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Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the acceptability of sexualized violence against women

Soapbox

Trigger warning: rape, abuse, sexualized violence. 

One of my blogger-jokes is that I like to think about and write about the stuff we don’t usually discuss in polite company – things like marriage and religion and politics, for instance. But I have to say I’ve never in my life considered or entertained the idea of writing about a topic like this. To those of you who need to avoid this topic or to click away because it will violate your peace of mind or heart, please do so with my complete understanding.

But my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent, I’ve got a fire in my bones today.

I read it. Oh, yes, I read it. I read Jian Ghomeshi’s statement about his firing from the CBC. I have loved Q for years. My sister and I both listen to it and we swoon regularly over the opening essays, over the thoughtful and deep interviews, over the brilliance of the contributors and, of course, the host, Jian Ghomeshi.

So when Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this weekend, we were stunned. And let’s be honest: it takes something incredibly horrific to be fired from the public broadcaster. Don Cherry has enjoyed immunity for 35 years even though he’s offended everyone at least twice on matters of race and politics and sexual identity. So for CBC Radio’s golden boy to be fired, well, this was a big deal. We all knew it.

I read Ghomeshi’s statement from the standpoint of a dedicated and long-time fan, someone who was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. And the further I read, the more my heart sank: it reads entirely like abuser rhetoric and gas-lighting. It was raw and emotional, yes, but it was textbook justification. Of course an employer has no place in the private or sexual lives of its employees – this was clearly not that.

Then came the article in the Toronto Star this morning, detailing conversations with four separate women who allege that Ghomeshi did, in fact, abuse them without consent. So much for the “jilted ex-lover” defense. And they will likely never come forward to press charges or make public accusations because they fear Internet retaliation. A very real and very terrible reality, one I completely understand. I have experienced my own share of violent threats for being a woman online: one needn’t exercise much speculation to understand why these women would shy away from public court cases or lawsuits or accusations. It’s dangerous enough to be a woman these days, let alone a woman who dares to stand up publicly against abuse. Who among us doesn’t understand that fear? We can make the logical arguments about why we are obligated to report cases of abuse or rape and how victims names are shielded (tell that to the victims of Internet doxxing) but the truth is that most cases of abuse and rape go unreported for very real reasons, let alone the public interest component here. The lack of formal charges proves nothing, either way: it doesn’t prove it happened but it doesn’t prove that it didn’t either. And now come the women weighing in on the comment sections of the articles, claiming similar experiences.

So I’m left not knowing whether to cry or throw things. Instead, I’m sitting down to write this post – against my better judgement, if only for the spam comments I’ll receive alone, let alone the rest of the very real and rational reasons as both a Christian and a feminist to never write on this topic.

Because this isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi right now. After all, we have no idea of the particulars or details or truth here, not yet anyway. He claims persecution for his sexual appetites, the victims are claiming abuse. It’s complex and I pray that the truth will come out and that justice will be done.

Really, this is about the acceptability of sexualized violence against women.

Feminists have long been split on these sex-related issues, from being anti-pornography to pro-pornography, pro-sex-work and anti-sex-work, anti-BDSM to pro-BDSM. There are scholarly arguments for all sides, I’ve read them and I understand how each side arrives at their conclusions on a purely academic basis. I also know why I land where I land on those issues for more reasons than simply my Christian convictions.

Consent always lies at the heart of the arguments: is there consent? If yes, then go for it. Mutual consent is the new moral arbitrator for our sexuality.

I understand that logic. It makes sense to me from an academic or secular standpoint, absolutely. I understand that if Ghomeshi is proven to have engaged in these acts with consent, that it falls within acceptable boundaries for most.

But that logic fails to take one thing into account for me: the whole “Jesus” part of being a Jesus feminist.

I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.

I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as “damaged goods.” I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one “side” – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.

Christians rarely hear a healthy and freeing message about their sexuality, about the importance of consent and mutuality, about being in charge of our own bodies, about the realities of sex right alongside of the delights and desires, let alone a sexual ethic that tenderly cares for victims of abuse. We tend to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to sexuality, painting with broad brushes across complex people, ignoring nuance and making up a new law, one that – let’s be honest – usually puts women at risk of abuse or shame-based rhetoric.

I remain wary and yet here I am with a broad brush and a soapbox: this way of treating each other – violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation – is wrong. WRONG.

We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom.

This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners.

These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.

Even if there is consent, it is dehumanizing to fantasize about and enact sexual violence against women. It’s a short walk from fantasizing about violence and rape to becoming someone who commits violence and rape – and even with consent, it is wrong to do so. These acts are dehumanizing and soul-sucking for all participants.

As we think in our heart, so we are, according to Proverbs. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, beholding is becoming.

So here, this theologically and socially progressive Christian feminist will say it:

These sexual acts have simply become a socially acceptable way of excusing dehumanizing each other, of abuse, abuse grooming, oppression, language of hate, rape, and violence. Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong. 

All of those acts of sexualized violence run completely counter to the way we are to treat one another, according to the Church and to the Spirit. We are called in Scripture to honour God with our bodies – these acts are not honour. And even apart from the specifics in Scripture about sex in particular, we have a whole ethic for how we treat one another now in the Kingdom of God – with love.

Christian relationships are meant to be characterized by mutuality, not dominance.

Our sexuality isn’t exempt from our identity in Christ.

Scripturally, sex is intrinsically connected to love. And the one who is Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 among other beautiful qualities as patient and kind, not boastful or rude, it doesn’t demand its own way, our example is to be a people who are faithful and hopeful. We’re made in the image of Love. We are to treat each other in this way.

People are sacred. Women are sacred. Men are sacred. Our bodies are not separate from our spirituality – our bodies matter, our words matter, the way we treat each other sexually matters, the way we believe we should be treated sexually matters.

Then there is this….

In a world where women are repeatedly and consistently raped and abused, how dare we?

Oh, I’m angry. How dare we?

How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? Whether in the context of a classroom power dynamic or a war torn refugee camp, women are preyed upon, groomed for abuse and abused in horrifying numbers in this way from the youngest to the oldest. There are women who believe they deserve to be treated in this way – think about that for a second.

From the account of creation in Scripture, we see that we are all made in the image of God. These acts are part of the Curse in the garden, right along with patriarchy: dominance and an absence of mutuality is not our identity in Christ.  Calling these acts by pithy acronyms or pontificating about consent don’t remove the inherent violence and evil of them.

What a tactic of the enemy – to take the very thing that is a curse upon us and twisting it to make it seem acceptable.

I don’t care if it’s soft patriarchy or BDSM, this is an example of the enemy twisting the very thing that enslaves us, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, and making us think it’s not only acceptable but sexy and desirable. We have been set free from walking in that oppression.

This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down.

But it is about the larger question – how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?

We should be part of redemption, not part of promoting the acceptability of oppression.

 image source, used with permission

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, social justice, women · 222

3 ways to be a beloved warrior this week :: Thanksgiving edition

It’s nearly Thanksgiving here in Canada. However, if you don’t live in Canada (poor thing), these are still good things to do this week so don’t let a little thing like that worry you or put you off.

1. Invite another family to join you for supper. Particularly keep an eye out for anyone who is far from home and family. Don’t feel like you need to turn this into an Entertaining Event Worthy of Pinterest. Nope, keep it low-key, keep it simple, add a few chairs, ask everyone to bring something, and simply open your home up to someone new.

As Shauna Niequist says, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” That doesn’t require six kinds of stuffing. There’s a deep connection between justice-building and community-building, I believe.

2. Pack a box of food for the local Food Bank. Holidays are always a big pull on our local food banks so this is a good time to stock their shelves – particularly rice, beans, flour, cans of tuna, Thanksgiving side dishes like cranberries or boxed stuffing, baby food, diapers, that sort of thing.

Our church is doing a church-wide food drive on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, in fact so try to do a big donation, so if you’re really feeling energetic, perhaps you could pull together your community or Facebook friends or church to all drop off food. There are a lot of opportunities to participate in the work of justice and sometimes that looks like organizing cans of tuna on your day off.

3. Embrace Generous Tuesday. I know that Black Friday shopping is more of an American Thanksgiving phenomenon but the idea is still there around most of our holidays: spend spend spend. So instead of Black Friday or Cyber Monday dominating our Thanksgiving weekends, let’s turn the narrative around to Generous Tuesday.

Generosity inspires generous living, and it can spark a movement of transformation. So take some time as a family or a community to think about how you want to be generous on Tuesday – and don’t feel like it’s just about monetary donations (but hey, let’s not kid ourselves or overlook the obvious – cash helps so send a donation somewhere), you can also donate books, clothes, furniture, your time, your energy, your skill set, whatever. You can raise money or raise awareness. Just be generous on purpose on Tuesday and make it part of your family traditions.

(A couple of my favourite places: Help One Now, Mercy Ministries of Canada, and Heartline Maternity Centre.)

Every once in a while around here, we highlight a simple way for us to engage as beloved warriors on behalf of restoring justice. I hope to feature one way to engage with God in peace-making every week – a simple and from-home way to help write a better story in many locations and contexts around the world.

These are simple things, maybe you’d say they aren’t that big of a deal, really.

But we serve a God who takes the smallest seed of peace and justice that we can plant and then ….watch ….watch…. watch…. the mighty oak that will appear. These seeds are seeds of faith.

As I wrote a while ago about how to have hope that God is transforming the world, sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time. I think that faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain. My heart behind this series to find small and simple ways that we can all contribute to justice in our world.

Continue Reading · Beloved Warrior, social justice · 3

We underestimate the foolish and the kind ones: On building the Kingdom of God, peace-making, and bridge-building

Nearly a year ago, I had one of my first in-person conversations with Christine Caine. If you don’t already know Chris, well, get ready – she’s an over-caffeinated, fast-talking, Pentecostal Aussie who is filled with the Spirit and leaves most of us slack-jawed while she preaches her face off around the world and sets the curtains on fire. And I love her. But in this story, we were just chatting quietly in the back of a room, getting to know each other. She was kind enough to encourage me in my work, particularly as Jesus Feminist was just weeks away from releasing. Off hand, she mentioned that she feels like we need to create pipelines for people to move towards God’s idea of equality and justice.

In a way, we all start at a different point in our journeys. If I imagine this journey towards God’s full realization of justice as an alphabet, some of us start at Point A and others start at Point S.

At the end of our lives, some of us might finish far away from Point Z perhaps but it took a tremendous amount of courage and faith to end up at Point P. And so we can celebrate any movement towards justice and wholeness in each other, however far from perfect.

We all need a way to move forward. We need an invitation or a way to onboard to the journey. We need the bridges to be able to cross over.

Even if, in our lifetime, we only move from Point A to Point M, at least we are moving towards God’s heart for justice, at least we are being moved. And I think so often in our work for justice, we lack patience for those who are on different points of the journey, we want to leap them from Point A to Point Z. Sometimes I want to make that leap myself or leapfrog someone else to where I am already – forgetting that it took a lot of pipelines, bridges, prayers and conversations for me to end up where I am.

I find the true and long-lasting work happens when we take the time to walk with each other in that journey. I have needed men and women to walk with me as I move on this made-up idea of the justice alphabet, they are the ones who have created bridges for me to cross, space for me to grow in real and meaningful ways. I have been discipled.

We are all moving from different places and experiences, backgrounds and teachings, contexts and privilege. But I have hope still that God is moving us forward – if we are open to the Spirit and to each other.

I think this is also the holy work of justice and peace-making.

I’ve thought of that metaphor so much since our conversation. Because the truth is that we do all start from different places on different issues of justice. And I felt like Chris articulated much of how I feel about that little yellow book, and even my own ongoing work: I want to create the pipeline, to build the bridge, to hold out my hand and say walk a while with me and see for yourself. (I’m always so thankful for those disciples who are ahead of me in the journey.)

Wherever people find themselves in their journey, am I creating pipelines or building bridges? am I inviting my brothers and sisters further out into the holy and wild work of redemption?

***

I believe that our God is at work in the world, setting things right. I also believe that God accomplishes this in our world through, well, us. God’s redemptive movement, the slow and steady arc towards justice. We are learning that there is no fear in love – as of 1 John 4 says, we are letting “love have the run of the house.”

***

My friendships in Haiti have changed a lot of my theological opinions just like my friendships here at home or the ones built throughout a lifetime. (This is the way of community, I think. If our theology doesn’t evolve and change during our lives, then I have to wonder if we are paying attention.) I have written often about the man who moved a mountain so that a school could be built. The metaphor of moving a mountain as it relates to doing the work of peace-making and justice-seeking since my first visit to Haiti crops up often in my life and work – in fact, I ended up dedicating an entire chapter of my book to this beautiful idea).

And with every day that passes, it takes on new meaning and nuance to me. Because sometimes, yes, we speak to a mountain and it will lift up and be cast into the sea. What a glorious image! But I’ve also learned over my lifetime that it is just as holy and just as ridiculous and just miraculous for the people of God to pick up their own small shovels and shoulder into that mountain with faith.

Sometimes the mountain is cast out and other times, I believe, we see that mountain move by blood, sweat, tears, and patience, by joint effort, a million small stones at a time.

I have decided that, rather than be someone who denies the existence of the mountain entirely – whatever that represents in the moment – or simply gives up in despair, that I will be a woman who picks up small stones and moves them. Small acts of faith are still acts of faith. I will be a woman who slowly and over time and alongside of many others will make that mountain move.

But it will also be an act of love.

***

I’ve been thinking about the women of Exodus a lot lately. I lay the blame – okay, fine the credit – for that squarely on the shoulders of one of my best friends, Kelley Nikondeha. She has always been enthralled with the Old Testament. In fact, her work and her whole life centres around the themes of Isaiah through Communities of Hope in Burundi. Jubilee, justice, swords into ploughshares, all for the restoration of both lives and the land.

Kelley taught me about the women of Exodus, how they quietly turned over the empire in their own ways, paving the way for Moses and the exodus of Israel from Egypt. She writes here about the midwives, Pueh and Shiphra, who subverted Pharaoh in their own way. They were meant to murder any boy babies that were born to the Hebrew women but instead they quietly delayed their arrivals or “forgot” to look if the baby was a boy. All this to ensure that mothers delivered their healthy babies. When Pharaoh challenged them, they blamed the strength of the Hebrew mothers. And they kept right on delivering life to the people of Israel. This is why Moses survived. The mountain of slavery for the Hebrew people was moved in the big ways – the parting of the Red Sea, for instance – but that mountain also moved in the small and secret ways, like the midwives.

It was behind the scenes work. Small stones work. By the very nature of midwifery, it is holy work that is done in secret and in intimacy. But the result is life and hope, stretching for generations, changing the trajectory of the story.

***

I think that the work of the Spirit is often silent work. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rare – silence is so rare.

We don’t see what is going on in each other’s lives and hearts, as the Spirit moves among and within each of us. I think the greatest work of the Spirit happens in the secret places of our lives. We’re moving and changing, slowly being scrubbed clean on the inside. Who cares if we give all of our attention to the outside of the cup if the inside is filthy? (Matthew 23:25-26)

Not all of the redemptive movement of God is visible to our judgment. 

There are moments in our lives when we are silent because the Spirit is at work. Midwifery happens in the hidden places.

***

The paradox is that the  Spirit is also a movement, a mighty wind, a rushing river, a burning tongue of fire setting our mouths and our minds and our hearts on fire. There is usually movement – change perhaps? – after an encounter with the Spirit of the living God. The Spirit never calls us to apathy.

***

We think of a revolutionary as a holy warrior and it is exciting to be angry and to turn over tables. I bless the ones who are called to that work.

Peace making is not passive aggressive.

Some of us are called to the combative and visible work, but here’s my quiet word of caution: don’t look down on your brothers and sisters whose work in the Kingdom may well be done in secret, in quiet, in kind ways.

There are a lot of ways to challenge the empire. My way is not the only way. Your way is not the only way.

***

Revolution doesn’t look like changing diapers or making meals, right? Kind people don’t change the world. We can’t imagine overturning the empire through these small stones that we lift up, one after another, through the small lives we spare, through our words and our prayers.

But some of the most Christ-like people I have known in my life, the ones who have changed the world, are doing it in ways that we often think are beneath us. I know we’re dazzled by social media platforms and conferences stages, bullhorns and accolades. We take liberties with them, perhaps.

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God in small ways: a seed that grows to a mighty oak, a mustard seed of faith, a bit of yeast that causes the whole loaf to rise.

I have a bit of a preference for the grassroots folks, I admit. I see the ones far from the usual power and leadership narratives as the heroes.

The Kingdom is often taking root in small ways – in our kitchens and in our parish halls, in our streets and our subsidized daycares, in youth group mentoring relationships and after-school care, in prayer circles and by-law meetings at city council.

We walk right past each other, never knowing we’re in the presence of a peace maker, never knowing the full ways that we are each engaged in the radical work of reconciliation, rescue, and redemption. 

And I think we underestimate the bridge builders, the ones caught in the middle with their arms outstretched.

I think we underestimate the kind and the foolish ones.

***

I am aware of power differentials and privilege, of systemic injustice and evil, of my own anger and my gross tendency towards an evangelical hero complex.

So of course I want to name the empire for what it is: crippling and soul-sucking, dehumanizing and evil. Whether it’s racism, patriarchy, war mongering, dehumanizing, it’s counter to God’s Kingdom. But the people caught in those systems are rarely the enemies – often they are just as caught, just as longing for a rescue as the rest of us. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, not really, but against the powers and principalities that hold us all captive.

And so I believe that we – as the people of God – are called to prophetically live out the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives. So that means setting up our lives as an outpost for the Kingdom way of life, the life of a disciple, the life and life-more-abundant of our God’s dream for humanity.

There’s room for the ones who dismantle and the ones who plant gardens in exile. There’s room for the midwives and the Moses.

 

***

I’m also suspicious of empire tactics being baptized and employed to “build the Kingdom of God.” 

My soul recoils from the use of the very tactics of the empire – silencing, bullying, judging, other-ing, dehumanzing, mocking, name-calling, ganging up and piling on, violence – used against the oppressed and marginalized now somehow being used for “good purpose.”

I see this tendency in my own soul and it grieves me. The Spirit often calls us to repentance before we are called to our ideas of revolution. 

My friend Kelley that I mentioned above here tells me that sometimes we think we’re called to fighting but really we’re called to farming.

This is the very nonsensical part of discipleship that our need for power bumps up against. It’s all very well to talk about “the upside down kingdom of God” until that discipleship asks us to actually live it out. 

To the world, it’s foolish to choose peace instead of war. It’s foolish to forgive. It’s foolish to be kind. It’s foolish to hope. It’s foolish to offer grace and conversation.

It’s foolish to care for your weaker brothers or sisters, let alone change our own behaviour to accommodate their growth and discipleship, their freedom and their journey.

It’s foolish to live without legalism and “clear boundaries” that apply to everyone. It’s foolish to make it our business to pursue a quiet life. It’s foolish to lay down our power. It’s foolish to be silent and listen to others instead of rush to make our own point (after all we have things to say! important things!). It’s foolish to recognize your own privilege and walk softly. It’s foolish to believe that your life matters. It’s foolish to honour one another.

Foolish things will confound the “wise” of our world. 

Those things all do seem foolish to me. So much of what Jesus and then the early church calls me to in Scripture seems foolish to the world. They confound me. They often go against my very real instincts to burn down bridges and shut down dissent and pick fights and turn over tables. But I think we are being foolish in the ways of a disciple. We are living prophetically into the Kingdom of God.

We can prophecy a better world with our very words and actions, even in the ways that we overturn the empire.

The Spirit transforms our hearts and minds and then our lives: regardless of our past, regardless of our context, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof. If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters. The way in which we engage our enemies matters even more perhaps.

This is how we will be known: by our love.

I want my work and witness to be marked by who I build up, not who I tear down. I want to be known as one who speaks life, not death; who empowers and affirm and speaks even the hard truth in love and invitation. I want us to be the ones who boldly deconstruct and then, with grace and intention and inclusion, reconstruct upon the Cornerstone.

I want to embody the character and nature of the kingdom of God, of our holy God, even when it seems so foolish.

I guess I’m foolish enough to believe it, they will know us by our love.

 

image credit: Kenny Louie

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, social justice · 23

In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson

Image via Tweet from @AnneHelen and @MotherJones

Image via Tweet from @AnneHelen and @MotherJones

If you’re not angry and grieved about what has been going on in Ferguson, then you simply aren’t paying attention.

On Saturday night, I was in the car with two of my best friends. We had just left Barnes and Noble and I pulled out my mobile to scroll through Twitter as we drove home. Immediately, I discovered that two more young unarmed men had been killed by police. I was horrified and sickened, oh, and so angry. Again!

There was 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri who was shot in his neighbourhood, and John Crawford who was shot in a Walmart for holding a toy gun in the toy section. (I’ll let that last one sink in for an extra second – as I hear tell of “American patriots” who wander into grocery stores with assault rifles dangling off their shoulder because it is apparently their constitutional right. Meanwhile, John Crawford apparently does not have a constitutional right to life. Or due process.)

According to witnesses, Mike Brown was unarmed and was surrendering to police when he was shot. Shot multiple times in the middle of the street. And then his body was left in the street, uncovered, uncared for, for hours.

Both of these young men were killed because they are African-American.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This was murder. This was injustice. This was heinous and evil lack of regard for life or the law on the part of the aggressors. And sadly, it is all too common.

This is when the vigils and protests began. People gathered to watch over his broken body, to stand as witness. That is holy work. Then the community began to gather to protest police brutality. And all hell broke loose.

I cannot pretend to know everything about the history and context for Ferguson. I have watched and listened and followed closely over the past four days. Ferguson has turned into a war zone. Tear gas, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, tanks, riot gear. Suppression of information, arrests of reporters and citizen journalists.

Ferguson reminds me of the Arab Spring uprising. The people of Ferguson are rising up against their oppressors and hallelujah for that. I pray for their endurance in the face of state sanctioned violence against their children.

I have hesitated to write about Ferguson because I have preferred to amplify local voices or the voices of those who have been engaged in the real and difficult work of race relations in the United States. After all, Canada has our own issues, particularly with our treatment of First Nations.

But these past four days in Ferguson have broken through my usual resolve: this is absolutely a justice issue. I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

So imperfect as it is – and I am well aware how imperfect – there are a few things I want to bring to our attention:

Black lives matter. I cannot even believe I have to write that sentence but there it is. Black lives matter. These young men matter, their lives are sacred. It doesn’t matter if Mike Brown was on his way to college or on his way to the unemployment line – his life had value and purpose. He was loved. His life mattered. Every single black life matters. If your pro-life ethic doesn’t include black lives, then your pro-life ethic is useless.

White privilege is real and it’s time we acknowledged it. White privilege is being told that the police will help you and protect you. White privilege is being able to lawyer up when arrested by the police. White privilege is being able to say things like “due process of the law” or “wait for the facts to emerge.”

We need to be listening to African-Americans and other minorities – in our lives, on Twitter, in the news, in education, in poetry, in art, in literature, in politics. Listen. When people tell me that America is not for black people, I want to listen to why. When people tell me that there is a case for reparations, I want to listen to why. When First Nations tell me that they will be Idle No More, well, then me, too.

Watch the narrative. The news media is notorious for this – it’s only by listening to voices on the crowd and on the front lines that you see it though. For instance, NBC went to Mike Brown’s Facebook page and pulled a photo of him for their broadcasts. They chose a photo of him flashing a peace sign with a stern look on his face over any of the other photos he had there, including one of him in his cap and gown. They changed the narrative of the story by how they characterized Mike Brown in the minds of their viewers. Another example is the image of a young man throwing a smoke bomb. It’s probably the defining image of the protests so far. But what most news media outlets aren’t clarifying is this key face: that young man was throwing that smoke bomb BACK at the police who threw it at him. Another example: is it an “angry mob” or is it a “community protest”.

This has also given rise to the powerful images of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown which also show how the media portrays young black men who are victims – victims! – in the media. Most of us have photos of ourselves that are ridiculous or terrible or in compromising situations but by fixing a victim in the mind of the public as a menace, they change the narrative on a subconscious level. “He’s a thug, he was probably doing something wrong.” Here’s an example image:

IfTheyGunnedMeDown

Don’t shoot. One of the defining protest images so far will haunt me for a long time. The people of Ferguson – and all protesters who gather in cities and colleges and communities around the world – are doing one thing: they are standing with their hands up and their faces blank. That is the posture. Don’t shoot: I’m unarmed: my hands are up. This image of the student body at Howard is unforgettable. This is powerful prophetic witness.

Howard Don't Shoot

This is also about the militarization of police. This is not proportionate response but it is not surprising. When we sow to the wind, we reap a whirlwind. When we outfit police like the military instead of as officers of the peace, they will treat the citizens as enemies and engage in war tactics. It’s time to ask some serious questions and make changes here.

This is NOT about looting. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare bring up looting in the face of this situation. There was minor looting on one night of violence AFTER police brutality. Looting is not the point. People talk about looting because they cannot bear to face the truth of what is happening and why it is happening, it is a distraction. Same thing with folks who want to debate black-on-black violence right now. This is not that and this is not the time.

Twitter is the place to be right now for news. Main stream news outlets are turning a blind eye to Ferguson. But on Twitter, #Ferguson is hopping. Next time someone makes fun of Twitter as a place where “people tell you what they had for breakfast” I’m just going to say one word: #Ferguson. The people I follow on Twitter are the only reason I heard about Ferguson and it is the only reason why we know the truth of what is happening there. They might be able to arrest reporters and shut down the airspace and try to suppress information but the freedom of the people is happening in that medium, much like most uprisings around the world.

In particular, check out Alderman Antonio French who has been present from the beginning. (He’s currently being held in police custody – Lord help us.) If you don’t know about Ferguson, it’s because you’re not paying attention, because your circle of news and information is too small. But go back through his timeline to see what has been going on in great detail. And pray for him.

Churches and people of faith need to rise up together with the oppressed by the state in small ways and in big ways, in policy and in prophetic witness. David Henson, a friend and an Episcopal priest, has challenged other pastors to simply stand in their pulpits on Sunday, silent, with their hands up as a witness.

Or this image below…. This is another example of powerful goodness that needs to happen on our part. Can we make space for the lament and for the grief, for the anger and the fear?

Other churches are marching, organizing protests, standing with the powerless, lobbying their governments, speaking up and using their voices to amplify the oppressed.

And pray. Pray. Pray. With your voice, when your spirit, with groans and tears, with your hands and your ears, with your mind and your feet.

Let justice roll down.

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