THE BLOG
12/11/2014 01:07 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

Hear the Cries of the Oppressed

Suppose the reluctance of the Ferguson grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson was completely justified. Suppose everything Darren Wilson said is true -- Michael Brown attacked him and wrestled for his gun, Wilson fired only in self defense and out of fear for his life, etc., etc. Suppose, that is, that Wilson was not motivated one iota by racial prejudice. Even if all this were proven to everyone's satisfaction, we would not have resolved the larger issue of racially motivated violence in police departments across the US.

A recent report from ProPublica (analyzing data from the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report on teenagers shot by police from 2010 to 2012) shows that black teens are 21 times more likely than white teens to be killed by police officers. From New York to LA, racially motivated violence in police departments is systemic and widespread. And kids are dying.

In the Bible we read that God heard the cries of his oppressed people in Egypt and came down to set them free (Acts 7:34). It's time for the Christian church to hear the cries of the oppressed. While 78 percent of Americans profess to be Christians, we have not witnessed 78 percent of Americans demanding justice for blacks.

Right wing reactions to Ferguson (mostly from white Christians?) are depressingly insensitive to the cries of the oppressed. Whites, we learned, are the ones that are really under attack; blacks, on the other hand are privileged. Michael Brown and the black community are portrayed as less than human; whites, on the other hand, are upstanding citizens and human beings. Sean Hannity tells us that he has no problems when stopped by police for a speeding ticket, as if his own experience interacting with police officers is the same experience of young, black men.

Why isn't the Christian church, black and white together, rising up in one voice and demanding justice throughout the land?

One problem is that most white Christians have not heard the cries of the oppressed. Sunday mornings are said to be the most racially segregated moments of the week. Whites worship in white churches and blacks worship in black churches. On Sunday mornings there's little visible evidence that we are all one in Christ.

If the Church is the body of Christ, it needs to get its ears out of its white worship services and into places where it can hear the cries of the oppressed. Since God is omnipresent, hearing the cries of the oppressed is not so difficult for him. But the Church is not omnipresent. It is decidedly parochial. If white Christians are going to hear the cries of the oppressed, they need to move their bodies to the right place.

Here's one suggestion: every white church in America asks a black church if they can visit their church and listen. Just listen. They might hear personal stories of mistreatment at the hands of the police. They might hear of the fears black parents have for their children's treatment at the hands of the police. They might hear why black people don't blindly trust (mostly white) authority figures. After hearing stories of oppression from members of the black church, perhaps, like God, the white church will be moved to act.

Be sure of this: if the white church ignores the cries of the oppressed, they will not act. Justice will not roll down like the waters. And if the white church ignores the cries of the oppressed, they are on the side of the oppressor.

You won't hear the cries of the oppressed if you listen to white, male, rich and privileged radio and television celebrities. They may whine, but Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are not and have never been oppressed. They are not victims of racial profiling and systemic racial bias. You cannot hear the cries of the oppressed if you listen to them. Shut them off.

The church has been a mighty force for justice in the history of the world. Christian leaders were principal movers and shakers in the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. But Christians also held slaves and justified slavery for millennia. Christians also oppressed women for millennia. It wasn't until one or two Christians, and then a few more and then a few more, heard the cries of the oppressed and then decided to act to relieve the suffering.

Now is the time to listen to the cries of the oppressed in their own communities, and in their own voices, and then work together, black and white, for peace and justice.