JUSTICE & SHALOM
As protests continue to swell across our nation, & as public outcries for racial justice for people of color have been reignited, you're invited you to pray. Prayer is at once a rooted thing & a radical thing for times such as these. It is rooted because we turn to a God who is unchanging. It is radical because we seek the subversive power of Christ’s kingdom to help bring transformation. Below are a few ways you can pray for these uprisings, the protestors, & the concerns they seek to voice, using Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail as a guide.
1. Pray not for superficial peace, but rather, for justice.
“…who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”. Yes, pray against evil. Pray against violence, whether it is instigated by protestors or police. Pray against looting. Pray against foolishness. Pray for law enforcement, whose responsibility is immense and challenging.
But pray also against any quelling of unrest that quiets legitimate cries of anguish and anger. Pray against the covering over of real issues of racism and sinful social disorders in the name of “order.” Pray for racial harmony, yes, but pray more so for racial repentance and understanding. Pray for true peace, positive peace—justice.
2. Pray for the “underlying causes” of unrest, not for its “effects” alone.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”
Pray for the protests, yes. But pray also for the reason for the protests: for the murder of George Floyd, for the comfort of his family, for the officers involved.
And then go down another level to the underlying causes of injustice. Pray that black people in America will be more fully honored and protected as bearers of God’s image, and that our laws, the enforcement of those law, and our society's norms will more truly reflect their God-endowed identity. Pray for our culture which persists in seeing black men as threats to be managed, subjugated, and eliminated, and treats them accordingly, too often with tragic and violent consequences.
3. Pray not merely for social “issues” generally, but for our black brothers & sisters particularly.
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, & that is what has happened to the American Negro. … If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, & he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides—and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: ‘Get rid of your discontent.’ Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.”
These protests are, it appears, the cumulative effect of a series of recent events, beginning with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in GA and Breonna Taylor in KY. But the “latent frustrations” that burden, agitate, & grieve our black brothers & sisters of course extend back to centuries of oppression & trauma. We must be burdened, agitated, & grieved with them. Pray for our black brothers & sisters, especially those in our city & church community, who have felt wearied, discouraged, or frightened by these events. Pray for their comfort, endurance, & hope. And pray we might support them wisely & with the gentleness of love.
Certainly, it is not African Americans alone who are protesting. But for those who do, pray not merely for the ceasing of their protest, but rather, for nonviolence in their protest—and for healthy forms of “release” and “expression” of “repressed emotions,” including fear, righteous resentment, and tears.
4. Pray for the church.
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline & mouth pious irrelevancies & sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial & economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." … In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. ... Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished & scarred that body through social neglect & through fear of being nonconformists.”
Finally, pray for the church. Pray that we would pray. Pray that we would resist the sins of our culture. Pray against our “laxity,” fear, & social neglect in the face of evil. Pray that we would be righteous salt & light, true neighbors in our city. Pray that we would grow in wisdom in fulfilling our calling as God’s people to “seek justice, defend the oppressed” (Isa. 1:17), to resist self-righteousness & repent readily ourselves (Luke 18:9-14), & to be the reconciled people of God (Eph. 2:14-22).
-Duke Kwon / Copyright © 2020 Grace Meridian Hill