I Am An Angry Black Man of Faith
March 8, 2021
Violence against Black bodies is akin to a cherished ritual in America. It is passed down from one generation to the next like a family heirloom. The long and violent history of anti-Blackness in this country is impossible to deny. All one has to do is examine the empirical evidence of this inescapable truth. Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by unemployment, mass incarceration, houselessness, poverty and even COVID-19 deaths. Day after day and week after week, my community and I are forced to contend with institutional, systemic, and cultural forces which seek to negotiate our humanity. As a Black man of faith, I have only one response to the daily indignities that we, as a people, suffer: holy rage and holy hope.
The unadulterated expression of rage is often connoted as a negative phenomenon. If the face of said rage is Black, it is most certainly deemed to be “unproductive,” “unconstructive,” and in some cases “unamerican.” But, for me, my intersecting identities as both a Christian and as a Black man demand that I respond to injustice with a healthy dose of indignation. My subscription to biblical principles and the ministry of Jesus necessitates that I embody fury against interlocking systems of oppression. I see this mandate as central to my faith, which is precisely why my embodied response to human suffering caused by human action is indeed rageful.
I draw my theological commitment to the embodiment of rage from the Bible–a text that I consider to be sacred. Within it, there is an explosive scene wherein Jesus stages a violent protest in the temple courts. Writers of Holy Writ felt it prudent to include a description of Jesus’ actions not once, but three separate times in the Gospels. In this atypical pericope, Jesus bears witness to money changers and merchants exploiting temple goers through dubious economic practices. Jesus was so disturbed by what he saw that he was overcome with a fit of rage.
The portrayal of Jesus’ actions in this instance is undoubtedly counter to more passive, gentile depictions of Christianity. And, with this diverging image of Jesus comes one central question–why did Jesus destroy property and stage a violent protest? For me, it’s simple. He saw ongoing and present injustice. As a Black Christian in today’s America, I see similar injustices at work today. In the age of the Holy Spirit, however, Black bodies have become the temples that are being desecrated. Therefore, I respond with holy rage.
But, contrary to those who condemn my rage may think, it is not all that I respond with. I also respond with holy hope because rage is constructive. Without the fervent belief that things could be different, there would be no reason to embody rage. Without a clear vision of a more just world, rage would be futile. But, often, rage indicates a presence of vision, not the lack of it. In fact, it conveys an unflinching commitment to reimagine the ways in which we relate to those on the margins. It comes from an unquenchable sense of urgency born out of our deep discomfort with injustice and wrongdoing. Therefore, we must hold space for uncompromised indignation because it is the pathway by which we access a more expansive world view of what is possible.
Jesus destroyed the temple, yes. But he destroyed it with a vision of how to reimagine it and how to restore justice. He preached and proclaimed a Gospel that centered those on the margins, subverted existing power structures, and advocated for radical inclusiveness. His ministry was full of rage and hope, both of which are equally as holy. We should always make room for both. With that, I pray that your rage is never extinguished. I also pray that your vision for a more just world burns like a fire shut up in your bones.
Don Abram is a public theologian and writer at the intersection of race, religion, and politics. He currently serves as a Program Manager at IFYC. Twitter:@donthedivine; Instagram: @donrayabram