Tulsa, Oklahoma, played host last weekend to the confluence of the first mass gathering during a still quite active pandemic, and the latest example of a much bigger pandemic – the virus called racism, which has infected this nation since its inception.
Lots of us saw a “culture war” being portrayed on TV but let me tell you what I see in the Tulsa where I live and minister.
A group of young artists gathered in the early, early morning – Thursday night into Friday morning – to paint “Black Lives Matter” in large, yellow letters down the center of Greenwood in the heart of Black Wall Street.
They didn’t wait for the return call asking the mayor for permission. A Juneteenth celebration, canceled before a rally aimed itself at Tulsa, was quickly resurrected.
What typically takes weeks, if not months, to plan, was pulled off in about five days.
A sea of faces from all over Tulsa, people celebrating “otherness,” gathered in the green space behind Vernon AME Church, whose basement survived the 1921 massacre.
They gathered to hear music, eat food, support local businesses and to hear the voices of a new line of leaders who are rising up to resist much more than a mayor or a federal administration.
They are demanding a transformation, a revolution – a coming of the Kingdom of God, the “beloved community,” to use our Christian vernacular.
This resistance is deep, flourishing and rooted in an ethic of interconnectedness, seeing issues of racial justice, gender justice, LGBTQ+ rights and immigration rights as part of the same act of liberation.
And it goes far beyond a single weekend.
Several groups of dedicated individuals and leaders have been working for a long time in the community.
They see this not as a push back at the president alone, but resistance to an “empire” that has maintained a racial identity, gender identity, even a religious identity, as the default setting, the assumed definition of “normal,” through power and control.
It is pushing back against a Christianity that has supported all of the same things, wrapping the cross in a flag and calling it holy. It is part of a much larger movement to uproot the bigotry that infects us all.
The roots of American racism run deep. The very language of white supremacy and racism is encoded in our rhetoric, so that when we hear things like “law and order” or “inner city,” there are pictures and assumptions already forming in our minds.
Racism is so American, as some have pointed out recently, that when you protest it, people think you are protesting America.
These roots have been planted, watered and tended by the church, particularly by white, evangelical Protestantism, which has married itself to the American ethos.
This expression of Christianity has so promoted a hyper-individualistic religion, an ethos of “us versus them,” a Jesus who is “personal Lord and Savior,” that it can scarcely deal with the social and political implications of the gospel as Paul saw them when he instructed the church in Galatia they must abolish ethnic, class and gendered distinctions in favor of life in Christ.
Much is changing right now, and we can see it as threatening or we can see it as the very life and action of the Spirit, calling us into God’s newness, as the Spirit always does.
She is asking us, as she asked the disciples in Acts, to see past our previously held narrowness, to replace our bigotry with compassion.
Following Jesus means we listen when someone says our knee is on their neck, and that we change our ways when we see their destructive impact.
For we follow a Jesus who casts out the things that possess us – the demons of oppression, the lie of white supremacy, the sin of racism, the obsession with freedoms that come without responsibilities.
Jesus casts that out of us, if we will let him, and he calls that salvation.
Chris Moore (he/him) is pastor of Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was ordained into the UCC in 2009, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, and served previously as the founding pastor of First Congregational UCC of Norman, an associate pastor at Mayflower Congregational UCC in Oklahoma City.