I was taken aback by the column in Wednesday’s paper that purported to offer “A Christian Response to Protests.” It struck an oddly familiar tone that white Christians, particularly in the South, have relied on to counter movements attempting to upset the status quo of white supremacy and social injustice.
For example, this is what it looked like in 1963 when Christians responded to protests like the column writer proposed: “We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”
That was the statement that eight white ministers in Birmingham, Alabama, offered to Martin Luther King Jr. and the thousands of civil rights activists in the city who were not content to wait while the injustices of segregation and police brutality continued unabated under a government that openly celebrated white supremacy.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King rightly criticized this mealy mouthed Christianity: “In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.” King, himself a Christian pastor, understood more than the white ministers that working for peace meant more than striving for an “absence of tension.” Real peacemakers, the ones Jesus blessed in the Sermon on the Mount, demand the “presence of justice.”
And that demands that we take sides. Our sin is our silence, particularly in an era where nationally 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for a white supremacist president and where locally we refuse to engage in sincere conversations about how our campus is a shrine to white supremacy, from the Confederate statue that “welcomes” people at the Circle to the incessant pro-Confederate imagery in our school’s retrograde nickname and iconography. So should the protests come to Oxford, let me suggest that the Christian response isn’t to show up with a “Jesus Freak” T-shirt and stay impartial, but rather to show up with a “Black Lives Matter” sign and a righteously indignant willingness to overthrow the tables of white supremacy.
Bryan Kessler is a graduate student in history from Richmond, Virginia.