Cultivating hearts of worship in pursuit of racial justice

Sep 3, 2015 by

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Worship changes things. It forces every spirit, opponent and plan contrary to that of God’s to bow at his feet. As we exalt God to his rightful place in our hearts and in the world, he takes over and makes things right. This we know, either through experiences of our own, hearing the testimony of others, or through reflecting on the biblical text. And yet, in spite of the fact that we can attest to how the presence of God changes things, we often seem reluctant to engage. So often, we rather rely on our own know how, our own expertise, to fix the broken things in our world especially as it pertains to addressing structural injustice and oppression.



Maybe we’ve lost the vision of God’s holiness and splendor. Perhaps, this is why we don’t worship in desperate times like these where black life, as well as the lives of other people of color in this country, are so devalued. Unable to fully comprehend the majesty of God, we likewise are deceived into thinking that worship does not accomplish very much. At our best, we treat worship like it’s the warm up before the game without realizing that this is the game, this is the work, this is what is required to bend a deeply psychotic society back towards God. At our worst, we neglect it altogether without realizing how much we are impairing the fight for racial justice by not seeking God’s face.

Of a truth, if I am honest, I have noticed a significant change in my life in this regard starting from when George Zimmerman was not indicted for killing Trayvon Martin. Because you see, as Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin mourned the death of their son, I was celebrating the birth of mine. And the reality that I had just given birth to a black son in America frightened me to my very core. I began to read all that I could, consumed as much material as I had the capacity to, attended this meeting and that convening, and wrote voraciously — all to perfect an intellectual analysis about what was going on in our society.

I tried to worship. I honestly tried. In the back of my mind, I knew worship was so critical to undoing racism in our society. I had been reading The Heart of Racial Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil for the second time which really challenged me in this area as well. In her book, co-authored with Rick Richardson, McNeil writes this:

God is delighted when his people come together in worship and prayer to live out the power of the cross to break down dividing walls of hostility. Far too often, those who seek to be reconcilers and peacemakers have anemic worship lives — both individually and corporately. This is a mistake. Racial and ethnic problems are too immense to be addressed with spiritual anemia and cynicism. Rage, mistrust, and even self-hatred can lurk in the corners of any heart and cannot be overcome simply by our effort. It takes the Holy Spirit to melt down the inner barriers we have erected and to create in us a desire for God and for other people. This is not humanly manufactured. We can’t do it by ourselves. It takes a work of God’s grace in our lives.

I knew that McNeil was right. If I was serious about racial justice, worshipping God had to be paramount. But it was all too easy to rehearse that in my mind rather than engage. It was far too easy to put the task, the joy, of seeking God’s face on the backburner while I engaged my intellect instead. Sure, my analysis is much stronger than it was four or five years ago. My understanding of the ways that capitalism has been the driving force to support the perpetual dehumanization of black men, women and children was significantly increased. And if I don’t say so myself, my blog is 100 percent better because of the critical, antiracist perspective that has informed my thinking.

I know I have had impact. But I wonder how much more God could have done through me if I spent more time before the feet of God in worship than tweeting and retweeting the latest victim of white supremacist terrorism and state-sanctioned violence.

As I have stated before, engaging the intellect is absolutely necessary in a society that is completely brainwashed with supremacist and oppressive ideology. New media that challenges that status quo and offers up new, refreshing narratives about black people as well as other marginalized groups, is deeply critical, antiracist work. But I must, we must, seek the face of God more than all of these things. We have to have our imaginations awakened to the joy, peace, and clarity that is derived in God’s presence so that we, with the psalmist, find ourselves absolutely desperate to be in His court. Indeed, it is only when we see Him clearly that we have the capacity to effectively challenge white supremacy.

Ebony Johanna Adedayo, of Roseville, Minn., is a parish pastor at Church of All Nations in Columbia Heights, and the communications and capacity building coordinator at the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing racial, economic and environmental justice in the Twin Cities. She is the author of Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice and blogs at where this, a version of a sermon she preached on Aug. 30, first appeared. 

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