What has the North American church gotten itself into? Known more for infighting, schisms and splits, the focus has largely been on doctrinal beliefs and buildings. But what about the church as the very real body of Christ, as baptized believers?
There are 215 somebodies buried in shallow graves behind a Jackson, Mississippi jail. There are nearly 30,000 Palestinian somebodies in mass graves or rotting under buildings, a number that far exceeds even the Old Testament exchange rate of “an eye for an eye,” in response to Hamas’ attack on October 7th. There were 1,243 somebodies killed by police in 2023, which was the deadliest year for police-involved homicides in over a decade.
Does it trouble our conscience that asylum-seeking somebodies are used in political stunts, that indigenous women and girls’ bodies are missing and murdered? That LGBTQIA bodies are not safe, that bodies racialized as black are not free, that Jewish bodies are being physically assaulted? That 1 in 3 Asian and Pacific Islander bodies face racial abuse?
Where are the ripple effects of our shared baptism, this “womb water” for the born again? Why don’t we rise from it, screaming our heads off that we belong to each other, that we are members of one another? Where is the proof that we are “new creatures in Christ,” as Paul expressed to the members at Corinth and the evidence that we are connected (2 Corinthians 5:17)?
How did we “wade in the water” of baptism without being troubled that the North American church remains segregated? Why don’t we feel compelled to explain why we racialize Jesus’ gospel?
How long are you going to keep those idolatrous paintings in your homes and sanctuaries? It’s just a question.
You don’t have to answer. But just as a reminder, it breaks the second commandment.
Why don’t we quote the Apostle Paul at least three times a day to keep racism away from our neighbor and our prejudices at bay: “For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish” (First Corinthians 15:31)? Yes, there is only one kind of skin for humans—no matter what race tries to slip or stuff under it.
For some, my inquiries are just asking for trouble. But isn’t that the point?
Jesus was always getting into trouble, under the Pharisees’ surveillance, dodging stones, getting run out of town and was even nearly thrown off a cliff. Some would say, “He was asking for it.”
To be sure, the call is to “to find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble,” like the late Congressman John Lewis said—not with committees or councils but in community for the sake of shared belovedness.
“Good trouble” is a necessary distinction. And since it is not clearly marked in places of privilege, some of us must “find a way to get in trouble.” It will require that we get in the way, that we put our bodies, our livelihoods, and our names on the line. It demands we call it like Jesus sees it instead of looking away.
This clarification regarding “good trouble” is important for Christians because the image of goodness is often blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Goodness is often color-coded, racialized, embodied, and located in planned and gated communities in good neighborhoods with good schools.
Goodness is viewed as “white” and located solely in socially colored white bodies. I believe the church should faithfully question that designation since we’re all God’s children and God has no favorites (Romans 2:11).
W. E. B. DuBois calls it “the religion of whiteness” and writes in his 1920 book Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil in a chapter titled “The Souls of White Folk”:
“This assumption that of all the hues of God, whiteness alone is inherently and obviously better than brownness or tan leads to curious acts; even the sweeter souls of the dominant world as they discourse with me on weather, weal and woe are continually playing above their actual words an obligato of tune and tone saying:
‘My poor unwhite thing! Weep not nor rage. Know, too well, that the curse of God lies heavy on you. Why? That is not for me to say, but be brave! Do your work in your lowly sphere, praying the good Lord that into heaven above, where all is love, you may, one day, be born—white!’
I do not laugh. I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly: ‘But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?’
Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of all the earth forever and ever, Amen!”
Whiteness is about possession, conquest, colonialism and sovereignty. This is because “white” is not a country but a color and a useful one in a color-coded capitalist pyramid scheme.
Professor Cheryl Harris calls whiteness “property.” But the social perks, privileges and prejudices packed in this box should’ve been ruined during our baptism.
Baptized believers should get out of the water, asking themselves, “What have I gotten myself into?” The water should trouble our allegiances, alliances, and ascribed attributes. If it doesn’t, then I have some questions.