Christian ideals have long been central themes in America’s civil rights struggle. It should not be a surprise that they remain focal as the nation lives through this explosive “Trayvon Martin moment.”
When looking to Scriptural passages and the death of Jesus, Christians often find purpose that gives meaning to their pain because, as Romans 8:28 asserts, they “know that in all things God works for the good, of those who love God, who have been called according to God’s purpose.” It’s the ever-present assurance that redemption awaits them on the other side of immense human suffering. They are also comforted by the belief that the bloodshed of the innocent is never in vain, especially when they take up their crosses and fight the good fight.
This was what gave great meaning to the National Action Network’s “Truth to Power Revival,” held at the Washington Convention Center this week. Ironically, it was held in the same room where Rev. Al Sharpton and Trayvon Martin’s parents responded to the second-degree murder charge brought against George Zimmerman announced just 24 hours before.
Evoking the imagery of the Civil Rights movement, the devotional message offered by Rev. Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope A.M.E., urged the audience to be a part of a legacy of “believing people” who were able to bring about sustainable change with very little resources at their disposal.
Historically, church basements and homes were the meeting grounds for mass mobilization, but social media has expanded that terrain to include digital mediums such as Twitter hashtags, YouTube tribute videos, Facebook fan pages, online petitions and so much more.
But there is a blessing and a curse to blending faith and social action. The blessing comes in Trayvon’s grieving mother’s passionate gratitude to the God she believes answered her prayers for justice, and a brokenhearted father’s determination to “continue to walk by faith” when marching for his slain 17-year-old son.
The curse comes in the fact that Christian faith demands that those who believe do so regardless of the outcome — be it just or unjust, reasonable or unfair, victorious or devastating. In this critical “Trayvon Martin moment,” those who believe in God’s providence are compelled to continue doing so whether the shooter, Zimmerman, is brought to ultimate justice or not.
Rev. Frank Reid, III, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, said that believers must always “return to the source,” understanding why they do what they do and what equips them to do it. By doing so, they are reminded that justice isn’t sought for justice’s sake; it is sought to bring us closer to the world as it should be and farther away from the world as it is. Faith empowers one to grip an image of the unimaginable and live as if it is ever on its way.
One week removed from Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the disciples that were birthed out of the “He was crucified, yet He rose” Christian narrative warrant our attention when asking how to turn this Trayvon Martin moment into a movement. In the story of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and historical impact rests a people who managed to take the most tragic event to occur in their collective imagination and use it to change the course of human history.
The Christian disciples established a sustainable movement with the understanding that each and every one of them had a role to play in not only preserving the sacred story for future generations, but also ensuring that transformation would begin in their own homes and neighborhoods.
This moment has birthed its own breed of disciples committed to truth-telling and social conversion. In the same way that the ministers of the Gospel took the Good News of Christ with them everywhere they went, these new “ministers of justice” will have to take the values of American freedom and democracy into their intimate spaces, vowing to leave no unjust place the same as they found it.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder/editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT.
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