Race, Gospel and Justice, Half 5: An Interview with Esau McCaulley | The alternate
Ed: I come from a law enforcement family. I know they want to see the bad cops sorted out. What do you think about police, service, training, etc.
Esau: I would like to acknowledge that law enforcement, along with the military and any other public service, is an incredibly difficult task. You often see humanity in broken situations.
I am very hesitant to make political recommendations because I am not a political decision maker. But that's why God created the body of Christ so Christians can go into politics and make laws that are just.
However, I can say the following: A church can arise here. I wonder how much we appreciate all of these churches, which our military and police officers and the fire department publicly support, in the real local communities. Do we want our sons and daughters to become police officers, or do we like abstract police officers?
Let us say as churches: "We need Christians in these areas who understand the gospel and understand what a person is, who can then be salt and light in these professions."
I think instead we encourage our children to take on safe, civic and comfortable jobs. One of the things the Church can do is not just publicly support people who are police officers and simply vote for candidates who use this rhetoric, but actually join the police force and promote them as a public good. And start providing advice, resources and services to these people.
You have to understand what it means to be a police officer, go to churches week after week and see people in very difficult situations. What kind of pastoral care does this person need to continue to return to this community and still see people, even if they are involved in illegal activities, as bearers of the Imago Dei?
What I am asking is: do we actually discipline and support our actual officials in our churches along the path of Jesus so that they can say, "How does my Christian faith allow me to do something different from the police?"
Or do we just support the politicians who say they support the police? As a Christian, you can actually begin serving the people who serve today.
I would also like to say that I think 99 percent of the police would disagree with a police officer who knees on another person's neck until death. So the question is not just this incident. The question is a broader approach to policing and community relationships that is beyond the competence of a New Testament scholar, but I can point out injustice when I see it. I can see patterns of injustice and ask government officials to find solutions that will satisfy our communities.
Ed: On another issue, at Wheaton College (and in Evangelicality) we think the Word of God is inerrant and infallible. However, my interpretation is not inerrant. I realize that when I read the book of Exodus, I deal with the book of Exodus differently from someone who is descended from slaves. While it changes the text or meaning of its authors, it certainly affects our perspective, in our view.
Tell us about reading and interpreting the Bible from our contexts.
Esau: When I first came to the academy, I said, "I need to learn my Greek and Hebrew so that I can interpret the Bible and bring it back to the church where I come from." Then I came to the academy and realized that the real problem was that people did not understand the African American tradition of interpretation and that our way of reading the Bible was despised too often.
Part of the reason why I wrote Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an exercise in Hopewas to introduce our way of reading the Bible to the world.
The book was written in the context of a new generation of black protests that have been going on for several years. I hear people say explicitly, "This is not your mother's or father's civil rights movement. It's something else." I said, "No. The African-American step for justice is often rooted in our reading of the Bible, which is a source of hope."
The Bible as God's Word to us can still be a source of hope for the African American community and our struggle for justice. There is a certain section of the African American community that says you have to explicitly reject these texts to find the freedom we need. I want to say that you don't have to leave Jesus to get justice.
When I talk about reading the African American Bible, it doesn't mean that African Americans have one Bible and White Christians have another Bible. Everyone brings their experiences and questions into the text. When you're single, say, "How can I be faithful?" Or: "If I am married, how can I be married?" As an African American Christian, I ask certain questions about the text, but the text as God's Word for me can speak back. The text doesn't just say what I want to say. It only answers the questions I ask him. What I want to show are the types of questions that African American Christians and non-Christians ask, and here are the answers the Bible gives us back.
Ed: And what about the next generation? Is there hope?
Esau: Let me say one theologically and the other practically.
First, we need a biblical understanding of culture. A tendency in evangelism is to say, "Well, I don't see color. I only see the person." This is actually a sub-biblical idea. When you look at the Book of Revelation, it says that every tribe, language, and nation will pray for the throne of Jesus.
Our sons or daughters should never feel like they have to choose between their Christian beliefs and their African American identity. It doesn't mean that the race outperforms his faith, but we have to be able to say, "It's okay to be proud, to be African American, and to be proud to be Christian." That these things are no longer a contradiction than being proud of being a woman and proud of being a Christian. I know a lot of students who wonder if they can still be Christians when they go to college and get a racial identity.
One of the things that happens so often is that African Americans learn nothing about their culture from Christians in mostly white rooms. You have to go to people who hate Scripture and say that Scripture is oppressive. Then they say, "Oh. If I want to appreciate my story, I have to throw away the scriptures."
We want to give people the opportunity to affirm both their culture and scripture as God's Word.