Why is This Tomato Marching?
Here we are, my wife and I, among several thousand people dressed in black and wearing masks. Like a convention for bank robbers. Except we're marching.
The crowd includes most of our small group and a big chunk of our church, marching alongside other residents of Wheaton, IL in support of racial justice. There are “black lives matter” signs scattered through the crowd and on lawns all over Wheaton, along with Bible verses about justice. Middle School-age white kids chant "black lives matter!" from windows as we pass by.
Wheaton, IL. Home of Wheaton College and Christianity Today, The Billy Graham Center, Tyndale House Publishers and Crossway Books. Bastian of evangelicalism.
“Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organization with terrible beliefs. How could you associate with it? How could your evangelical CHURCH associate with it??”
For starters, we’re able to distinguish between saying the phrase "black lives matter" and endorsing a particular movement with a particular set of beliefs that uses those words as its name.
But still. Won’t I be painted with the same broad brush? Is it worth the risk? I’m Bob the Tomato, for heaven’s sake - I'm got my reputation to think about.
Here’s why my wife and I chose to march and continue to choose to speak out:
We attend a conservative evangelical, multi-ethnic church, born of a merger between an older, declining white congregation, and a younger, growing Asian congregation. Our staff is roughly half white, half Asian. Our pastor is Korean. We weren’t sure if putting these two congregations together would be a good thing - or would kill them both.
Turns out, it was a good thing.
3 years later, the church has doubled in size since the year of the merge. And the growth isn’t just white and Asian. It’s Latino and African-American. It’s mixed families who don’t feel like they fit at any church that’s all one color. And its college kids. LOTS of college kids, who want to worship in an environment that looks like the world they’re growing up in.
I have developed more non-white friendships in the last four years than in the entire rest of my life. And they have opened my eyes to life outside my majority culture bubble.
This Sunday an African American friend shared her story with the church and then sang a song of longing for justice. She struggled to finish the song through tears. By the end Lisa and I were crying along with her, dabbing our eyes as we watched the live stream on my laptop.
This week we sat with African American friends and heard stories about the fatigue of “code switching” - changing language and mannerisms, even energy level - to try to fit into majority-white environments. The frustration of getting suburban schools to see their kids as whole people, not just potential “star athletes” for nearly all-white sports teams. A black father thinking twice before taking a walk in his white neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Should he change clothes? Is he putting himself at risk?
Another African American friend stopped by the police while carrying a TV out of a house in a white suburban neighborhood. He was helping a friend move.
I never have to think about any of these things. How to help a friend move without being frisked. How to dress at night for a walk. How to make schools see our kids as whole people. I can sing songs about justice without gut-wrenching fatigue that overflows into tears. I can sing songs about justice without even noticing the words at all.
And quite often that is what we do. We just don’t notice at all.
It’s embarrassing that it took my church radically changing for me to start noticing. Before I would walk closely enough with friends of color to see the weight they carry on their shoulders every day. Weight completely foreign to me.
My African American friends are marching. Not because they want to "defund the police" or “burn it all down.” But because they are tired. Tired of carrying a weight that no one seems to notice.
So I have a choice.
Do I stand with my black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ, and risk being labeled a leftist, Marxist, "probably-shouldn’t-buy-his-kids-films-anymore" radical?
Or do I stay seated to protect my reputation, and let my black and brown friends stand alone?
Looking into the eyes of my friends, that decision is easy.