Justice is more than a political issue now—it's a spiritual one

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This predominantly Black church was bombed by White terrorists in 1963, killing four young girls (and sparking violence which later led to the deaths of two boys).  Image courtesy Chris Pruitt.

More than economics, more than policy or party, issues of identity were at the heart of this election. Though a Black woman, I was not part of the 94 percent of Black women voters who backed Hillary Clinton. When folks laud us for being the only group to collectively hold it down, they should not include me. I was also not a part of the four percent of Black women who voted for Trump. I was in the neither camp. The write-in-your-own-candidate camp. The principles, or privilege, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it camp.

That said, in the days since the election, with so many of Trump supporters reveling in their identities as White folk, as straight men, as citizens, as ‘real Americans’, I am also engaging secret parts of my identity with new boldness.

I am a straight, Southern, Black, Evangelical Christian woman. I’ve never in any public way owned the Evangelical part until now. I’ve never claimed it, for the same reasons that many White people are ashamed to claim their Whiteness. I know the history of oppression, silencing, and erasure. I know that folks who share this part of my identity have used their power to sanction and dehumanize, and that the psychological and social damage has sometimes been irrevocable. But in the wake of Trump’s election, I have to own my identity as an Evangelical. I have to. I have to because millions of Evangelicals voted to elect Trump. And in some way, that’s on me. I’m still responsible for my brothers’ and sisters’ decisions even if they would not readily call me family.

Furthermore, the fight for racial justice during this renaissance of White supremacy will require unprecedented creativity and commitment. The fight will require all of us – and by 'all', I don’t just mean numbers; I mean 'all' as in our whole selves. This fight will require us to engage and leverage all of the complexity and intersectionality that result from our unique identities. For me, this does not mean I get to engage my Blackness, my Southernness, my status as an ivy-league educated woman in the pursuit of racial justice but ignore my Christian-ness. On the contrary, the election of Trump means I have to center my Christianity in ways that are productive and effective.

I believe that the Gospel provides timely guidance in our struggle for collective liberation. In fact, without it, I’m not even sure liberation is possible. Unfortunately, most churches are either silent about social justice or have replaced the Gospel with the basic tenets of a progressive platform. But the election of Trump shows that we need to reimagine how we go about seeking justice, and I believe the Gospel presents an approach that will be highly effective under a Trump Presidency.

The truth is: Our liberation cannot and never will be delivered by the hand of the state.

And that is more true today then it was on November 8th. If the lives of Black people, the rights of Muslim Americans, and the dignity of immigrants were not protected under President Obama, they will be under open attack during a Trump presidency. Folks on the left freaked out on Wednesday, because how can we approach our already difficult work, trudging through the bureaucracy, the red tape, the lexical proxies, when the state is controlled by a man who explicitly threatens to do us physical harm?

So I turn to the model of Jesus. Jesus preached radical community organization and spiritual transformation. He rarely traded on the goodwill of the state or used its apparatus. That did not mean he did not speak truth to power frequently. But ultimately, he knew that liberation was in the agency of communities and individuals. Jesus's work was in freeing the oppressed from the burden of trauma and stigma, and also in freeing the unoppressed from the comfort, complacency, and malaise of their privilege. In so doing, he exposed folks to the full extent of their agency. This provides me with some small comfort.

Long and short of it: Fuck the state. Whether it is controlled by President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, that is not where my liberation lies. My liberation, and the liberation of us all, lies in how we leverage our agency for the safety, prosperity, and the peace of all members of our communities. I don’t need to sit and weep or protest in the streets; I need to rebuild the bonds that once existed between neighbors. I need to challenge the comfortable box of privacy and individual choice that capitalism has placed me in, and which I have gratefully accepted. I don’t need a sympathetic president or even privilege to do this work. All I need is my humanity. Although as a Black woman I am at risk, I am by no means the most threatened; I enjoy a certain level of safety. Instead of letting that safety inspire shame or guilt, I am overjoyed because it leaves me in a better position to shoulder more responsibility and to do more of the work. Let us run with perseverance. For the joy before us, let us endure.

So how do we hold space for each other in the moments to come? We must center those who are under direct attack. We can try to provide comfort, but we must remember there is no doing this work safely.

When I am afraid of the risk or the consequences, I turn again to Jesus. I do not think Jesus sought out safety. In fact, I know he didn’t. He actively preached dying, laying down your life to somehow find it again. This is fundamentally different from safe space. Jesus was about brave space, faith space: Die a little bit and receive freedom. In speaking of his experience coming out as an undocumented American, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas says, "Sometimes you have to risk your life to free yourself from it." I think the Gospel provides a model for risk, for courage more than cowardice, and faith more than fear.

In these recent days, I have heard it said that as much as it was xenophobia and White supremacy that won the election for Trump, it was also a failure of imagination that lost the election for Hillary. We can easily say what we are against: explicit racism, warmongering, hate speech, violence, intimidation, and notions of racial purity. But I am not sure we could easily state what we were for. Certainly, Hillary was not for the radical liberation of Black folks, the protection and recognition of autonomous nation states, and the total freedom of White folks from White supremacy. Even the DNC’s refusal to embrace Bernie Sanders was another way that we played it safe and refused to dream outrageously.

So when I dream about what radical liberation looks like, now I must turn to Jesus. He put enemies in the same room: tax collectors, fellow Jews who were sell-outs, Roman soldiers, and members of terrorist sleeper cells. Not only did he put them in the same room, he enticed them to experience homelessness together, experience persecution, hunger, and rejection together. My liberation is also the liberation of my enemies, as hard as that is to swallow. The truth is, I will never be free from White supremacy if there is a single Klansman enslaved to it.

The Gospel shows me that my social justice cannot look like inclusion of the oppressed at the cost of excluding of the oppressor. My social justice must include people of color, LGBT folk, disabled folk, as well as White, straight, able-bodied, cis men – even those who voted for Trump – because my heaven will include them. The Bible says all nations and all tongues will bow and worship one God, which means the presence of conservative White cis men must not offend me. Conversely, it means for bigoted Christian Trump supporters that the presence of an Arab woman must not offend them; the presence of a Black president must not offend them. Each of us will have to make a choice in the end: whether we hold on white-knuckled to our stereotypes and biases, or whether we accept the truth that all and none of us are deserving. And in this regard, racial justice becomes more than a political issue. It becomes a spiritual one.

A Trump presidency has shown me that it is not enough for me to be committed to social justice; I have to recommit to the fullness of my identity, including my Christianity, because I must put to use everything I have to secure our liberation. The glee at the triumph of a mythologized White past over an uncharted diverse future, and the ease with which Evangelicals have made idols of White supremacy and Trump, have shown me that I must do social justice through a theological lens. We need all hands on deck, including the hand of God, for the fight ahead.