(A Reflection and Reaction in memory of George Floyd and in honor of the Black Lives Matter Movement)
The Historic Providence Baptist Church’s response to the protest against injustice and police brutality against blacks and people of color in the United States of America
By Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr., Senior Pastor
About two hundred years ago (1821), two Baptist preachers embarked on a journey and sailed to Liberia from Virginia in the United States. They left for a place they knew little about; a place that had not been secured. They believed and set bound for an unknown land accompanied by the assurance of a God who had promised his presence at all times. They were determined to be His witness and to show to the rest of the world that they were free and capable of founding and leading a nation of their own in what was known then as the dark continent of Africa. They set out to birth, Christianize and showcased to the world in general and to their former masters in the United States in particular that they were capable of managing their own affairs and running a state of their own with God being their helper.
About two hundred years later, (June 2020) on behalf of a people and their ancestors, who had transplanted a church from Virginia in the southern United States to Liberia in Western Africa a church, like no other, that gave birth to a nation and dignity to a race, your brothers and sisters both in Liberia and other parts of West Africa. Thus, we say in the words of Zora Neal Hurston, that if you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoy it. Consequently, as you must not be silent neither will we be silent about your pain but will respond to the inhumane acts of racial injustice being meted out against you in the United States.
The historic Providence Baptist Church, founded in 1821 as the cornerstone of the Nation, and the people of Liberia will not be silent. Rather, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the United States and condemn all acts of injustice against them and especially a system infested with racist indignities. We support your calls for freedom, social justice, equality and dignity. Remember, your cause is an awesome advocacy for racial justice not just to breathe but to live up to the greatest ideals that are within you in a society that traffics in hate and uses the currency of despair because you are black. We stand with you as followers of a Savior whose faith demand that righteousness reign supreme and justice flows like a mighty river. We stand with you in your struggle and desire to challenge this great evil. We are motivated by the fact that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Therefore, your pain is our pain, and your suffering has always been ours. We stand with you also as Africans who share the many troubles and legacy of discrimination that you continue to experience both at home and around the world.
We say to the system that continues to oppress you that hatred is taught out of ignorance that there are many races which leads to the false claim that there must be a superior race and inferior races. We say that God created only one race on this planet earth, the human race and we all belong to it. We were all created by a just God. According to Genesis chapter 1 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV), God did not create an inferior and superior race. God created the human race in God’s likeness. No one is born a racist, there is no gene for racism, bigotry, gynophobia, sexism, tribalism, or nationalism. You have to learn to be racist. Therefore, anything you learn you can unlearn. We say to our brothers and sisters in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa the time has come for all of us to unlearn these ignorant, unwholesome, ungodly and inhumane behaviors. We are not inferior to nor are we superior to anyone because of the grade of pigmentation or tone of our skin color.
Central to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s understanding and analysis of his liberation motif, is the person, work, and message of Jesus Christ. He regarded Christ as a co-sufferer with and a liberator of the poor and oppressed. He merged the themes of liberation and reconciliation, because Christ embodied both. For King, they were inseparably related, because his goal was in both theory and practice, liberation as well as redemption and reconciliation. This liberation idea grounded in the sacred scriptures of holy rite and the basic tendencies of human rights guarantees everyone the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, and the freedom to protest when one’s basic rights are deny.
As a Christian theologian with powerful ethical implications, King used the black experience as a point of departure for his reflection on morality and ethics. As a black theologian, much of his attention was focused on the following questions: 1. What is the correct analysis of the contemporary black condition in America and other parts of the world, and of the human situation as whole? 2. What are the best strategies and or means for achieving the basic human freedom, peace and the beloved community? 3. What is the goal of one’s civil rights? These questions led him to set forth that we can learn from as we face this time.
Dr. King’s analysis of social and or systemic and collective evil undergirded his quest for the ethical ideal of the beloved community. For him the beloved community was the goal of one’s civil rights and of the human struggle as a whole. His greatest contribution as an ethicist was his application of the concept of love, power, and justice to the social and racial problems of America. In a real sense, Dr. King’s moral analysis of the church, society and nations these institutions, coupled with his efforts to translate moral vision into pragmatic reality, was to bring Americans of all stripes, colors and creeds, and all of God’s peoples closer to the beloved community. In this post-civil war era in Liberia, the church as an institution must interpret its ethical ambition into everyday lifestyles in order to transform our nation and its people across tribes, social and economic barriers and political camps and religious denominations into a caring community where our love for one another and for mama Liberia is the common denominator.
In our challenge to build the beloved community today, we must draw on Dr. King’s belief and understanding that at the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality, a being of infinite love and boundless power who is the Creator, Sustainer and Conserver of values.
When we understand God, not just theoretically, but on a personal level as well, we can relate to God and each other as God relates to us in love and grace. This is the inner strength and courage we need to carry on as church and community called to make a difference in this indifferent society and world. The church should always do battle against societal ills on behalf of God’s people. It is the church’s religious and moral obligation, because whatever and wherever these ills are, they are threats to God’s people everywhere.
As Christians we are no more than members of a club if we refuse to administer the whole gospel to the whole person. The church as a partner in building the beloved community in an environment of racial inequality and social injustices, must do so with respect, honor and treat all people with dignity. As God’s ambassadors to a dying world the church must address the urgent situation of people on earth as it prepares them to live in heaven. To this I commend God’s people everywhere working to make a difference in this indifferent world.
My challenge to the church in this environment is to continue to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world and the repairer of broken walls (Matt. 28:19; 5:13, 14; Isa. 58:6-12). It is impossible to season that which we do not come in contact with, and brighten areas that are not traveled. There must be willingness on our part to reach priestly and prophetically to each other, to our community and to the world: where people are struggling with hopelessness, hunger, poverty, injustice, and disease; a world where people are poor in spirit, and a community, in which we must take seriously God’s call to holistic ministries by ministering to the mind, body and soul) through the beloved community.
The foundational principles of freedom, justice and equality are important to this community. I am convinced that the basic question which confronts oppress people everywhere – be it in Grand Rapids, Trenton, Atlanta, Brooklyn, London, Paris, Sidney, Minneapolis, Nairobi, Washington, St. Paul, Los Angeles, or Monrovia is how to wage the struggle against the forces of injustice, inequality and slavery in all forms and fashions. There exist two possible answers for me. One is to resort to an equal and prevalent method of eliminating hatred and physical violence. The alternative is to resort to nonviolent resistance.
Violence always leads to more violence and is never the right path to tread when we are traveling the high way in search of freedom and justice for all people. In congruence with Dr. King, if freedom and justice are to survive as foundational principles in the struggle against the forces of racial and social injustice, for the civil right of all people, and in building the beloved community, then violence cannot and should not be the way. Violence does not solve social problems. It creates new and more complicated ones. The economic and social tumult plaguing many communities throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa are among the best examples I know.
I believe that the goal of the church is to celebrate, embody and proclaim God’s love and word for social and economic freedom, justice, righteousness and truth in this community and the world. I believe this celebration, embodiment and proclamation of God’s word gives the church a moral and spiritual obligation. Thus, the church should not be severed from its moral responsibility because it is responsible morally and spiritually to challenge all people to reach up to exalt God, reach in to build each other up in the faith, reach across to appreciate and celebrate rich religious, tribal and cultural diversity and reach out to serve and witness to the community and the world.
Finally, as we endeavor to build the beloved community, we must realize that the church needs the community and the community needs the church. The church in the community should be the center of its hope, and though everybody in the community does not belong to the church, the nature of the church avails itself to everybody. I know that there are others out there who will disagree with me, but I believe that the church in any community should be the fulcrum of that community’s hope and the nucleus of its life; the preserver of the community’s culture; the producer of the community’s genius; the power base of the community’s ascendency; the parent of its music and art; the incubator of its leaders; the storehouse for its disinherited; the powerhouse for the community’s disenfranchised; the headquarters for its advancement; the launching pad for its social actions; the hospital for the community’s wounded souls; the love tabernacle for its hatred; and the open door to the community’s least, lost, last, unlucky and left out. We cannot afford to turn our backs on the building of the beloved community in post-civil was Liberia. In the words of John Perkins, we must “Reconcile (God’s people) working (and) mobilizing (their) spiritual and physical resources in and for communities… through the church in a community determined way that is redemptive.
Long live the United States of America, land of free and home of the brave that it will once again take its rightful place as a beacon of hope and democracy for the world to see.
In the words of the National Anthem of Liberia written by Daniel Bashiel Warner (1815-1880), the third President of Liberia, In Union strong success is sure we cannot fail, with God above our rights to prove we will over all prevail… We’ll meet the foes with valor unpretending.
Baldwin, Lewis, V. To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1992.
Franklin, John Hope & Meier, August. Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century. Washington, DC, Fortress Press, 1982