Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"The Bible says black people are cursed": a minister said in Ferguson, MO

“The Bible tells us black people are cursed,” a minister said while surrounded by a group that looked like they had been transported from another era.

I paused to look at them.  Then I looked around to see if anyone else heard what he said.  A black man in his late twenties was placing a banner on the building next to where the group had pitched their tent.  His quick gaze in their direction said enough.

I took a few steps closer.

“Did you hear that,” I asked.

“Yeah,” he nodded. There was nothing else to say.

There was nothing else to be done.  I took a few pictures to document the moment.  Then I went back to the McDonalds in the parking lot next to the congregation praying, preaching and singing about black people.

“Lord, remove the devil from this place,” the preacher hummed like a black Pentecostal.

Maybe it was too hot to care.  Maybe the residents of Ferguson, Missouri were too tired to fight back.  Maybe it was too early after a long night of fighting the fear of tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I’m limping because I had to run from the police on multiple occassions,”Osagyefo Sekou told me after we appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show. “I’ve been hit with tear gas twice.

Sekou graduated from Soldan High in St. Louis years ago.  He still holds the school record for the mile.  Sekou has children in St. Louis.  He’s been gone for a long time, preaching and teaching justice as the Pastor for Formation and Justice at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, MA.  He is spending the summer as a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King Education and Research Institute at Stanford University.

We talked a lot about social justice work while sitting at the McDonald’s in Ferguson, Missouri.  I reflected on the two journalist arrested by the police while working there.  I watched as police vehicles cruised the streets as if searching for a reason to fight.

“This is a police state man,” Sekou said.  “Churches are supporting it.”

We talked about the limits of the Church, and the disbursement of false information.

“I’ve been here. I’ve seen it first hand,” Sekou said. “We have been peaceful in our protest.  Senior citizens and children have been a part of the protest.  How can you justify tear gas in a crowd like that?”

Our conversation was deflected by the presence of the congregation holding service less than 100 feet away.  There, under a tent, they prayed and preached hate.  They walked into a community besieged after the death of an 18-year old black man, and moralized about the evil of the black people living in Ferguson.

I seemed fixated in another time.  Images of Bull Conner’s message of hate, barking dogs, water hoses, and senior citizens and children marching to make a point, visited me like Jesus on top of a mountain.  I watched as a congregation clapped hands and preached damnation on the black people living in Ferguson.

I begged God to take it away.  All of it.  Take away the misery in the streets.  Take away the pain of Michael Brown’s death.  Take away the rage related to racism, and the hate that compelled that congregation to sing.

Take away the pain in my soul after hearing them call me cursed.  Take away the massive division between those who confess disgust due to their standing on different sides of history.  Take away the anger fueled by rejection, and the tears that swarm because of people to mean to understand.

It was difficult to comprehend the reasons.  Another black boy is dead, and a church decides to preach a message of hate.

I’m closing my eyes and praying that it’s all a dream. A terrible dream.

It’s not a dream.  It’s an unending nightmare.

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