A Letter to Young Black Christian Leaders

Dear Young Black Christian Leader, 

I don’t know about you, but I felt sudden sadness and frustration after reading statistics about Blacks dying from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than other Americans. I thought to myself, how did a virus from Wuhan, China become a death threat to Blacks in America? 

In full transparency, COVID-19 didn’t feel like much of a crisis to me until statistics on Black Americans were shared. Unfortunately, I took the crisis seriously when it directly impacted my race and community. The problem with this mentality is my lack of empathy for what was happening in China. When stories on the virus started to surface on the news, I thought to myself, “I’m so happy that’s not happening here in America.” Did you feel the same way? If not, I guess I’m the only insensitive person in America. LOL. 

Upon reflecting on this, I realized a good leader must empathize with others who suffer near and far and take their issue or problem as a sign that it could happen to anyone. I’m sharing this to acknowledge my racial bias and how it prevented me from responding to a crisis and stepping up as a leader. In order to step up, I had to acknowledge my ignorance and lack of empathy. After dealing with the man in the mirror, I went to the Lord. 

As a young black christian leader I depend on my biblical worldview to navigate life, especially during a crisis. After reading articles, watching the news, strolling through social media and reflecting, I prayed; “God, I know this doesn’t mean you don’t like Black people, because your word says you don’t show favoritism. So, why are we suffering and dying more than everyone else?” 

In that moment, God made four things clear to me: 

1.There is a season for everything.

2.There is hope in darkness. 

3. I will need faith and wisdom.

4. I must fight the good fight.

There is a season for everything.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1 it is written, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” ‭‭This scripture helped me realize that the current crisis our world faces has an end date. It’s for a season, a time and a purpose. In Daniel 2:20-22, he says, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” As leaders, we have to know and tell those who follow us, this too shall pass. We have to seek the Lord and tell the world, “God is in control.” I don’t want to get too preachy, because I’m still struggling with it all as well. But this is a benefit of a Believer in God. We have access to God who is in control of everything.

There is hope in darkness.

I lost hope when those statistics went public about Black Americans dying at an alarming rate. When I watch the news and read articles too much, it steals my hope. When hope is lost it’s hard to imagine an end date. I tend to slip into panic like the rest of the world and can no longer operate as a leader. However, I read a scripture that encouraged me. In Romans 5:5, it is written, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” ‭‭After reading this scripture, I realized my hope was under attack. I let what I saw on television convince me that God didn’t love Black people. However, this scripture restored my hope and reminded me that believing things will get better is connected to my hope. My hope will not put me to shame and your hope will not put you to shame. Our hope is directly connected to our faith.

As Christians our faith must be accompanied with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. We can’t allow our faith to be used to avoid the truth. Things are not good right now. The present reality is really bad for many people. Therefore, we have to practice empathy in our approach to responding to this pandemic as leaders. Again, I’m not preaching, I’m just sharing what I’m learning during this time.

Have faith and wisdom.

In Hebrews 11:1 it is written, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In order to activate our faith, we have to hope for a better tomorrow. After taking a break from social media and the news, I realized fear is the greatest distraction from hope. If we’re afraid of what will happen, we can’t hope for a better future. I’m starting to hope again. I pray that you can hope again too. Imagine a better future and people being more connected after this crisis. Imagine a world filled with love and peace. After distancing myself from the world and drawing near to God, I found my hope and that hope activated my faith again.

Fight the good fight.

We have to protect ourselves from COVID-19! Here is the deal, the government, hospitals and churches can’t protect us from this virus. We have to take on the responsibility for ourselves. This means being responsible and adhering to the guidelines put in place to help us navigate this new reality. As Christians we can’t use our faith to ignore wisdom and knowledge. I’m guilty of this. I’ll share something personal to me. In 2017, when my wife was pregnant with our first child, we had an early term pregnancy due to complications and we lost our son. Prior to this issue, there were signs that something was wrong, but I used my faith to override what I saw. I said things like, “ God got us, we’re gonna be okay.” However, I never used the wisdom that was screaming in my mind, “ GO TO THE DOCTOR!” If I’m honest, I was scared of the truth. I didn’t use my faith. While I don’t believe this is why we lost our baby, I think many of us are scared to know the truth. We fear finding out we have medical conditions. As Christians, some of us shout, pray and declare a healing without ever knowing the status of our health. I don’t mean to start criticizing us, because I can only truly speak for myself.

I believe we can use our faith to obtain healing but, we have to know the truth. In the Bible, no one went to Jesus unaware of their issue. They were aware of their health issue or situation and from that place of truth, Jesus was able to heal them. As leaders we have to preach and teach about a faith that requires honesty, not avoidance and distractions. Am I preaching again? I’m sorry. 

Leaders, we have to fight the good fight. America allows Black people to be oppressed. Power and authority is disproportionately distributed due to racism. Racism is a system based on color that gives people of a certain race superiority over others. So, how are we to fight racial injustice with the authority and power God has given to us? We have to face our own injustices within our hearts and exchange them for God’s heart towards all humanity. For example, In Isaiah 5:5-9, the prophet had an encounter with God prior to fulfilling his assignment from God. He had to face his sinfulness and then go to fight against the injustices of Israel. I believe we all carry some form of injustice and in order to fight the good fight, we have to address what’s in our hearts first. Fighting injustice requires a level of purity and surrender to the agenda of God. Our bias can’t lead us in the fight. God has to lead it.

During a time, when things are uncertain, we need to own our ignorance. Now is a good time to express what we don’t know more than expressing what we do know. This will require us to truly listen. I believe, post-pandemic, we will need to have more conversations than lectures. People are spending time with their thoughts and want to share how they feel about what’s happening and we need to be open to hearing other point-of-views. People want to be talked with and not talked to. 

Lastly, I pray you’re empowered to stand with God and fight the good fight. Challenge the status quo by asking tough questions to your leaders, families and friends. Plan events that will spark a movement to bring change. Don’t be silent. Speak up. Act. We need you to be a leader. 

With love, 

Your Brother in Christ

Prison and God

Part One: My Story

Blacks are being incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race in America. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 40% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. For black men in their thirties, one in every 10 are in prison or jail on any given day. Some people have described mass incarceration as a hidden agenda—a new caste system to enslave black people in America.

In a recent conversation with my older cousin, he said, “Mass incarceration is a tool used to keep God’s people broken.” After reflecting on such a provocative thought, I remembered how nearly every adult male I knew as a child went to prison. My biological father and the majority of my uncles were incarcerated at some point in their lives. Some were gone for many years for drug offenses, while others went to prison for shorter sentences for smaller crimes. For so long, I considered my father and uncles “bad guys.” It was not until I had an encounter of my own with the law that my perception of them and myself changed.

In 2012, I nearly went to prison for 4-6 years for “failure to stop a crime.” This was life-changing and very eye-opening for me. From one experience, I was dismissed from my graduate program and fired from my job. Humiliation barely scratches the surface of what I felt. I was labeled a criminal and “a bad guy.” I spent almost five years in litigation for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Overall, I spent seven years being untangled from the web of the  justice system. I thank God I didn’t go to prison physically, but psychologically I became a prisoner to the trauma of being labeled and targeted as a Black man. This experience forced me to ask God many questions—why? Why was prison on my journey towards graduating from college? Am I a criminal? Was God punishing me?

I felt like a criminal. I felt bad, wrong. Not one of my accomplishments mattered in that moment. I was a statistic and my hard work came to an end. I’ll never forget that day in court. The judge looked at me and said, “You are being charged with a felony. Your bond is $300,000. You are a flight risk and a threat to the community.” The irony of this is, at that time, my current job was to serve the community. Yet, I was being charged and considered a threat. After hearing this, I threw my head back and allowed tears to roll out of my eyes as I whispered, “Oh God.” I was simply hanging out with friends, at a party, and this happened. After spending seven days in jail, five years in court and two years under court supervision, I can honestly say the justice system is unfair towards Black men. I believe it targets completely innocent people and imprison them. I believe it captures those who commit the crime, those connected to those who do the crime and those who are there and have no idea a crime is taking place. What’s complex about this is actually determining what is a crime. Often, blacks are involved in something that may resemble a crime, but it’s not. The justice system will sometimes exaggerate what was done and stretch the truth to make an incident become a crime—especially when Black men are involved. Again, this is all my opinion my personal experience and observation. I can only back it up by the countless stories of black men being incarcerated for crimes they didn’t do or crimes they didn’t know was a crime. I had no idea that being with someone who did wrong made the person who didn’t do anything a criminal. Guilty by association? I’m convinced that black men in America are in need of justice, redemption and the justice system needs to be reformed.

Biblically, the children of Israel (God’s chosen people) were enslaved by the Egyptians. In the book of Exodus (Exodus 1:1-22), it is written, the Egyptians placed slave masters over the Israelite people and oppressed them. The Egyptians were so threatened by the growth—they started to kill the boys. Biblically, this slavery is not considered punishment from God. However, they suffered and God didn’t intervene until they cried out to Him. After they cried out, God raised up Moses to emancipate them from slavery. God liberated the Israelite people so they could worship Him. Later in the Bible, we read how God redeems Israel in the wilderness and reforms society with His principles of justice.

Like Ancient Egypt, America enslaved Blacks. Like the Israelite people, Blacks were issued slave owners and worked hard without pay. They were fruitful and multiplied like the Israelite people and were oppressed for hundreds of years before they were liberated. Once blacks were liberated in America, they didn’t go to a wilderness for redemption like the Israelite people, they stayed in the same country among the same people who enslaved them. This is where the narrative differs from God’s chosen people. Could it be, Blacks are unable to be completely redeemed because we are still among those who once owned us? Does the freedom and progression of Blacks threaten the American empire? Are Blacks suffering because our dependence/faith remains upon our oppressor instead of God? Or even this: how do you positively impact and change the place you inhabit when its structure is built upon your oppression? Where is God in all of this?

I believe, God is within us. Unlike ancient biblical times, we are now in the era of Jesus Christ—the Gospel era. Like Moses, God sent Jesus to save the world. Like Jesus, Black men are falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Jesus  is falsely accused of a crime, placed in prison, and killed as punishment. The Roman Empire imprisons Jesus, kills him and God redeems him by raising Him from the dead. As a result of this, those who believe in Jesus are saved and made right with God. There is a formula… slavery, punishment, redemption and reform. Do we need all of them? Is slavery good? Does punishment push us towards redemption despite the fact we may be falsely accused and or imprisoned?

God sends Jesus Christ to redeem mankind once and for all. However, in America, Blacks redemption is complex. Despite our redemption, we struggle to experience absolute freedom. I believe America is hindering God’s plan for Blacks. Reformation starts with recognition that there is a flaw in the societal system. We can see that Blacks are being imprisoned at much higher rates than any other race in America. Is this because we are the most sinful? Are we the “bad guys?” I don’t think so! Could we be involved in another form of slavery for the advancement of another group of people? Maybe! Do we need to cry out to God? Absolutely! Are Blacks being punished for ancient sin? I don’t think so. I think they are being oppressed. Could reform be achieved in a place that slavery has existed? I think so, but it may take us some time. If we advocate now, things can start changing. But, without God we can’t do it. Historically, God has been the liberator. We need Him to help us. We have to speak up on this and fight for change like Moses and maybe even die like Jesus. In order to do this, I believe we need to accept the story of Jesus Christ as truth. We need to believe in Him so that our sin can be forgiven and we can receive the Holy Spirit, which is God’s Spirit within us. With the Holy Spirit within us, we can live righteous lives and have the true power to turn from sin, which brings punishment. As a result of living righteous and powerful, we can then make the proper argument against injustice. But, it has to start with being in right standing with God, because He is the liberator.

In conclusion, America is a country that believes in civil death instead of redemption. Where is God in all of this? I believe He is with us, and our redemption still exists—even if it isn’t visibly tangible in the society we live in. We have to fight the good fight by challenging the systems in place and continue to share the Gospel. This is a heavy topic to tackle, I’m just sharing some of my thoughts. Here are a few reformation questions I’d like to ask to contribute to the discussion that is already taking place:

How does society shift its toxic dependency and usage of the penal system?

What can be implemented to ensure ex-felons have the opportunity to healthily and strategically return to society as productive and reformed citizens?

What does a reformed penal system look like? What does a penal system rid of discrimination and racial bias look like? How does it function and how is it properly being implemented?

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