If the Coronavirus pandemic itself was not enough trauma impacting the lives of countless humans worldwide, the challenges of other longstanding injustices overwhelmed me. My thoughts were bombarded with questions like, “What is happening in the United States of America today? Is history repeating itself?”
I could not escape the thought of a police officer cruelly embedding his knee into the neck of a man who was handcuffed face-down on the ground for eight minutes. Meanwhile, the apprehended gentleman repeatedly told the officer, “I can’t breath.” Yet, the officer maintained his position seemingly disregarding any concern for his life. All my senses were alerted. As news regarding this gentleman flooded various radio and television broadcasts, the report of the murder of yet another black man appeared on my cell phone. The despairing fear of DEATH has unfortunately become a prevalent and accepted reality.
This article is not just an attempt to illuminate the fight about race in America. No, I pray that this article will emphasize the battle against sin that is waging war for our very souls regardless of race or gender. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This battle of sin wages war in our minds, hearts and lives as we strive to be citizens who are in this world, but not of it.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV) states, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.”
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
The thought of not waging war as the world does by not retaliating is absolutely counter to our culture, especially since for approximately 400 years in America, African Americans have been warring for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This phrase is taken from the United States Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson. His edit draft of 1776 reads:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.”
If only this was true today. In 2020, what has changed? Did sin begin after this was written? No. Scripture teaches us that sin began with Adam and Eve in the garden and that all humans are made in the image of our creator. There is no distinction when it comes to race or gender. The war ensues when individuals, like Adam and Eve, stray from God’s prescribed Word, which instructs us to trust God’s story for our lives. We are to trust that each individual will make the choice to live according to the fruits of the Spirit which require one to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Yet, like any tug of war, the flag is pulled toward the side (or falls on the side) of individuals who think of themselves more highly and value themselves above others and do not consider the needs of others.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is thwarted when a person does not belong to Christ.
Romans 8:29 (NIV) states, ” For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” As disciples, the scriptures teaches us, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV) states that HIS image consists of RIGHTEOUSNESS AND TRUE HOLINESS. Therefore, until you are made holy, you cannot show any sign of God’s election, but rather the devil's brand-mark.
The unjust, systemic and targeted racism of African Americans in the United States throughout history has been marked by a disregard of the commandment written in Deuteronomy 5:17, “You shall not commit murder”. Throughout history in America, beginning with slavery, the murder of countless African American people has been condoned. There are many horrific accounts such as the lynching of the 14 year old Emmett Till. While visiting relatives in Mississippi, Emmett was reported to have boyishly whistled at a caucasian female behind the counter while his cousins were purchasing candy.. She apparently was the wife of the store owner. This young boy was most likely unaware that his alleged actions as he exited the store would bring about such fatal consequences. If the innocent whistle of a teen boy warrants death, then there is nothing out of bounds when it comes to killing an African American.
According to Britannica, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, “comprehensive U.S. legislation intended to end discrimination based on race, colour, religion, or national origin. Title 1 of this act guarantees equal voting rights by removing registration and procedures biased against minorities and the underprivileged. Title II prohibits segregation and discrimination in public places. Title VII bans discrimination by trade unions, schools, or employers.” Though this act was written into law, enforcement is another matter. I am grateful for the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement who sacrificed their lives by enduring exposure to dog attacks, fire hoses, sit-ins, imprisonment, merciless beatings and lynchings all for the sake of my freedom today. Nonetheless, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is still (remains) elusive.
An article by the Reading Partners Organization asserts that the US prison system anticipates the future number of prison beds needed by reviewing third grade African American boys' reading scores. The prison system anticipates African American boys' failure to graduate from high school, thus resulting in being trapped in a life of crime and incarceration. In Marc Schindler’s article “Taxing our kids to fund prisons” he writes “What do schools and prisons have in common? Each requires budget allocations, which establish and demonstrate our priorities. And each affects crime prevention. But the commonalities end there.”According to Schindler, “Studies show that while quality education decreases crime, imprisonment actually increases crime.” As a parent, this is incredibly disheartening and distrubing. As a citizen of the United States, knowing decision makers intentionally allocate my tax dollars to an insidiously evil profitable business practice, makes me cry. Especially when these same funds could be reallocated and used to improve the public school education system and raise the salary of teachers. This change in focus and priority would benefit all people across race and gender.
Imagine as an African American woman, each time my husband or loved ones leave as a driver in a vehicle there is an inherent fear that they could be in danger. My oldest daughter is learning to drive and will soon have her license. Scott and I made sure she knew the procedure of what to do and say if she was ever pulled over by a police officer. I have shared tears with many sisters lamenting “what if” the next time it is my husband, son, nephew, or father, who is stopped by a police officer. Unfortunately, this discrimination does not stop in the inner city but can be in the most affluent neighborhoods as well - even affecting some of the actual residents.
The discrimination against and unjust killing of African Americans in our society is intolerable. Tragically, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brison, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Treyvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Breanna Taylor, make up only a partial list of the many African Americans who have been killed. Recently, the capture of George Floyd’s death, along with many others on video, has served as a catalyst for our nation to awaken to these murders as atrocities.
Romans 8:9 (NIV) states, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Jesus wants to use us, His disciples, to destroy Satan’s stronghold of ignorance.
Acts 26:18 (NIV) states, “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
There was a time when poverty and a lack of resources limited my own view of our world. My primary focus was on survival. I felt that I did not have the luxury to join in a fight for equality, unlike today. I have yet to become as bold and ready to join the front lines in a protest or march as my husband, Scott Kirkpatrick. Nevertheless, I still maintain absolute concern for those who require my support. I am diligently working to do my part to bring about an opportunity for change and to meet the needs of those who want to have a relationship with Jesus. Thus, this is why I desire and strive so hard to bring about equality in our sister churches around the world. 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 (NIV) states, “ At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” This statement instructs us on how to bring about equality. The passage continues, “as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’"
Born in Mobile, Alabama, I am the fifth child of seven siblings. At the age of three, I was given to my maternal grandmother and my step grandfather to raise in Helena, Alabama. We lived in a home built in the early 1920’s. We had electricity but no indoor plumbing or air conditioning. The domicile basically contained a wood-burning stove and a fireplace for heat. Life proved difficult. Yet, as a disciple, I learned quickly that the real battle, according to the Bible, is not against flesh and blood. Which meant that the real battle was not against the counselor who told me that a poor black girl from Helena, Alabama did not belong at Denison University.
I must pray to imitate Jesus in order to confront the challenges of ignorance, bigotry, hatred, harmful comments, lack of inclusion and injustice. Past hurts and painful experiences even within the church body have left residual battle scars. One experience occurred when Scott and I were being interviewed for a lead evangelist and women’s ministry position. We were asked how we would prevent the church from becoming predominantly African American? At this question, we were stunned because as disciples we will not discriminate when reaching out to people.
We asked ourselves if our caucasian brothers and sisters were asked the same question during their interview. How would they prevent the church from becoming predominantly white? On another occasion, when Scott and I were a young married couple and our children were under the age of 5, we were asked to lead a predominantly African American Ministry. Although inexperienced, we quickly recognized that we were not being entrusted to lead a more diverse ministry. In an attempt to become all things to all men we intentionally asked older caucasian couples to join our ministry. However, we were often met with such responses like, “you don’t want us white haired old people.” Such replies proved discouraging because we sincerely and seriously desired the wisdom and guidance of our white-haired brothers and sisters to help us with our decision-making and leadership. While there, we also encountered what I deem “White flight”. Caucasian parents moved from our ministry to ministries where more caucasian brothers and sisters resided to ensure their children’s increased opportunity for marriage prospects. I can not begin to share the deep hurt and disillusionment I experienced. I kept telling myself, “But wait! This is the Church of Jesus Christ where everyone dies to herself and lives for Christ. We should all be made new in our thinking and actions. Right?” Unfortunately, the reality of it all was that we were and are very much sinners who still require to be saved by God’s grace.
The scripture that helped me through these was written in Proverbs 3 verses 5 and 6. It quotes, “ Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I pray to show compassion and imitate Jesus. This is why Matthew 9:36 (NIV) rings so true for me. It states, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.“ Amos 8:11 (NIV), “The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land-- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” The days of the famine of God’s Word are already HERE. As disciples, we must REMEMBER who we were before Christ. Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV) “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.” On June 16, 1996, I entered the waters of baptism to become a disciple of Jesus. I was challenged to repent of my sins as listed in Galatians 5:19-21 (AMP) and Revelation 21:8. Yet, although I repented of the outward sins, the hidden sins of my heart were still very much layered like an onion. God allows us to peel back our sin, layer by layer, not overwhelming us by showing us our core, God is gracious to us. Some of the sins that I must decide daily to continue to repent of are selfishness, arrogance, factions and thinking more highly of myself than I ought.
When was the last time you examined your heart and mind of sin?
Jeremiah 17:10 (NIV) states, "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
Ask the question: When was the last time you examined your heart and mind?
As disciples of Jesus, we need to recognize that it is only by the grace of God that we can be a light in this dark and perverse world, now more than ever before. Let us decide to enter into the battle of sharing Christ with everyone we encounter. Let us put an end to the famine of hearing the Word of Our Lord and Savior. Romans 8:28 (NIV) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I recite this scripture to myself often to remind me of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence to help me overcome feelings of hopelessness and depression in light of the heartbreaking and devastating social injustices and murders happening to fellow African Americans today.
We must be ready to teach others but first ourselves, a new way of thinking and interacting with each other. Let us not allow Satan to outwit us. Let us beware of his schemes that may tempt us to fight each other instead of our true enemy, Satan. Let us decide to stand up not for who is right, but for what is right, based on the Word of God. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV) I pray as disciples of Jesus, we will begin with ourselves by becoming new, affording us the opportunity to experience this new earth and new heaven, while drawing all men and women to Jesus. I believe the victory to overcome these atrocities and hatred in our world today is through Spirit filled, heaven focused, disciples of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!
Reading Partners Organization October 7, 2013
Taxing our kids to fund prisons: by Marc Schindler, Published by THE HILL May 2, 2018; JusticePolicy.org
After both becoming Christians in Atlanta, GA as single professionals, Scott and Thereasa were married in 1999 and entered into the ministry full-time. They have three wonderful daughters and have worked in various ministries throughout Georgia and South Carolina. They enjoy traveling and seeing different parts of the world, as well as spending great quality time as a family.