Third Thursday from the Racial Justice Team
Feb 17, 2022
Our white American Christian churches would do well to consider the prophetic black figures in our country’s religious history who have stood powerfully and faithfully for God’s justice. A name few of us might know is Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), whose voice reached across a century to be posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2020. First and foremost a gifted journalist, she was also a fearless antilynching crusader, women’s rights advocate, democracy defender, community organizer, entrepreneur, mother, and devout Christian.
There is much to know about Ida B. Wells but for our consideration, note how her voice arises out of the prophetic tradition of our scriptures and speaks to American society in her time and in ours.
- Prophetic voices speak clearly that God cares about the abused and oppressed among us and expects us to care as well. Wells witnessed the lynching of blacks in the late 19th century and despite threats to self and family, wrote fiercely and faithfully against such evil. “The way to right wrongs,” she said “is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
- Prophetic voices are more focused on this world than the next. Wells not only called out American society for the oppression of black people but she called out the church too as being far too idle in the face of such injustice. “Our American Christians,” she minced no words, “are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in Hell-fire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.”
- Prophetic voices are focused on the systemic sin of society more than individual sin, the remedy being less about personal forgiveness than societal transformation. Wells believed that the best way to stop lynching was to ensure black people’s right to vote. “With no sacredness of the ballot, there can be no sacredness of human life itself….” Wells voice rings from her age to ours: “For if the strong can take the weak man’s ballot, when it suits his purpose to do so, he will take his life also.”*
- Prophetic voices call people into community and partnership with God to work towards justice. Wells organized the first suffragist organization for black women and started the first kindergarten for black children in Chicago. She began the Negro Fellowship league and was instrumental in the formation of NAACP and the National Alliance of Colored People among other organizations for social uplift and racial justice.
These same prophetic qualities mark another figure upon whom our church has its foundation and that is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus was as much an agitator for justice as he was a peacemaker. His spirit spoke through the mind and pen of Ida B. Wells. Can both Jesus and Ida inspire us American Christians to address injustice in our nation still dis-eased with racism?
Rev. Will Burhans (on behalf of the Racial Justice Team)
*(read Wells’ entire piece here – https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/ead/pdf/ibwells-0008-008-05.pdf)