2020 has been a wild year. On May 25 we witnessed the video of the murder of George Floyd. Protests have taken place around the country ever since.
When the protests began ramping up here in Salem, Ore., I was determined to participate as a Black man, a pastor and as a new resident of this city.
The evening before one of the biggest protests in our area, I received an email from a local clergy group presenting the idea of attending the protests together. I was immediately excited about this opportunity — the church being the church, showing up for our community and proclaiming that Black lives matter.
Imagine my disappointment as I continued to read my brother in Christ’s email and saw that he planned to attend “not to protest but to listen.”
Was he not listening before?
I declined the invitation and participated in the protest instead.
This was not a one-off situation. We see this attitude from many Christians in the United States. When we do not necessarily agree with the streets, we instead just listen to the cries of the people and attempt to clean it all up with our best Jesus language.
I have seen churches fall victim to this attitude repeatedly.
What we seem to forget as Christians is that the church belongs to the streets.
The church belongs to the people. Not only the people who are willing to attend every Sunday. Not only the people who are called to be in leadership.
The church belongs to all. Our churches are planted in many diverse neighborhoods and communities, and it is our responsibility to be in tune with our neighbors.
We need to know the needs of our communities. We need to know the resources. We need to know the people. We need to know the streets.
We are called to be in solidarity with the people in the streets. When they hurt, we hurt. When they rejoice, we rejoice. When they mourn, we mourn.
Yes, we are called to be different, but the Christian ethic calls for us to be with the people we are among. The church was not created for the elite or to be the aloof oppressors who continue the ways of white supremacy. The church was created as a gift from God to creation, a gift that allows us to participate in ushering in the kingdom of God.
In Matthew 21, Jesus has his authority at the temple questioned. He is approached by the religious leaders for his teaching of the people, and he shares with them the parable of the wicked tenants.
This text is often used to promote a theology of supersessionism, where the Jewish people are replaced by Christians. This toxic theological idea has fueled anti-Semitism around the world.
I believe the correct reading of this text stems from understanding whom Jesus is speaking to. He is speaking to religious leaders who manipulate the people.
In this parable, the wicked tenants kill the slaves and the son of the vineyard owner and keep the produce, along with the son’s inheritance, to themselves. The vineyard owner is forced to remove the wicked tenants and replace them with new tenants who will give him the fruits the vineyard has produced.
Perhaps a correct reading of this parable creates scary news for our churches. Are we giving the fruits to God? Are we serving the streets or participating in their destruction?
In this passage, the problem is not with the vineyard but with the tenants. Likewise, the problem is not with the concept of the church but with the tenants who have stolen it from the people.
The church was not created only for us. It was created for all who wish to participate. The church was created for those in the streets and belongs to the oppressed and downtrodden.
We as Christians must remember that we have been called to live in solidarity with those in our communities. If we are not advocating for the oppressed, we too could be judged by God as the tenants were judged.
The church belongs to the streets, and it is time to take it back.