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Must Blacks bear the Cross Alone?

POSTED: September 24, 2016, 12:00 pm

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“Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free? No, there is cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.” – Thomas Shepherd (1693)

Tomorrow is Sunday and my Christian roots have me reflecting on the nexus of my faith and the plight of Black people in America. I can only reflect as a Christian because that is the faith I know. The seemingly never ending incidents of police killings of Blacks stresses the capacity to understand the permissiveness of God to allow these heinous acts to occur. It causes some contemplation of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and the loneliness of Christ in suffering for the sins of the world. Yes, Christianity has rightly taken some knocks, and the Black Christian experience in particular. Many criticize the faith as being imposed for the preservation of white supremacy and some see it as foreign to our native roots in Africa. There is truth to both of those assertions. Though it must be remembered that it predates slavery and that its true essence operates not within the context of man but in the belief in a guiding spirit beyond the feeble understanding of man. That is in essence what faith is – believing without seeing, trusting without knowing and patterning one’s life upon the belief that your current existence is a transitional phase leading to something much better.

African Americans, since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans on these shores, have had to rely on that belief system, whether it was practices from the motherland or Christianity, for survival. In fact, it is likely the primary reason for our current existence. Without it, we would have long succumbed to the violence, systemic oppression and injustices inflicted upon us over centuries. What people could survive such treatment without something rooted beyond their flesh that enabled them to repeatedly rise up and ascend?

This Sunday my mind turns to the Thomas Shepherd hymn, Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone? The lyrics speak to the responsibility of those of faith to accept and bear their burdens in the pursuit of salvation. It calls to mind the image of Jesus in Gethsemane, suffering and alone, his closest friends sleeping nearby unaware of the waning moments of his life. As a child I saw this in the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and the lives of my parents and their peers. In my adult years I have often wondered how Black parents of that generation held it together, how they woke up each morning knowing that every effort was being made to crush their dignity and abuse their rights not simply as Americans but human beings.

The question I contemplate today is Must Black People Bear the Cross Alone? In hearing on her recorded video of the shooting, the anguish in the voice of the wife of Keith Scott, the Black man killed by Charlotte police, you hear the burden of our cross. You feel the weight of it, the disproportionality of suffering of Black people and the crushing load of history that accumulates upon the backs of every succeeding Black generation. Keith Scott was in Gethsemane as he sat in his vehicle. So was Terence Crutcher. As was Eric Garner and Philip Pannell in 1990 in Teaneck New Jersey when police shot him in the back, with his hands raised and killed the 15- year old boy.

Some of these officers involved in these shootings likely profess to be Christians. Some may sit in a church pew with devoted regularity on Sunday mornings. I wonder where was their faith at the moment of their encounter with a Black person? Where was the compassion of Christ? Do they stand as the centurion at the cross? Where are the voices of their white pastors?

These atrocities have played out for all the world to see them. Black Christians have witnessed them. White Christians have seen the same video montage of Black death at the hands of police too. Yet, our white Christian brothers and sisters, in large part, remain silent. They see our suffering, witness our deaths but like Jesus’ disciples at the garden, are asleep as Black life is discarded. And some, like Jesus’ closest friends, are not only silent but when the critical issue is raised of whether Black lives matter, betray us by placing their race above their faith. The shamelessness of some white Christians at this critical hour is an offense to God. As is the mockery of some Black Christians who practice a market-driven faith that is neither disposed toward justice or holy, and simply sinful in its self-centeredness and greed.

What cross will white Christians bear? This is a question that has been raised for the ages. It was raised by abolitionists during slavery. It was raised by Dr. King as he sat in a Birmingham jail. It was raised during the anti-apartheid movement. It must be raised today. Black people for too long have borne this weight, this cross of undeserved pain and suffering and have sacrificed flesh for the God given right to exist and be free. If we truly worship the same God, we must accept the burden equally. It’s time for white Christians to practice the faith they profess.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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