Racial Battle Fatigue and the Church

 People gather outside the Hennepin County Government Center to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, arrested by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller

Despite my prior commitment to writing a review for 5/29/20, I threw in the towel at the last minute. I informed my Associate Editor, Michael Mendis, that I was not in the mood to write. Calling an audible, I instead published something previously unplanned. 

He asked me, “Are you doing alright?” 

All I could muster at the time was a curt “No.” 

It would take me another two days to organize my thoughts into the cogence for which I am known. A malaise had inflicted me with a seething lethargy. After my wife and I celebrated our 15th year of marriage on May 28, I stayed up until almost 5 AM watching live amateur videos of the protests taking place in Minneapolis, MN, that were organized in response to George Floyd’s murder. Another (yes, ANOTHER!!!) black man had died while in police custody. Though the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired the day after the event, four days would lapse before charges were brought and an arrest made*. 

Eight. Minutes.

Some historians would argue that the injustice grievance bank had reached maximum capacity in the black community. The ensuing civil unrest is the result of too many transgressions, too many violations, and too many gross failures of authorities to recognize our basic humanity. Not even thirty days ago, the world witnessed the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, whose crime was jogging in a neighborhood that a posse of white men thought was too affluent for him to belong. Not to be forgotten, black women reminded us of Breonna Taylor, who was killed during a no-knock drug raid on her home. Even though the police had already subdued their target suspect in a neighboring house, they proceeded to use a battering ram to force themselves into Taylor’s home. Because the police did not announce themselves, her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire on who he thought to be burglars. During the ensuing gunfight, the police shot Taylor eight times. Her death closely resembles Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ murder in 2010; she was eight-years-old when police opened fire during a no-knock raid.

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Police conducting themselves in cavalier fashion cost Atatiana Jefferson her life in October 2019. A neighbor called a non-emergency number for a wellness check because Jefferson’s front door was left open. Instead of going to the front door and announcing themselves, the officers answering the call snuck around the back and side of the house. A law-abiding Texan, Jefferson had a concealed-carry license. She heard someone sneaking around outside and stopped playing video games with her nephew and armed herself. The police saw her with her gun and shot her through her window. 

Atatiana Jefferson

Jefferson’s concealed-carry license reminds us of Philando Castile’s murder. He was the passenger during a traffic stop, where the probable cause was that he and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, “fit the description” of suspects involved in a robbery. The officer asked him for his identification, and Castile announced that he had a concealed carry license before he reached for his ID. The officer, already threatened by melanin, was terrified at the prospect that a black man would dare to practice the 2nd amendment, told Castile to freeze. Castile tried to put his empty hands up to indicate no ill-intent, and the officer shoots him five times in seven shots. To add salt into the wound, Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter was in the backseat during this encounter. A viral video later surfaced, quoting her, “Mom, please stop saying cuss words and screaming because I don’t want you to get shooted.”

Philando Castile

This is nowhere near the number of black people who have experienced fatal encounters with police since in the 21st century alone, with my earliest recollection being Shaun Bell in 2006. Yet even despite Floyd, Arbery, and Taylor’s murders, I believe that the Memorial Day video of Amy Cooper threatening to call the police on a black man in Central Park after he asked her to place her dog on a leash—knowing full-well that ordinary encounter between a black man and the police could become a fatal encounter given all that I have outlined in the above paragraphs, she deployed this knowledge for evil**—combined with Floyd’s murder that same day, incited the protests that have persisted through the present. Reportedly, a demonstration has taken place in all 50 states; it would seem that America agrees on something: prejudice and discrimination against blacks must end.

 TOPSHOT – Protesters occupy the parking lot of a Target store near the Third Police Precinct on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. – Authorities in Minneapolis and its sister city St. Paul got reinforcements from the National Guard on May 28 as they girded for fresh protests and violence over the shocking police killing of a handcuffed black man. Three days after a policeman was filmed holding his knee to George Floyd’s neck for more than five minutes until he went limp, outrage continued to spread over the latest example of police mistreatment of African Americans. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

I came to realize that watching the protests brought me a sense of joy, a feeling of relief given all that has been transpiring since…well…too long. From extralegal police jurisprudence to COVID-19, it is human for blacks to respond to trauma in different ways; while many have and continue to march for many days, I suffered from an intellectual and physical paralysis. I wanted to do something while simultaneously feeling like doing absolutely nothing. As I bore witness to the most visible organizer of the protests, Black Lives Matter (BLM), my biggest criticism of the organization remains: it is a secular organization. The sin of racism and its evils will be conquered ultimately “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony” (Revelation 12:11). 

On the front lines. Photo by Erin Schaff/The New York Times

And I know that does not mean that Christians are to sit around on our laurels and wait for Jesus to return. Not only is faith without works dead (James 2:14-26), but also, carrying out the Great Commission—making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:16-20)—requires the collective action of a multitude, not unlike like a march or protest. 

Site of where George Floyd was murdered, a memorial. Photo by Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Yet as I observed the protests taking place over the weekend in distress, I began to marinate in the excruciating silence emanating from churches in America. As the days passed, God remembered me in my despair. He reminded me that what I was experiencing is called Racial Battle Fatigue. 

Racial Battle Fatigue

In Philadelphia, a man shouts in frustration. Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/Reuters

Racial Battle Fatigue is a relatively new, 21st-century academic concept that describes the social and psychological stress responses for blacks and other People of Color (PoC) in predominantly white environments. Triggering stressors are called racial microaggressions; some examples of the kind of racial microaggressions that black professionals experience from co-workers include: a) failure to notice their presence; b) refusal to make eye contact; c) repeated instances of exclusion; d) overuse of adjectives such as aggressive, scary, angry frightening, threatening, problem, difficulty, when referring to them; e) offensive language and inappropriate jokes.

Meanwhile, at1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

I experience some of this on a daily basis, such as subordinates who look “through” me when I pass by, or they refuse to make eye-contact when I give them a directive, or team members responding to my greetings (hello, good morning, etc.) with silence. On two different occasions, two different white men in leadership have addressed me using the name of the only other black man in the room; others have referred to me with the nickname “Mo,” even though I have never given anyone permission to call me anything besides “Maurice.” 

In Ferguson, MO (RIP Michael Brown), armed with masks and milk, a line of protestors (and their backup) are prepared for a long night. Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Even more pressing to me is how racial microaggressions manifest themselves in ministry. How is it that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), yet a congregant tells me that when they see me, they do not see race? How am I supposed to feel comfortable in a church where there are so few blacks and PoC that random congregants do not ask, but say, “You must be [child’s name]’s parents!” just because their skin is brown like mine. How is it that my family and I have gone to churches for months or years at a time, and yet we remain the “token” black family; what are these churches doing to attract (or repel) black congregants? 

In Tampa, America’s future bears witness to this movement from the safety of their front porch. Photo by Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times, via Associated Press

The symptoms of Racial Battle Fatigue vary. I have already spoken about my disassociation, but even as I compose this article in a cathartic effort to relieve what has felt like a persistent pressure resting on the upper left quadrant of my brain for the past week, other stressors come to mind. I have become so accustomed to the apathy, avoidance, and persistent ignorance on the topic of race that I began to internalize the trauma of Racial Battle Fatigue. The past year has taken its toll. Recently for example, COVID-19 has cut me off from my church, where I could fortify my soul to endure another week. As I have prayed and meditated over the past several days on what I should say, and how to relieve the pain, the Spirit reminded me that the symptoms of Racial Battle Fatigue are not my fault—I am a victim.

It really is that easy. Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Small groups I have participated in outlawed “politics” on day one; in the secular world, discussing how to provide shelter for the homeless or healthcare for the uninsured is “politics,” yet Jesus says things like those who shall inherit the kingdom welcome the stranger, and care for the sick (Matthew 25:35-36). I have, and currently still do, participate in ministries that enforce similar “no-politics” rules, and I know it is not Jesus who is being outlawed. The intent behind these restrictions is to maintain “peace,” but in application, they are a racial microaggression—white-run ministries enforce these rules, suppressing conversations about topics that make them uncomfortable, such as racism and police brutality; consequently, these rules dilute the power of the Gospel, as God indeed detests injustice: 

Justice is turned back,

and righteousness stands far away;

for truth has stumbled in the public squares,

and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking,

and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him

that there was no justice. ~Isaiah 59:14-15

Though I have used scripture throughout my writing here, in response to the outrage following George Floyd’s murder, I have endured a host of racial microaggressions. People have shared non-sequitur copypastas of scripture without commentary concerning its relevance in the present; now is not the time for vacuous Jesus-juking. I have seen calls for prayer in an attempt to run interference for action; black people have been praying for liberation from the demonic imaginations of white supremacy since we were brought from Africa. And of course, I return to the Church’s deafening silence in response to issues that concern black Christians. Agreeing that it was wrong for a police officer to apply the full weight of his body on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes does not require God to open up the heavens and wag his finger, or an earthquake to split Minneapolis in half. Why is denouncing racism so difficult in the Church? Taboo? Controversial? Yet somehow, the step of declaring that racism is bad is skipped in favor of admonishing “riots and looting”; this latter trend of disingenuously omitting that police and external agitators inciting protests to turn sour, I would not consider a “microaggression,” but an outright articulation of racism, born from a WASP-y worldview. 

People like Tony Evans have been performing the excruciating work of racial reconciliation in the Church for years. However, I think that to accomplish this work, churches in America will have to surrender their idol, who I call White Jesus the Colonizer. 

White Jesus the Colonizer

Christ in Gethsemane

Given all that has transpired, I had forgotten that 5/31/20 was Pentecost Sunday. In celebration of Christ gifting humanity with the Holy Spirit, and the miracle of the multitudes present from every nation under heaven understanding each other because the Spirit did the work of translating the foreign languages heard during the commotion, my church simulated this event. In accordance with social distancing protocols, the streamed service included several segments where Christians around the world read from Acts 1 and 2 in their native languages and in English. I heard Xhosa, Hindi, Urdu, and Jamaican Patois; an Afro-Dominican woman sang “How Great is Our God” while switching between Spanish and English between stanzas. 

White Jesus the Colonizer has become more simulacrum than archetype. Almost always fair and long-haired.

This experience felt more authentic than a perfunctory missions ministry update, a perfect balm for my Racial Battle Fatigue wounds. During that time, it was wonderful to be reminded that God’s dominion spreads beyond the US, and that Christianity around the globe looks significantly different than it does here. The imminently notable difference is that global Christians are primarily People of Color, not unlike Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus Christ, the son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1 John 29). Unfortunately, though America regards in apotheosis the idol, White Jesus the Colonizer.

White Jesus the Colonizer is an insidious counterfeit version of Jesus Christ who long-ago virally infiltrated America like COVID-19, but with a deadlier impact. To reconcile the difference, I first had to transition from my nascent, born-again fundamentalist phase of my faith when I told a person mourning their mother who had deceased of cancer that she went to hell because she was not a believer. I then experienced the shock and awe of my church’s Board of Directors standing before a congregation of 2,000 and announcing that they would begin the search for a new Senior Pastor because the sitting pastor was dismissed due to his adulterous relationship with a congregant.

Surrender all those graven images!

After that event, I began to develop a theology that would be healthy for my faith walk. The Jesus Christ that I came to know over the years thinks and behaves differently than the Jesus people sitting in neighboring pews worship. These disparate Jesuses exist simultaneously not because of theological nuances, but because of personal politics. It was necessary for the survival of my faith to separate the Jesus who inspired the violence of the Crusades, motivated Imperialismjustified slaverysupported segregation, and continues to perpetuate a host of injustices in the name of a false god from the only true God, Jesus Christ. Whereas God created man in His own image, White Jesus the Colonizer was forged in man’s own image. 

Shout out to our friends at LTN. They were among the first Christian organizations to demonstrate….love.

Jesus Christ says love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). Let he who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7). Forgive and you shall be forgiven (Matt 6:14). My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:19). Good religion is this: care for the orphans and widows.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that mourns when I mourn.

White Jesus the Colonizer cannot be quoted from any scripture, yet it has been said among his followers that he teaches tough love. “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” is not merely a WWII-era song, but one of his commandments. White Jesus the Colonizer’s god only helps those who help themselves. Care for the poor and needy only if they deserve it. White Jesus the Colonizer is pro-life, and will protest outside of abortion clinics, but not protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (et. al). In fact, this idol will long for “law and order” from the comfort of his home, knowing that he will never be racially profiled, because he is White Jesus the Colonizer.

I think the cross is a great focal-point for concentrating while praying and worshipping, but be careful about making the cross itself an idol. After all, our savior is no longer hanging there, and the tomb is empty!

White Jesus the Colonizer says to the man on Death Row who begs for mercy that they deserve the electric chair; Jesus Christ says to the criminal, who asks to be remembered, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

American Churches will need to step up and take action against racial injustice, or this will become a common sight. Thousands of demonstrators gather near the Minneapolis Police third precinct during the third day of demonstrations in response to the death of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

I rebuke White Jesus the Colonizer in the name of Jesus Christ, and aim to do so all the days of my life. If the Church in America ever hopes to achieve racial reconciliation, and put to death racial microaggressions that torment people who look like me, then it will have to rebuke him too. Otherwise, we will be doomed to live out Luke 12: 51-53 until the end times:

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Surrendering the false god White Jesus the Colonizer is the first significant step. For those who wish perform significant actions, click here for 75 ideas!

* As of 6/3/20 the primary suspect’s charge has been upgraded to 2nd degree murder. The three other officers have also been charged. 

**After learning of Cooper’s behavior, her employer, Franklin Templeton, terminated her within 24 hours of the incident.

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

1 Comment

  1. Creativelyanzy on June 8, 2020 at 7:31 am

    This is so powerful. Honestly I don’t have the words to express how this really moved me. So much of what you described feeling I could relate to. The statement: ‘we are tired’, has more weight now more than ever. It’s exhausting fighting but we must because only we can see to our own freedom, only we can ensure that we are treated justify, we have to fight for those rights. The small micro-aggressions at work and the larger scale attacks against black people has to stop. In saying that we also have to remember self-care. It’s hard everyday fighting and it’s okay to take a moment and recollect before we pick up or mantle once more and run into battle.

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