For at least 9 generations, my paternal lineage has worshipped Christ at a small African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in rural Arkansas. My 5th great grandmother Louisa Chavers’ grave is the oldest grave in the cemetery located at this church. For generations, my family even attended camp meetings on the land where the church is currently located.
As a child, I grew up proud to attend an AME church even before I knew my family’s connection to the church. I was proud because the AME Church was birthed from the Free African Society. This Society was founded from a sincere quest for democracy, community, and economic and theological justice.
After it’s founding, White Methodists tried to control and limit what the AME church was to become. Thankfully, the founders of the AME church were able to differentiate the White Methodist leadership from God and they pursued justice. This quest for justice came from a place that no longer tolerated intolerance. This quest for justice came from a place where actions, not complacency, were the only option to change the historical trajectory. Most importantly, this quest for justice came from a place of sincere love for Christ and love for humanity.
For me, the beauty of the AME Church’s founding is the fact that the leadership tackled issues that affected them where they worshiped. This movement was local! They saw and experienced injustices, but didn’t accept them. They used their collective voices and power to display their belief that Jesus already paid it all, so there was no debt they had to pay in seeking justice. The death and resurrection gave them power, love, a sound mind and courage to seek justice both within and outside of a church.
The founders of the AME church were fighting for survival, both literally and figuratively. The fight that many churches, not just AME churches, are fighting today is a fight for relevancy. I’ve been terribly disturbed by people who reserve the right to remain silent when they witness injustices within the four walls of the church. It’s impossible to be relevant and silent at the same time! If Christians won’t speak up about the injustices in the church, how can the church be a strong voice for injustices we see outside of the church?
We can’t speak out about injustices in the Eric Garner case, if we don’t speak up when church leadership and insincere members strangle the life from parishioners. We can’t speak out about Wall Street greed, if we don’t speak up when there is no financial accountability within the local church. We can’t speak out about Bill Cosby, if we don’t speak out about rape and inappropriate relationships within the church. If Jesus had reserved the right to remain silent, I would not be writing this piece. As Christians, we have to be bold. Silence is not our mission!
My challenge for anyone reading this is to seek justice. If we see anything that is not just or righteous within the church, be bold and address it. This will both strengthen the local church and ultimately our communities. The church, from the inside out, can be a force and a gateway to change the world. If we want to truly show love, we will seek justice.