Black Lives Matter to God and to Us
May 30, 2020
As I shared with the staff of Fourth Church and Chicago Lights yesterday, it is a moment I will never forget. A dear friend of mine was teaching me and a group of ministerial colleagues a brief history of how race came to be a social construct and how racism continues to function in both our country and in the church.
My friend, a Black man, talked about the moment he realized he was caught up in the clutches of White supremacy himself. He was preaching to his congregation, and his then-young daughter was in the pews. My friend said he read a passage from the Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs), chapter 1, verse 5: “I am dark but lovely,” the verse began. And as soon as that phrase came out of his mouth, he saw the face of his daughter—his beautiful, dark, innocent daughter, and he almost began to weep in the middle of his sermon.
“Dark but lovely?” he asked himself. “What is that saying to her? What is that saying to me about who we are as Black people made in God’s image?” He later went on to realize that the conjunction “but” was a decision of translation. The people translating from the Hebrew could have also translated it as “and.” “I am dark and lovely,” the verse very well could have been translated. Some other biblical translations do indeed use “and” as that conjunction, including the one we use at Fourth Church. “I am dark and lovely,” the verse begins. What a tremendous difference that one change of translation makes to the entire passage.
Friends, we live in a culture which, due to the racism many of us who are White do not want to acknowledge, only sees the “but” when it comes to people of color, in particular Black people. We have set up systems that do not value Black lives in the same way as White lives. On the whole, we do not act as if one can be dark and lovely. Rather, we act as if those two things are impossible to hold together.
We literally saw another example of the insidiousness of this lie in the death of George Floyd, whose life ended while a White police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s dark and lovely throat. As I write this note, Minneapolis is still on fire with the fury over this heinous act and the indifference that many of us who are White still show. And the pain and trauma continue to wreak havoc on all of our lives, especially on the lives of our Black church members and staff.
The power and principality of racism that manifests itself all over the place in American culture, including the church, is why your Session adopted the following commitment as one of our Strategic Directions: “Embrace Racial Equity: Fourth Church will purposely include all people, striving for radical hospitality and modeling an antiracist approach in all areas.”
The power and principality of racism is why we established the Racial Equity Council two years ago, a stated council of the Session just like Worship, Music, and Arts or the Joint Finance Committee. We are working to do whatever we can to eliminate the myriad of ways we continue to center “whiteness” as the norm, as what is most valuable. We want to counter any cultural idea that one cannot be dark and lovely.
We believe it is our Christian responsibility to raise our voices and to say stop to the myriad of ways our society collectively lives out the “but” rather than the “and.”
The murder of George Floyd is just the latest act of violence against an unarmed Black person. His name is just the latest name to add to an always growing list. And our Black siblings in Christ are weary and angry. I am weary and angry. This is not who God has created us to be towards each other. Black lives do matter—they matter to God and they sure need to matter more to us as an institution, a part of the body of Christ. They need to matter more to us as a society, all of us, children of God.
“I am dark and lovely,” our scripture claims. And we claim it, too.
Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor