Baltimore is burning. Where is Christ?
That question, one can be sure, has been uttered from many within the community of Baltimore before, during, and after the rioting started. If not asked directly, then the implications have been steadily suggested as tensions have rose between the Black community and the police in Baltimore.
To be sure, this riot is not a spur of the moment incident. This riot is not pure happenstance or the result of any sports game. This riot has been simmering for quite awhile. As most of us are outsiders looking in, we should not be tempted to moralize or see all of the rioters as pure “thugs.” Instead, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, we must see the riots as the “language of the unheard” (“The Other America”).
There were very public mistakes that brought the tension in Baltimore to the forefront of American attention. There were very private mistakes that occurred over and over across a large span of years that were ultimately left unaccounted for and swept under the rug of injustice.
Do we need to stay silent in the face of oppression? Those private mistakes accumulated and led to this very public outpouring of aggression towards injustice. Silence is tacit approval of oppression. The people are right to make noise. However, unbridled anger and aggression often leads us astray from the main points that should be made in times like these.
The question we should seek to answer is how can Christ help the situation in Baltimore? Our identity as image bearers of God is at the forefront of the answer to this question.
Rioting is an expression of identity. The collective anger of many Black Americans who feel as though the police force, the state, or even the country has turned their backs on them has erupted. Likewise, protesting is an expression of identity as well. Anything we do to express ourselves is an expression of who we are and who we were created to be. Of course, there are possible distortions that can be and have been made. But the very foundation of who we are as created beings cries out for justice. We cannot help it since we are made in the image and likeness of God. A thief still hates to be stolen from.
Baltimore’s identity is found in its people. The people’s identities are found in their priorities. To effectively bring about justice, many of our actions and beliefs have to first be weighed by Christ and his supremacy over our lives. 100s of pastors recently walked the streets of Baltimore to express this same idea.
Our identity as a people is something that is already here (image bearers of God) and something we must work towards (submission to Christ). Our identity is not found in our accomplishments. It is not found in how much property can be destroyed. It is not found in how angry we are towards oppressors. Our identity is found in submission to the One who created us all.
To restate, our identity as a people is best found in our submission to Christ.
The rallying cry “Black lives matter” only means something when we understand that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). A proper intervention of justice comes only when we see each other as God sees us. We can only see others as God sees them when we submit to Christ.
Our identities have to be rooted in Christ for there to be proper justice in the world.
One of the most frustrating things concerning the riots has been the media coverage. Journalism is often adamant in promoting violence. “If it bleeds it leads” is a common saying within journalism. As such, the media does little to advocate for justice. We cannot rely on what we see on tv to tell us the complete truth of what is happening. As hip hop artist Propaganda noted:
Citizens of Baltimore been peacefully protesting for WEEKS. Not one news camera came till somethin was on fire. What u think that teaches?
— propaganda (@prophiphop) April 27, 2015
Instead of relying on the media, we can pray for Baltimore and trust that those church leaders, those pastors, are leading the charge in reorienting the identity of the people. We must trust that the Holy Spirit is working. Whenever there are riots or causes for alarm in any given area, people turn to churches and to clergy for help. There is an inner call within us to seek out Christ in the midst of tribulation.
Our identity in Christ is key to overturning oppression and living in a just society. Let’s not moralize over the riots in Baltimore. Let’s pursue righteousness and lead others into considering their identity and the actions that result from that.
Identities are already being transformed.
There is hope in Baltimore. Things like this don’t happen without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.