Black History Month: Finding God in Our Struggle
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These familiar words, taken from the Declaration of Independence, have echoed throughout nearly 250 years of our nation’s history. The men who signed their names to these words were in a fight for their freedom, families, dignity and future. This unanimous declaration was a recognition of the earthly realities that would shape the eternal destiny of both these men and our young country.
Now, here in 2023, Black Americans find themselves in a similar struggle for freedom from the forces of violence, repression and indignity. Indeed, the theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Black Resistance,” as designated by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.
“When you see a good fight,” said the Rev. Dr. Vernon Jones, a predecessor to Martin Luther King at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., “get in it.” Black America has been in the fight for truth, equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for as long as America has made those promises, and sadly, that promise remains unfulfilled. Just ask the family of Tyre Nichols, who was brutally murdered at the hands of five police officers in Memphis, Tenn.
That’s the thing about history — it offers the long view. Here, in this moment, we are troubled by the death of Tyre Nichols and we wonder where God was on that fateful night as this young Black man lay bloodied and bruised on the ground, calling out for his mother. When we see George Floyd pinned by a police officer’s knee, or revisit the death of Emmet Till at the cineplex, we wonder: Where are you, God? The truth is, God was alongside Tyre and George and Emmet at every moment of their suffering. Maybe what we need to ask instead is: Where are we?
Sometimes we need to look at our history, troubled as it may be, to see the hand of God leading us in the struggle through human heroes that are sent to guide and console us. And that’s exactly why Black History Month is so important.
Black Americans have fought the good fight of faith knowing that our Creator has endowed everyone with those unalienable rights. Our history shows that those rights may be granted or taken away by the government or by politicians, and that not everyone sees these truths as “self-evident.” At the same time, we know that ultimately those rights are given by God, not man. And we know that the “self-evident” truth of this divine inheritance has formed the foundation for resistance against violence, voter suppression, economic inequity, discrimination and countless forms of injustice.
That is the amazing thing about Black History Month: We know, from our history, that God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressor. Our history reminds us to seek the footprints of God in our struggle, and to rest in the assurance that God is always at work, making all things new — even if it isn’t always easy to see it in the moment.
“Stories have the capacity to uncover truth and expose falsehoods when the hearer is willing to step into the discursive world of the tellers,” theologian James H. Evans wrote in his book, “We Have Been Believers.” Throughout this Black History Month, there is an opportunity to tell the stories of history. This is the perfect time to uncover the truth, expose falsehoods and be willing to enter anew into God’s Beloved Community.
As a House of Prayer for All People, this Cathedral seeks to tell all our stories: national, religious and individual. We step into this month celebrating the sharing of history and the telling of stories that have the power to inform us, reform us, but most of all, transform us.
The stories that we celebrate this month, and every month, are a reflection of our hope and faith. In the words of hymn writer Albert A. Goodson, “We’ve come this far by faith, Leaning on the Lord. Trusting in his holy word, he’s never failed us yet.” And to that, I say, Amen.