of watching fireworks. Many will do so with deep gratitude for the freedom they enjoy as Americans. Freedom is the bedrock foundation of our nation for many. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for the Colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Two days later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. So on the 4th of July, the Colonists declared that America would be a free Land—A Land where men and women from the four corners of the globe could and would come to pursue their dreams without the restraint of class or (forced taxation) of a dominant culture. It was a democratic experiment. The idea of America was to give birth to a dream. A land governed by the people and for the people. A hard war still had to be fought. Heroes were yet to be made. With the help of France, the colonists defeated the world’s strongest army and won their freedom in 1783. Then America—the Land of the Free was born. 

The Problem with the War for Independence for African Americans

My forefathers came to America in the early 1600s. They arrived in shackles. When the War for Independence began, they had been enslaved for 150 years doing hard labor. Their treatment was cruel, yet they were loyal to their new land. They too risked their lives and fought and died
in the war. Although as history informs us, it wasn’t the War for Independence that gave them their freedom—that would come via the Civil War, fought 80 years later. And that war wasn’t fought for the freedom of slaves; it was fought over the issue of states’ rights versus federal rights. But the Land of the Free had to realize its dream that all men were created equal and all men should be free to pursue their dreams without the restraint of class, the oppression of a dominant culture, or injustice because of the color of their skin. The idea of America was a dream that would only be true if it ended the nightmare of slavery.

The Ugly Defeat for African Americans After the Civil War

The war was hard. Millions of whites, slaves, black freedmen, and black free men paid the ultimate price of freedom with their blood. Thank God the Confederate South lost the battle! Yet tragically the leader who led our nation into freedom—President Lincoln—was assassinated. And shortly thereafter, the congressional leaders from the North, whose soldiers had won the battle on the field, conceded defeat in Congress, allowing for systematic racism to become the law of the land in the supposed land of the free for another 100 years. Again, the dream of independence turned into a nightmare for every Africa descendant on America’s soil. Creating
an unseemly racialized two Americas—a white over black America from everything from voting, to water fountains, to restaurant dining, to schools, to policing practices, to wealth (The Freedmen’s Bureau failed to give African Americans their hard earned 40 acres and a mule. So former slaves continued to receive slave wages, and instead of living in the pursuit of happiness, they lived in a pursuit of perpetual poverty). I’ve actually seen, collapsed on the ground, the small tin hut where my forefathers lived as indentured servants working cotton fields in North Carolina. 

So on July 1st I sit writing and wondering, should I celebrate the 4th of July knowing that the 4th was a hope that turned into a long nightmare of a devastated dream deferred? I was born on January 31st 1964, into an America, where African-Americans still couldn’t vote. My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were robbed daily of the dignity due them as men and women made in the imago Dei. “Whites only” signs were everywhere outside of their black communities. Under paying jobs was their lot in life, as they lived under the threat of secret white societies who terrorized African Americans to keep them in their place by lynching any and all whom they pleased. As Langston Hughes bemoaned, I was born into an “America (that) was never America to me.” But thank God another war broke out, the legislative Civil Rights War—the war for Independence of African-Americans. 

The Harsh Reality of Civil Rights: Laws Don't Change Hearts

Soldiers (black and white) standing for the truth of human dignity fought this war with words, courage, and faith. They fought to make America great. They were led into battle by a leader who had a dream for America, an American dream in which America would finally live up to its high ideal of freedom. King dreamed of a day when African descendants would finally become free in the land of the free in which their fathers labored and died as slaves and second-class non-privileged citizens. The war was hard, yet won. And thankfully, victories brought new laws securing freedom. But tragically, on April 4th 1968, the leader, who led our nation into freedom, was assassinated. And the laws that were changed in the courts fell short of changing hearts that were determined to keep America segregated, unequal, and morally un-great. And so as civil right’s laws opened the doors of a better education, the National Guard had to walk black students through corridors filled with another generation taught to hate. Eventually,
white parents left those schools to start better private and privileged Christian schools. Economically, these new schools became unwittingly the new way of legally keeping education separate and unequal in our two Americas. As African Americans were able to move into better communities, the current residents decided to create new communities through white flight, keeping America separated by color. Our markets valued homes in their black neighborhoods at half the value of similarly constructed houses in white neighborhoods. (Thanks for the insight, Matt). And even with new laws, companies kept hiring John and Jane over Leroy and Laquesha even though they had the same credentials. And then there are the different policing practices: e.g., Charles Kinsey. I affirm with the Bible that every American must respect our police (Rom 13). I pray that police can return home to their families in my community (I mourn with the family of Officer Miguel Moreno, who was shot and killed on Friday. It is gross evil when criminals attack police). I am sure I don’t know how hard it is to police some of our more violent communities. My community is terrorized by black, stone-cold killers. But I also insist that officers be better trained and held to a higher standard of accountability for how they discharge their weapons in my community. And finally, what the new civil right’s laws have yet to fully change is the tragedy of America’s ethnically divided church. With all of our evangelical expositors teaching the Gospel from the book of Galatians, there are far too few voices decrying how America created a black and white church. We desperately need modern day Pauls to confront our Peters (of all backgrounds) for elevating culture and minimizing the humanity of others to divide the church of Christ, and on the other hand who will lead Jesus’ One Body, His church, into real unity. With conviction we need to avoid extremists on both sides. We must condemn not compromise with political groups which are anti-Christian, white supremacists, Bible-rejecting racist groups like Alt-Right, and so-called Black empowerment groups which are anti-Christian, neo-liberation theology, Bible-rejecting, racist groups like Black Lives Matter.

Corporate Sin Just Like Private Sin Carries a Hefty Cost

In his second inaugural address, on the heels of the Civil War, Lincoln intimated that the Civil War was the price God demanded of America for 250 years of slavery. I wonder what price he would say we are paying now for adding 100 years of legalized segregation to the end of slavery. 350 years is too long to legally, overtly, and brutally oppress a people (educationally, economically, psychologically and worse), and somehow expect not to see or to reap the rotten
fruit of that evil. The truth is that many were broken under the three hundred-fifty-year weight of America’s racist oppression against African Americans. The communities in which they live clearly reflect that brokenness, personally and culturally. I wonder if America and even the church in America will ever realize how profoundly our racialized history negatively impacts us today.

But the truth is that America is also not what she was. We’ve made progress. I just wonder if too little has been done too late. I will never forget my grandmother’s last words to me. She had a hard life. After she shared with me her heart-wrenching struggle as a black woman living in a legally racist America, she exhorted me, “But Bobby, you can make it.” I believed her, because it was true, and it was true because of how well she had endured oppression, and taught my father to. She was an amazing woman of courage. Today, I am standing on her strong shoulders. America didn't break her. I think if she were alive today, she would be appalled at the failures of so many African Americans to take advantage of the doors opened to us that she could only dream about. I think she would express righteous anger over how we’ve anointed the morally bankrupt misogynistic, immoral and vile voices in our community as our icons. I think before she would point and blame others for their failures to treat us with dignity, she would, in disgust, lament how we have become our own worst enemies and are the new hoodied terrorists in our own communities. Any honest assessment of America’s treatment of African Americans and their struggle for freedom will lead to the sad conclusion that both the church and the government failed significantly. And now, added to that, since the birth of civil rights and the death of my grandmother’s generation, there has been a colossal failure of black leadership (pictured by our Jesse Jacksons, Maxine Waters, the NAACP, scandalous BET networks, Black Lives Matter, Bill Cosbys, Creflo Dollars, T.D. Jakes, and too many Black Churches) to keep us from becoming our worst enemies.

So Here's How I've Answered My Question

So I’ve conceded with the Bible that things will continue to grow from bad to worse and that I will only see a truly equitable just nation when the King of all kings establishes His Land for the Free, the kingdom of God on earth. The only Just King will correct the whole problem infecting my community and our nation(s), while we all keep either ignoring or treating our cancerous sores with bandages. Until then, I will speak the truth in love because assuming that a problem is solved when it isn’t will lead to being negligent in addressing it. And while our divided two Americas vehemently disagrees as to the whys, from whatever perspective you hold, (from the left or right), I’m sure we can all agree that America still has a big problem.

So although it’s not my favorite holiday (it’s obviously a conflicting one for me), I will be thankful that I don’t live under the unjust taxation without representation from Britain. I’ll probably watch fireworks (I usually do), grateful for the progress America has made towards its promise of being a nation of freedom for all. But as an African American Christian, living and serving in the community left behind from White Flight, I can’t ignore the existence of the lingering problems that far outweigh taxation without representation. Creating two Americas all but guaranteed one would live in disparity. It is simply too obvious from where I live and serve that America isn’t “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” So that I won’t celebrate on this 4th of July. But maybe the next generation of politicians and church leaders will do a better job so that one day all of our children can.


Ken Raleigh said...

Thank you, Bobby. I read this article with great interest and sadness. I appreciate your sharing truth on this topic from so many angles. I learned a lot from it. And, of course, your honesty and personal integrity only add to the impact.

I am curious what policies you would advocate for our country to pursue at this point. Maybe you have already written on that. But I would be interested in hearing that.

Kind regards to you, my friend.

Pastor Bobby Scott said...

It's so good to hear from you Ken. I pray all is well. I am so thankful to be an American, and I love the American dream. But I often wonder what could have been if the victory for Independence had been shared with my kinsmen according to the flesh. I can actually track my family roots all the way back to slavery. Through oral tradition, my family has keep sobering stories alive.

The timing of your response is interesting because I just told my wife that I need to write a follow-up to this post. It's seemed to dark and hopeless. I'd like to express what I think is a biblical way that the church and our nation can move forward. Unfortunately so many responses (even the well intended ones) have been misguided. So thanks for the encouragement. I think I'll try schedule some time next week to write a post answering your question.

Ken Raleigh said...

Looking forward to it. We need more voices like yours.

Theo J. said...

Very powerful Brother Bobby! Thoughtful, articulate, fair, and accurate. As any good fire would, you brought heat but you brought even more light.

Beth L said...

Thank you for following God's will in using the voice and the story He's given you! I also learned so much in reading this, and I thank the Holy Spirit for His conviction as I did. As a white/non-marginalized person, I know that I am so out of touch with so much of the hard truth you talked about, but I don't want to be. I want to be a part of the healing, unity, and wholeness the Lord Jesus has for our fractured communities, for His glory! Thank you for this great teaching, brother!