You preach one thing and practice another thing. You say that this is the land of equality, and 20 million of your black citizens, so-called citizens, don’t have equality. You say that this is the land of freedom, and 20 million black people here don’t have freedom. You say that this is the land of justice, and 20 million black people here don’t have justice. And the government, from the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the Congress, and the President, on up or down combined is not able to bring about any change in the attitude of white America toward black America. – Malcolm X
Today is May 19th,the birthday of Malcolm X. On this day 90 years ago Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska. Although it seems he belonged to a time foreign to us now, his writings remain relevant to a society plagued by police brutality and a lack of oversight, to a time in which minority groups still must fight for the same basic rights people within the majority group enjoy.
He is not a distant voice in the past speaking to us about the way things were, rather he is a prophetic voice reminding us of injustice that still thrives at every level of our society to this day.
There are three things Malcolm X is teaching us today, not only about racial injustice but all injustice inflicted upon minority groups.
1. Injustice is systemic
Notice in the quote he does not stop at individual actions of racism. He does not stop with the President, or the Supreme Court he indicts the entire governmental body even indicting the belief that legislation can change racial attitudes. At the same time he also destroys the myth that only individuals are capable of racism, he argues that the US is not practicing what it preaches about freedom, justice and equality.
It has been decades since integration took place, decades since interracial marriage was made legal, decades since the Voting Rights Act, decades since the Equal Housing Opportunity Act; the list goes on yet despite these legislative and legal victories racism is still thriving. Our churches are still as racially divided as ever, our schools are getting more and more racially homogenous; the Voting Rights Act was overturned in 2013. Despite the election of President Obama, race-based crime has increased. Police and Transportation Security Administration agents are still racially profiling based on skin color.
Malcolm X’s message about systemic injustice does not only apply to race. In the Church, women make up the largest percentage congregants but the leadership of the Church does not reflect this reality. Even as Methodists, we still favor male leadership over the ministry of women at almost every level of the church. When it comes to sexual minorities and those who are transgender and/or Queer, the evidence of systemic injustice grows. “Self-avowed and practicing homosexuals” are barred from certification for ordained ministry, while transgender and bisexual persons are completely ignored by The UMC.
2. It is up to the people to take what is theirs
The powers that be are not interested in justice; if they were they would be using their power to promote justice. Yet we have continually watched the same song and dance: someone with power abuses it and gets away without paying for their crime. In The UMC we see similar patterns. The God we serve is a God who seeks justice and if Jesus is the full revelation of God (as Scripture tells us God is, Colossians 2:9) we know that God also seeks to include those who were previously left out by strict interpretations of the law. Yet we see in The UMC many who take 7-9 verses of the Bible out of context and use them as weapons to bludgeon minorities until they either suffer under the yoke of oppression or flee for the hills.
Malcolm X knew that those who govern are comfortable with the reality of injustice; they built the system after all. He knew that it was up to those being oppressed to liberate themselves.
3. There is no unity without equality
A myth that is popular across the Methodist connection is that LGBTIQ Methodists and the people that support the ending of their abuse at the hands of their siblings in Christ, are only seeking to cause division. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Unity of the Church is a gift from God, and the apostle Paul shows us what it looks like in Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Notice “all are one in Christ”…not just the straight cisgender people, all. Notice it does not say women must start behaving the way men want them to; it does not say Greeks must all circumcise themselves; it does not say that we do anything to make this unity happen – Christ does the work of unity. AND Christ does it with all who call themselves his own.
Fighting for justice for LGBTIQ Methodists in The UMC is not an act of division, it is an act of radical obedience to the commands of Christ. It is following the example Christ has set. Some may be so bold as to call it Biblical Obedience. In order for true unity to exist within the Church all different types of Christ disciples must be present there: Not just the LGBTIQ friendly, but those who are hostile to LGBTIQ people; not just progressives and conservatives but also the moderates and the people “above the labels.” The miracle of the unity of the Church is that it cannot be replicated without Christ.
Denominations have long tried to make unity by force or threat of excommunication, but the way of Christ is stronger – mutual love and mutual submission is the way to true unity. How else can one explain that among Jesus’s disciples was a zealot and a tax-collector? How else can one explain that Paul a killer of Christians ending up largely shaping Christianity?
It is the love that only God provides that bridges the chasm of hatred and bigotry.
In order to have mutual submission and mutual love, each party must be at the same level. One cannot wield authority over the other, but all parties must be under the same authority, the authority of Jesus Christ. For too long United Methodists have brandished the Book of Discipline against each other like a weapon hoping that if we quote the right parts or just remove one line or just get the Judicial Council to rule a certain way we will “win.” But until The UMC demonstrates the unity of Christ, that power that cannot be fought for, bought, or sold, this denomination will continue to be another human-made institution devoid of the power to show the world a better way – because it is not living in a way that is better than the way of the world.
There is a lot of talk about restructuring The United Methodist Church. Perhaps we should structure the church in a way that reflects the Kindom of God. Perhaps we should build a house where all can grow. Perhaps we can build a system that hears the voices of all Methodists not just the ones who shout the loudest or get the most votes. Perhaps the test of a true Christian is not what they believe about Christ but about how the emulate him.
Malcolm X’s life is saying to us today that the struggle for justice is long from over in our nation.
But I believe more than that, what his life says to us today and said to us when he was with us in flesh, is that the struggle for justice in the Church is long from over. He left the church finding it had no place for a person like him, and for many the church still has no room. The struggle for justice in the Church should have ended in the book of Acts, yet it still continues to this day.
We are still like Peter demanding people follow our way of doing things – and God is calling us to a new way of doing things. A way called justice.
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- Where the leaves of the trees can heal the nations – a review of Gather at the River - August 13, 2015