Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Liberated by Grace African-American Christians Show Others the Gospel of Love

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Liberated by Grace African-American Christians Show Others the Gospel of Love

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON

For those who see religion as primarily an opiate, African-American Christianity offers a riposte. For those who see Christianity itself as a faith that encourages quiescence and conservatism, the tradition of the black church is a sign of contradiction.

Over the last few weeks, white Americans who never paid much attention to the religious convictions of their brothers and sisters of color have received an education. As has happened before in our history, much of this learning is prompted by tragedy, beginning with the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and also a series of church burnings, not all of which have been explained.

The African-American Christian tradition has been vital in our history for reasons of the spirit but also as a political seedbed of freedom and a reminder that the Bible is a subversive book. In the days of slavery, masters emphasized the parts of Scripture that called for obedience to legitimate authority. But the slaves took another lesson: that the authority they were under was not legitimate, that the Old Testament prophets and Exodus preached liberation from bondage, and that Jesus himself took up the cry to "set the oppressed free" with passion and conviction unto death.

The church was also a free space for African-Americans. Even when segregationist Jim Crow laws were at their most oppressive, their churches provided places where African-Americans could pray, organize and debate, free of the restrictions imposed outside their doors by the white power structure, to borrow a phrase first widely heard in the 1960s.

It was thus no accident that the black church was at the center of the civil rights movement. And it's precisely their role as an oasis from repression that the churches became the object of burnings and bombings. The freedom enabled by sacred and inviolable space has always been dangerous to white supremacy.

But the church is about more than politics, and a liberating Gospel is also a Gospel of love. The family members of those slain at Emanuel AME astonished so many Americans by offering forgiveness to the racist shooter. There was nothing passive about this act of graciousness, for forgiveness is also subversive.

By offering pardon to Dylann Roof, said the Rev. …

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