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Lament and hope over racial injustice

President Taylor: Personal reflections
of lament and hope over racial injustice

The student body at Evangel's annual IgNight service starting the academic year.
The student body at Evangel’s annual IgNight service starting the academic year.

Like you, I’ve watched the videos, read the reports and responses, and experienced the same range of emotions of so many – outrage, sorrow, grief, lament – at the latest public display of injustice.

Alex and Angela Bryant.
Alex and Angela Bryant.

I am a child of the ’60s. Born in Chicago, my family was one of many white families that moved to the suburbs. My mother learned to drive so she could drive my brother and me to and from our elementary school because it was no longer safe to walk to school. From the distance of the suburbs, the civil unrest of the ’60s seemed far away, captured in brief clips in the evening news and special reports – unlike today’s 24-hour media coverage. It was actually during my college years at Evangel that I began to be more keenly aware of our nation’s dark history with slavery and the systemic racism that permeates both north and south. It was friendship with African-American and black students and listening to their personal stories that contributed to my education that continues to this day. Interesting that I am now writing this reflection as I enter my final months of service to Evangel all these years later.

Tragically, the most recent death of George Floyd has set off yet another round of violent mass protests. Like many, I watched in full the horrific video of Mr. Floyd crying out that he couldn’t breathe as an officer’s knee stayed pressed against his throat. That was the same week that thousands of people gave a standing ovation to Archie Williams for his performance on America’s Got Talent after serving 37 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. I went back to Alex (an Evangel and AGTS  alumnus) and Angela Byrant’s video of 2016 that their family recorded in response to the 2016 shooting of nine Dallas police officers, another horrific hate crime. I cried four years ago when I watched it the first time. And I cried again four years later.

Their video now has over 35 million views, and this weekend I finished reading their new book “Let’s Start Again.” It’s their personal reflection as a biracial couple on race, racial ignorance and the need for genuine repentance, racial reconciliation, and healing of our nation.

‘How long, O LORD?’

My week has been one of both anger and lament. As a white woman, I do not pretend to understand the daily trepidation of black women who wonder if their sons and husbands and brothers will return safely when they go out for a jog or any other innocuous activity or if arrested for a crime being eight times more likely to go to prison than a white man committing the same crime.

Part of the cry of lament is “how long, O LORD.”  Like the Old Testament prophet Habbakuk, we cry out:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.  (Habbakuk 1:1-4)

By the end of his lament, Habbakuk also declares hope in the waiting:

…yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength… (Habbakuk 3:17-18)

This weekend I reread William Cowper’s famous poem “The Negro’s Complaint” written in 1788. Cowper was a close friend of John Newton and advocated for the abolition of slavery with the former slave trader and writer of “Amazing Grace.” The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often quoted from the poem, which led me to search for one of his speeches in which he quoted the poem. Here is the link to his speech on April 26, 1967, in Cleveland, Ohio. I invite you to listen to his voice.

‘[W]e are children of the living God’

A few excerpts from his speech:

A statue at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A statue at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

…Now this is all I’m saying this morning that we must feel that we count. That we belong. That we are persons. That we are children of the living God. And it means that we go down in our soul and find that somebodiness and we must never again be ashamed of ourselves. We must never be ashamed of our heritage. We must not be ashamed of the color of our skin. Black is as beautiful as any color and we must believe it.

…Our power does not lie in Molotov cocktails. Our power does not lie in bricks and stones. Our power does not lie in bottles.

…Our power lies in our ability to unite around concrete programs. Our power lies in our ability to say nonviolently that we aren’t gonna take it any longer. You see the chief problem with a riot is that it can always be halted by a superior force. But I know another weapon that the National Guard can’t stop.

…We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.

…And so I say, let us keep moving, let us move on toward the goal of brotherhood, toward the goal of personal fulfillment, toward the goal of a society undergirded by justice.

He is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, voices our nation has had for non-violent pursuit of civil rights for all people. And today the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. still inspires hope.

At the launch of each academic year, I make a public statement about who we are as an Evangel community as we light our candles and the fire bowl on the Quad the night before classes begin. My statement includes: “Our fire bowl declares that we are united in Christ as one body, one community – while still retaining our unique identities, our unique stories, our unique cultural and ethnic and racial histories – not colorless but in the full prism of God’s creation – united, strong, committed to each other and to Christ.”

And today we declare again that we stand with our black and brown brothers and sisters. We offer our prayers, our hearts, our voices, and our hands in solidarity seeking justice and mercy, truth and grace.

We know that one day we will finally be truly, fully united:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”  (Rev. 7:9-10)

Until that day, we press on.

Carol A. Taylor, Ph.D.,
June 1, 2020

Students during the candle lighting of the IgNight service.
Students during the candle lighting of the IgNight service.