The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail

[Content note: discussion and photos of lynching and other forms of brutality]


Young protestors lighting and preparing to launch a Molotov cocktail at Ferguson police

Young protestors lighting and preparing to launch a Molotov cocktail at Ferguson police

Can you see the Imago Dei in these young men? Can you see the suffering Christ in their rage?

This morning at church, the black female preacher said aloud what many of us have been thinking: that Ferguson could have happened in our community. It could still happen in our community. Our north Minneapolis neighborhood is so much like Ferguson, it’s scary. Both communities are lower income and predominantly black. Both have overwhelmingly white police forces. Both have a history of police misconduct toward people in the community, especially lower income black men.  And if you hang around long enough, you’ll feel the rage that many blacks carry in response to long-standing injustice.

Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.

Based on data from communities all over the U.S., a recent study found that local police officers kill black men nearly two times a week. Beyond this, black men suffer from the crushing indignity of being regularly stopped and frisked, harassed by the police for simply “driving while black”, and generally assumed guilty before proven innocent.

Describing the way black men were treated during the lynching era (1880s -1960s), historian Joel Williamson wrote, “Their blackness alone was license enough to line them up against walls, to menace them with guns, to search them roughly, beat them, and rob them of every vestige of dignity.”[i]

Williamson might as well have been writing about the way black men are treated in 2014. The present-day experience of black men is not much different that the experience of black men who lived and died during the lynching era.


To those who are willing to receive it, black thinkers and artists have already provided the imagery needed to see the suffering Jesus on the lynching tree.  Poet Countee Cullen wrote Christ Recrucified in 1922:

The South is crucifying Christ again

By all the laws of ancient rote and rule…

Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue,

The sin for which no blamelessness atones…

And while he burns, good men, and women too,

Shout, battling for black and brittle bones.

1930 Lynching of two African-American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, in Marion, IN.

1930 Lynching of two African-American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, in Marion, IN.

Theologian James Cone notes that by seeing the suffering Christ on the lynching tree, lynching-era blacks experienced the presence of God in the midst of unbearable suffering. “In the mystery of God’s revelation, black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.”[ii]

It’s not difficult to look at the photo above and see Christ’s powerlessness, suffering, indignity and innocence hanging from the tree.  But various theologies of respectability[iii]– theologies that suggest that oppressed people have to act “respectably” (according to middle-class, white standards) in order to be seen as victims — have prevented many people from seeing the suffering Christ in black suffering unless it’s communicated in a “peaceful”, “appropriate”, “respectable”, “non-violent” way.

It’s relatively easy to see the suffering Christ in black men who are already dead and aren’t threatening to hurt anyone. But can you see the suffering Christ in black men who are still alive and might hurt someone? Can you see the suffering Christ in violent responses to injustice? Can you see the cross in the Molotov cocktail?

The Molotov cocktail is born of the rage of the suffering of black men.


As someone who has walked alongside black men, witnessed their suffering firsthand, lamented with them and fought for justice with them, I can see why black men who have lived under the oppressive boot of society for their entire lives would decide to stop turning the other cheek[iv], refuse to see the police as anything other than the Red Coats, and reject “respectability.”

Can you see the suffering Christ in the oppressed, even the ones who aren’t responding perfectly to society’s oppression? Christ doesn’t just suffer for the innocent, the ones who don’t have the energy to fight back, or the ones who perfectly respond to injustice. He suffers for the ones who suffer now and sin in their suffering.

And make no mistake, our God is a God of justice. The young black men who launch Molotov cocktails at the police are misappropriating God’s justice by taking it into their own hands, but the rage they feel is the rage that God feels towards injustice. In a sense, they are imaging forth God’s justice to an unjust world.

Seeing the suffering Christ in these young men isn’t achieved by theological gymnastics, deep pity, or altruism. It’s done by listening to their stories, sharing life, standing in solidarity with them, and experiencing their rage.

I’ve written elsewhere that when oppressed people are angry, privileged people should listen up.

Can you learn from the violent protesters as well as the peaceful protesters? Can you see the Imago Dei in both?



[Thanks to Richard Beck for the friendly dialogue that inspired this piece.]

[i] Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South since Emancipation, p. 73

[ii] James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, p. 21-22

[iii] For more on theologies of respectability, see Daniel J. Camacho’s extensive summary.

[iv] During a conversation at Duke Divinity School’s reconciliation institute this summer, a black man stood up and said, “There are no more cheeks. There are no more cheeks to turn.”

107 Responses

  1. bethraps
    bethraps August 17, 2014 at 3:12 PM |

    Yes. Yes, I can. Yes, I do.

  2. Kim Van Es
    Kim Van Es August 17, 2014 at 3:38 PM |

    Fantastic piece. Thank you.

  3. Brian Foulks
    Brian Foulks August 17, 2014 at 4:01 PM |

    Thanks for sharing this sister.

  4. Tamara Johnson
    Tamara Johnson August 17, 2014 at 4:19 PM |


  5. Sarah Bessey (@sarahbessey)
    Sarah Bessey (@sarahbessey) August 17, 2014 at 4:55 PM |

    Amen and amen.

  6. bonnie
    bonnie August 17, 2014 at 5:12 PM |

    I am so sick to death of this. White = privilege and black = always oppressed (read justified in crimes). Now whites have to sit back and see Christ’s suffering in the blacks as they attempt to firebomb police. We have to sit back and empathize when they kill young white men in retaliation (as they did with Trayvon).

    No. I won’t. Blacks don’t have to do this. They are not animals. I feel rage. It’s not fair we have to hold our breath and wait for blacks to kill more white people, and see it as “understandable” rage. It isn’t. Feel my rage. See Christ’s suffering in me, a white person. Or will you once again ignore it, because it’s not the “right kind of rage”??

    1. Jim Caldwell
      Jim Caldwell August 17, 2014 at 7:38 PM |

      Bonnie-I hear your pain and I am sad for you in the midst of it. You must have had some deep loss that stirs up that rage in you.
      I would ask you to consider this: It is rare for us as white people to experience loss that is due in any great part to the color of our skin. We have pain but it is usually highly individual. I think the pain/rage that Christena is speaking of rises out of a history of oppression that continues today in our country that is supposed to be beyond that. If you look at the rates of incarceration and shootings by the police it is hard to deny the system is horribly broken. That is collective pain that rises out of racial injustice.
      Furthermore, if you look at the police response (dogs, tear gas, riot gear, snipers, military-like presence), it seems out of proportion and provoking. When the new lead officer took charge and changed all that, everything settled. Personally, I think it is incumbent on the people in power to make the first moves. Who knows if it would have ever turned violent had there been a calmer responce at the start?
      I don’t think anyone is asking us to condone violence. Maybe we can understand the depth of where it comes from and live in love toward those who get caught up in it and to be honest in knowing we have had that same capacity. Violent or not, police or victim, protestor or reporter, we need to know this: Jesus believed they were worth dying for. Made in the image of God.

      1. bonnie
        bonnie August 18, 2014 at 12:05 PM |

        We will have no victory if we don’t have truth here. Every conversation about this revolves around the idea that the officer must have been racist. STOP. WAIT. LISTEN…if you want change at all. We don’t actually know this yet, so the violence is unjustified.

        There is plenty of reason to think that this was not a race-based killing. Police in black communities aren’t startled by young black people. I know, I’ve been an officer in black communities. Just as with white people in mostly white communities, young black people are everywhere — naturally. To insist that the officer was startled by a black person so he just fired shots indiscriminately is a leap of faith that REQUIRES FACTS. Again, the officer worked in an African American community for a while where most victims and criminals were black! How can we assume that on this day he was suddenly scared to death of black people?

        The reason I resist this story is simple: to think that this officer killed someone because he was black is not just a sickening thought, but a highly unlikely thought given the FACT that he worked for a while in this community. Officers who work in these communities often build a bond with the community members. We see them when they have been victims, cry with them, risk our lives to protect them. Just like we would our own family. THE NARRATIVE BEING PROMOTED IS A LIE, and it puts black mothers and children in FEAR when it should not.

        So, showing pictures of lynchings to justify the current firebombing of police is unfair until we know what happened. It causes fear in the black community when it isn’t yet justified. But people keep doing it. Telling black people that whites are prima facie scared of black people and will shoot is a lie, but people keep saying it. And we know, it is 100% foreseeable, that the riots will end with a person getting killed in retaliation, and you will all act like there was nothing we could do to prevent it. This causes more outrage. You cause it.

        1. bonnie
          bonnie August 18, 2014 at 12:30 PM |

          *Of course I don’t mean you per se Jim. Just anyone who justifies violence before we know that actual racism occurred.

          IN SUMMARY: Can you see Imago Dei in angry white people as much as angry black people? Or do you not want to?

          1. bethraps
            bethraps August 18, 2014 at 2:30 PM |

            Bonnie and Jim, I do see whites as the image of G-d including when we are angry. I just think the “sickening thought” you touched on is the one we need to stick with and sit with in this instance. Your experience as a police officer makes it both easier and harder for you right now…yet you are clearly for justice. Jim, thank you for wading in these waters with Christena and with us.

    2. Denise
      Denise August 20, 2014 at 1:10 PM |

      Bonnie, I’d point out a few things. The first is that not having racist motivations does not necessarily mean that the officer’s actions were OK. Race comes into the picture often after the fact when people observe different reactions from the police department, the media and community that often track along racial lines. And you don’t have to go far into right-wing media, blogs, and articles to hear all of the explicitly racist language used to describe young men like Mike Brown.

      Furthermore, it is true that not all facts are in, but many are also commenting on actions perpetuated by people outside of Ferguson. White Revolutionary Communist Party leaders brought the molotovs and were looking to incite a riot against the police. Their names are Gary Johnson and Travis Morales. After their arrest, things were much more peaceful. That is an example of people observing a situation and being angry with what the black people of Ferguson are doing, but without having a clear sense of the full picture.

      And lastly, I would say that while you say that officers are not startled by black men, you have to take into the account the actual experiences of black men who have dealt with the police, and not just your own experience. You are entitled to have your narrative heard, but not to deny the reality of someone else’s experiences if they don’t fit into a certain interpretation of what society is like. .

  7. Kiran Lotay
    Kiran Lotay August 17, 2014 at 6:07 PM |

    I’m wary of speaking without understanding, to please take my thoughts as from an Asian British Christian who has not as yet deeply identified with black suffering, although I have listened and prayed more than ever before in the last few days. Your article made me think of how Jesus spoke over Jerusalem knowing that Zealots would oppose the Roman oppression violently to a disastrous end: “Oh that you had pursued the things which make for peace!”. I don’t mean that black rage shouldn’t be recognised and understood. That’s just the Scripture I thought of when I read this. I think there is as much mourning as rage against injustice in the heart of Christ for black men lighting molotov cocktails.

  8. Michael Noffsinger
    Michael Noffsinger August 17, 2014 at 6:59 PM |

    “The young black men who launch Molotov cocktails at the police are misappropriating God’s justice by taking it into their own hands, but the rage they feel is the rage that God feels towards injustice. In a sense, they are imaging forth God’s justice to an unjust world.”

    Police misconduct is serious and is wrong- no matter the race. Racial oppression is wrong-no matter the race.

    The pain is something obviously that God Identifies with- But I am not so sure it is the same kind of rage if in fact it is misappropriated. I do not believe that the Lord rages against a few righteous men caught in the midst of those who may act otherwise.

    I am sure that there are good men doing their jobs in the midst of the evil. The rage expressed here is indiscriminate often in response. Gods’ anger and our anger and our fallen perspective in the midst of it are two entirely separate things. I appreciate your willingness to illustrate the identification of Christs’ suffering. Y

    et Christena, You talked about misappropriating justice, but you said nothing about the compelling interest in all contexts concerning the misappropriation of rage. Christ I do not believe would throw a Molotov cocktail at “anyone.” I do not believe that the anger in his heart would lead him to do that. (John 3:17) These guys are not “imaging forth Gods’ justice.”Though admittedly angry here, for much good reason, there is nothing biblical in that statement. God is Holy in His anger.

    James 1:20 says, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

    P.S. There is no “mystery” in the presence of Christ in any of our suffering. He is there with us as he promised.

    1. Morgan Guyton
      Morgan Guyton August 18, 2014 at 12:20 AM |

      The bible is full of stories of people who were moved to violence by a misappropriation of God’s wrath, like Joab, David’s commander, against the family of Saul, or Jehu who assassinated all of Ahab’s family but was ultimately too much of a psycho to be a legitimate king. The molotov cocktails express God’s wrath against a real injustice that motivates them even though they are a sinful misappropriation of it.

      1. bethraps
        bethraps August 18, 2014 at 2:32 PM |

        I am pretty sure Christena only asked if we could see those throwing molotov cocktails as still the imago Dei. I think that is a worthy question to remember and to answer each for ourselves.

        1. Rob
          Rob August 18, 2014 at 9:45 PM |

          Perhaps so….but the quotation gives me pause….

      2. Rob
        Rob August 18, 2014 at 9:43 PM |

        A sinful appropriation of Gods wrath…we all carry the stigma of the fall…and we all bear the image of God….What we have seen in fact is the providence of God in using fallible men to accomplish his infallible purposes. but your assertions stem more from your commentary than anything that is derived directly from the text.directly speaking to the character of God.. with all due respect….perhaps mine as well to some degree…

      3. Denise
        Denise August 20, 2014 at 9:03 AM |

        This best expresses my feelings about this situation, as one from the area who has observed what has transpired. I could talk at length about the reasons people have rage against the police, anger that has little to do with Mike Brown himself. But I will say that the police here are completely complicit in fostering a relationship of deep disrespect and antagonism. The violence of the protesters is not to be condoned, but surely the daily abusiveness of the police is not to be either. And in this situation, we see that dysfunctional dynamic erupt, with officers often openly expressing their deep contempt for the residents they are sworn to “serve and protect” and a disregard for actual Constitutional rights simply because they say so.

        Defenders of police in general are right that it is a noble profession, but Ferguson is a specific community with a specific culture and a specific history. In other words, people just didn’t wake up one day and decide they wanted to stir things up.

  9. Megan D. (@UnclearMegan)
    Megan D. (@UnclearMegan) August 17, 2014 at 7:05 PM |

    Beautiful words. Thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Sunday meditations: Ferguson in our hearts | Spice Tithers

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  11. Annie Barnett
    Annie Barnett August 17, 2014 at 10:16 PM |

    Thank you, Christena. I learn so much from your writing, and I’m grateful for your words. I’ve been reading Amos this week as I struggle to know how to pray and how to act in response to injustice, and I was surprised to find the verse (probably the only verse from Amos I knew) about justice rolling like a river in the midst of a passage full of rage and turmoil. I’m trying to lean in and understand, and let lament, and repentance, compassion and action flow from that place. Thank you for writing and tweeting and teaching.

  12. Kristina
    Kristina August 17, 2014 at 11:12 PM |

    Your post pushes into a truth that is hard for me to walk in given the over-whelming presence of whiteness in my life – a truth that highlights a glorious aspect of God I’m not often privy to experiencing from my vantage point in the Body of Christ. Thanks for writing this.

    Having been raised in staunchly stoic traditions that prompt me to become more reserved and restrained the more I feel my emotions build, seeing people express their emotion – their rage – in a demonstrative way sparks distrust in me. I suspect this is similar to the brand of distrust I’ve heard my black colleagues express when seeing white leaders maintain a solemn, stoic affect while proclaiming “outrage” about the racial disparities that exist within our community.

    My “natural” inclinations of distrust are mistaken though – Jesus as he is seen in the Bible shows no inclinations towards Minnesota Nice, is WAY more comfortable with a full expression of emotion than I am and has come with a supernatural plan to reset all of the brokenness of our natural state! While it seems too far to let rage roll into violence, this is no more of a broken response to injustice than apathy or non-action. After being continually fed the myth that “calm is rational,” it’s easy for me to forget that in the face of brazen injustice, the most rational thing may be bold action that is anything but calm!

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  15. Michael Brown and the Discipline of Seeing | signs of life

    […] articulated far better by others. If you’ve not done so, please check out these articles: The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail by Christena Cleveland; Black Bodies, White Souls by Austin C Brown; Black People are not […]

  16. Amanda Nash (@aj_nash)
    Amanda Nash (@aj_nash) August 18, 2014 at 10:51 AM |

    Thanks Christena…great piece. Challenging and inspiring me to pray and lament.

  17. Andrew Van Arsdel
    Andrew Van Arsdel August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM |

    Cleveland is right that we must see the image of God in both victims and violent people, but the answer to her question, “can you see the cross in the Molotov cocktail?” should be a resounding “no.” On the cross Jesus absorbed violence rather than inflicting it. The cross is the antithesis of the Molotov cocktail, and in an important sense it is also a mockery of the Molotov cocktail. All of the violence of the Roman and Jewish authorities was poured out on Christ on the cross, but he put all of their violence to shame by triumphing over them in the cross (Col 2:15). He is now establishing one new humanity by uniting those who were formerly enemies, so to advocate for the Molotov cocktail is actually to subvert the work of Christ. We can join Christ by non-violently opposing injustice because doing so is not “white” or “middle class” but profoundly Christlike.

    1. bethraps
      bethraps August 18, 2014 at 2:26 PM |

      To be Christlike, we then absorb violence? Maybe so. That is also satyagraha, that is also Kingian nonviolence. I am willing to be a space to do that.

  18. j. Madison Rink
    j. Madison Rink August 18, 2014 at 2:57 PM |

    Whew! And I couldn’t agree more…..your words and point of view, which affected me deeply, also serve to remind all of us that it doesn’t matter how inadequate we might feel at times about injustice – in fact we CAN ALL make a difference in our own unique way – – if we seek a way to do it. And we must! Thank you for making a difference in this powerful piece.

  19. Exiting the Noise | Communicating.Across.Boundaries

    […] “The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail” by Christena Cleveland. Quotes: “Can you see the Imago Dei in these young men? Can you see the suffering Christ in their rage?” “And make no mistake, our God is a God of justice. The young black men who launch Molotov cocktails at the police are misappropriating God’s justice by taking it into their own hands, but the rage they feel is the rage that God feels towards injustice. In a sense, they are imaging forth God’s justice to an unjust world.Seeing the suffering Christ in these young men isn’t achieved by theological gymnastics, deep pity, or altruism. It’s done by listening to their stories, sharing life, standing in solidarity with them, and experiencing their rage.” […]

  20. Rob
    Rob August 18, 2014 at 3:54 PM |

    This piece seems to resonate with the thoughts of Dr. King:
    “It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”

    Entirely agreed. The rage animating all these forms of protest is justified and must be understood, maybe even before it is condemned.

    I’m glad a police officer has chimed in here in the discussion section as a reminder that the only way out of this mess, probably, is empathy all around…a willingness on behalf of all to listen and seek understanding. I’m troubled by people condemning “the police” in total (not happening here, but elsewhere in discussion), even as I understand the racist bent of certain tactics and procedures and worldviews many of them are asked to adopt. We could condemn the police en masse, but I’m certain that won’t do anything for the cause, except breed more fear and suspicion. We need to listen to the voices of officers. We need to acknowledge that we don’t have a clue what we’d really do if we were in their shoes. I have a hunch though…we’d probably do whatever we thought was necessary to protect our lives. I say that as one convinced both of the truth of Gospel non-violence and of my own overwhelming fearfulness.

    “But Rob,” you say, “this isn’t time to listen to the police…this is time to listen to the voices of the people.” I know…and in a perfect world, I agree. But this isn’t a perfect world. And the question, always, in the dance of reconciliation is “who will go first?” And it seems to me as I consider that question in the various relationships in my life so deeply in need of the same, the moment I maintain that “I’ve gone first long enough” is the moment true hope for something better floats out the window.

    I’m praying that those of us whose hearts God has stirred will forsake the idol of Fear and move forward in and through this with the love, courage, and power of God.

    1. TheKnowerseeker
      TheKnowerseeker August 20, 2014 at 11:44 AM |

      1. This isn’t Dr. King’s time, and the Reverend Doctor wouldn’t approve of your racist hatred for white people or the lack of education and cultivation of higher culture that most American blacks settle for today, falling back onto that manufactured ghetto/hip-hop “culture” of white hatred, no matter how much college they attend or how much money their affirmative action gets for them; the rare black American that doesn’t do this is a gleaming (black?) pearl in a sea of decay. (Remember that Dr. King was *highly* educated and *well* lettered.) Dr. King must be rolling over in his grave or crying in Heaven; he probably said to Jesus “You know I tried, Lord.”

      2. There is no excuse for black rioting in today’s politically correct, slanted-toward-blacks America. We’re not going to suddenly go back to Jim Crow if you stop acting like spoiled brats, because *we don’t want to*. The racism is squarely on “the black community’s” shoulders now; the few remaining white racists are sidelined by the rest of us, but black racists are front and center.

      3. You don’t have any empathy for white people, and what goes around comes around.

      4. “…racist bent of certain tactics and procedures and worldviews many of them are asked to adopt.” — You mean *cultural* displays of belligerence that police officers are trained to watch out for? Unlike race, culture can be good/neutral or evil, and ghetto/hip-hop culture is evil: It teaches its adherents to hate whites, hate law and order, hate education, hate hard work, hate women, and hate themselves. But it’s not just blacks who have bad cultures; a virtually identical culture among whites is “rouge”neck culture, and I have as little respect for them as for hip-hoppers, including white hip-hoppers.

      1. Rob
        Rob August 20, 2014 at 1:45 PM |

        Hey there,
        I’m sorry if my comment below (a response to which you called Dr. Cleveland an “Uncle Tom”) angered you. I’ll admit it. It was retaliatory, and ultimately a waste of words. I should have expected it to stir you up rather than leading toward some good end. Please forgive me.

        I don’t know who you are, nor where you come from, nor what your background and family history are. This is, of course, the major downside of the internet…humans sitting crouched at desks in isolation, enamored with the sudden sense of courage that comes from invisibility, and that leads, more often than not, to a deeper isolation. I’ve felt it, myself.

        I wish there was some way to overcome that in our interacting…to move toward the sort of trust and transparency required for real understanding. You know so little about me, and I of you…we could comment back and forth for days and still know next to nothing of the things that most deeply shape us. But that’s what’s needed the most, isn’t it? Especially when, as is clear between you and me, the fundamental convictions of our lives differ so wildly.

        But maybe they don’t. Maybe you and me are more similar than I imagine. You want to be happy. I want to be happy. You want to believe that when you leave the house today, you’ll be treated justly and fairly by those with whom you interact. We all want that. You want your experiences and emotions to be validated. So do I. You want your children, grandchildren, neighbor-kids to be safe. Me, too. So it might be we actually have some ground upon which to build.

        Of course, the major barrier that will likely keep such from happening is our own desire. And to overcome that lack of desire we need something or Someone to convince us that understanding – that working to move toward those we’ve kept at a distance – is actually a good use of our time…that it may actually be one of the most important things we could spend our time doing. No law can make us do this. No threat of punishment, no mandatory employee program, no internet comment-section boilerplate about “conducting ourselves with civility and understanding”. It has to be a conviction that grows up from within us, placed there, in my estimation, by the God of all creation.

        I’ll confess. I expect you to respond to this with some kind of dismissive comment (I did it to you, so I’m guilty of treading that road, as well!). But I hope you won’t. I hope you’ll recognize that the words you’ve chosen to speak in this forum bring a real and sincere mourning to many of the people who will read them…some of whom by now are thinking, “Rob, you should have just left it alone!” But I hope you’ll subvert my expectations. You’re a beloved, precious, valuable individual – just as you are. And I do pray God’s best for you. If that sounds sappy to you, please forgive me. At least take consolation in knowing that I actually believe it.

        If you feel compelled to communicate in a more direct fashion, please feel free to email me:


        1. TheKnowerseeker
          TheKnowerseeker August 20, 2014 at 2:48 PM |

          I appreciate your apology, but I’d appreciate it even more if you would actually read and consider the points I’ve made. If you’re a born-again Christian, a non-racist, that black *pearl* who is an individualist that doesn’t conform to the stereotype, then you should say so. (I work with several on the job.) But the “stereotype”, the *mold*, exists and perpetuates on justified grounds.

          1. Rob
            Rob August 20, 2014 at 4:27 PM |

            Thanks for your grace. I’ll try my best to respond to your points, admitting, however, that some of the language you used in your initial response is deeply offensive to me. I’ll try to set that aside for now, believing that you aren’t the kind of person who’s intentionally trying to harm others by their words.

            1. I’m honestly not entirely certain what your point is here. But it sounds like you’re concerned at what you perceive to be a culture of “white hatred” perpetuated in the black community. You know, I’m sure there are black folks who hate white folks (I admittedly assume, based on my own experience, that there are far fewer than you seem to think.) Is it possible, however, that you may be misinterpreting anger as hatred? Can someone be angry with another person, genuinely outraged at someone’s behavior and attitudes, and yet not be accused of “hating” them? I think so. To be honest, I think that your remarks sound quite angry…even outraged…at the black community…at me, even. Should I perceive hatred in your words? I’m going to guess that you’d be upset if I did. I can guess that you’d prefer me NOT to assume hatred where there is genuine anger, and instead to attempt to understand the source of your anger and outrage. That’s what Dr. King was saying in “his day”, and I believe he’d say it still today. Would he support what he perceived to be violent hatred manifested in violent action? I don’t think so. But I believe he’d encourage you and me and all of us to empathize with that anger and pain and even that “hatred” as an act of genuine Christian love.

            2. America is not “slanted toward blacks.” Sorry. That’s simply not true. There continue to exist MANY good reasons for racial minorities in this country to be angry…angry enough to riot. But you know what? There are also many good reasons for poor white folks in this country to be angry…angry enough to riot. One of the great tragedies that exists today is that people who are genuinely suffering often end up assuming that their main enemy is some other group that is also suffering. One of my favorite musical artist’s calls that “fighting over the same piece of mud pie.” Man, I get it. I’m in the trenches with poor white folks every day. We don’t need to belittle or demonize or write off the real suffering of others in order to draw attention to our own suffering. I understand that it feels that way sometimes, because we’re looking most often, for solutions and the things we think we “need”, to people in power…which never works because the main priority of those in power, ALWAYS, is the perpetuation of that power. If poor white folks are convinced that black folks are the problem, nothing good is going to happen for anyone.

            3. I think I have at least some, being a white person myself who lives and works and ministers in a community that is 94% white.

            4. I feel you, friend. Our cultural forms teach us lots of things that lead us away from the Kingdom way of Jesus. My own white Christian culture has taught me several very unhelpful habits of mind and action. What’s interesting to me is how strongly you speak here. You’ve undermined your real concerns by exaggerating to a level that’s actually deeply offensive, likely, to anyone who will read and consider your comments. The fruits of the Spirit, that reside in you as God’s good gift, should compel you to reconsider the broad, harsh brush I feel you’ve chosen to paint with in these comments. Do some forms of “hip hop” culture support unloving, unChristian behavior? Absolutely. You’d find a ready ear for your concerns in MANY members of the black community. That should surprise you, based on how I hear you speaking. What I”m feeling is that you’ve equated “blackness” with a very particular vision you have of what some black people might think and support, and in so doing have painted a caricature that would be utterly unrecognizable to most black folks (and most white folks, to be honest…it is to me, anyway). I realize you likely feel this caricature is justified. But I’m really praying you’ll consider that you may be assuming too much about people you don’t know…and that doing so isn’t helping you or anyone else get what they really want.


            1. TheKnowerseeker
              TheKnowerseeker August 21, 2014 at 9:16 AM |

              Rob, unless you’re simply delusional, there is only one way that you cannot understand the hatred for whites and the general negative culture among the “black community” at large, and that is if you grew up and continue to live sheltered from it. My white wife grew up that way: The only black Americans she knew were a minority attending her mostly white mega-church and some students attending her arts-magnet high school; after high school, she attended a Christian university where, once again, there were very few blacks. She used to get very upset at my views on black Americans’ attitudes in our early days together, just as you do now.

              *Then* we hit some hard times together, and we found ourselves on Medicaid and food stamps. She sure got a nice big eyeful and earful of the “black community” then (and witnessed firsthand Medicaid and food stamps fraud going on in the aid office). And as time has passed, as she has continued to have to deal more and more with both poor and middle-class black Americans, her view of them has stepped closer and closer to my own, and my view is based on nearly 40 years of living with “black America”. If you are living a sheltered life, then let me suggest that you stop commenting until that situation changes, and you’ve gotten some experience on the issue, and maybe you should stop voting too if you’re voting liberal on related issues, such as on attempts to repeal the racist “affirmative action”.

              Yes, I do hate: I hate attitudes, and I hate sin. I don’t hate people, but I will hate evil attitudes and desires that they might hold in their hearts, which can make me righteously angry with those people. I hate your dismissive attitude toward a very real problem in race relations today; I believe that it is the most prominent obstacle to reconciliation today, that of black American hatred for whites. So get real.

              Affirmative action, black-only scholarships, the acceptance by society of black-only churches (some of which preach hatred for whites, like the current President’s former church did), magazines, clubs, etc., the ignoring of black-on-white crime by the media but sensationalizing of white-on-black violence (crime or not), the criminal classification of “hate speech” in the only nation founded on free speech, the allowance of riots by the government instead of crackdowns if the riots are carried out by black Americans, the taboo status and retaliation (violence) given to any criticism of black Americans expressed in the public square (so that’s why I can only do it here without having to hold a loaded gun and later fear for my life and that of my family), “political correctness” overall strangling out the truth, etc., etc., etc. — Yes, America is slanted toward black people.

              There is one thing that I will agree with you on, and that is that the underlying problem and “war” in America is the class war, and the 99% are being “massacred” by the 1%. The Reverend Dr. King came to realize this just before he was assassinated (probably by our own plutocratic government). That’s why I try not to just hate all black people everywhere, despite what too many do to whites; I try to remember that it is an attitude ingrained by a culture of evil — the ghetto culture invented during or soon after the Jim Crow era — that is to blame, and if black Americans can just leave behind that evil, manufactured culture, then that will close up a great rift between us. By the way, I am a distributist.

              Finally, I don’t care if my words “sting”: The truth is often hard to swallow if one is not currently living *in* the truth. The Bible itself is full of hard to swallow truth and stinging words. One is free to either accept or reject the truth, but Christians believe that failure to accept the truth is proof to God that one is chaff, worthy of nothing but the Fire. (Matthew 3:12).

              1. Rob
                Rob August 21, 2014 at 11:00 AM |

                My dear brother (or sister, I honestly don’t know), I appreciate you sharing your experience. I pray God’s best for you as you continue to live out the call to discipleship that I’m certain both you and I take seriously. I hope you do it with a community of brothers and sisters you trust, and with whom you share mutual love and respect, and who challenge you – and you them – to live out the reconciling Call of Jesus with grace, humility, love, patience, self-control, and all the fruits of the Spirit. I pray that the anger and hatred you say you possess might be rightly directed, and ultimately lessened as you (and me) learn more fully to cast our cares on the Lord who cares for us…and everyone else.

                I wonder what it might look like for you and me to love these folks you’ve portrayed as enemies? To do good to them, to bless them, to pray for them. This is how Jesus says we ensure our identity as “children of God” (Lk. 6:35). I pray you and I will have the conviction and power required to love, do good, and lend to those whom we are most certain stand in this world as enemies.

                I pray, too, that whatever burdens you’re bearing, entirely unrelated to this stuff we’ve been discussing, would be lifted from you by the Lord and replaced with his peace and joy.

                Blessings to you in Jesus.

                1. TheKnowerseeker
                  TheKnowerseeker August 21, 2014 at 1:19 PM |

                  Nice cop-out (ha ha), but yes, I’m done talking about it too.

      2. Denise
        Denise August 20, 2014 at 2:17 PM |

        TheKnowerseeker, I think that your comments actually do reflect prejudice–prejudice meaning judging without knowing. You may have perceptions and experiences, but your comments reflect an opinion of “most blacks” that I think is more heavily influenced by media images than reality. It also presumes that what someone says they have experienced at the hands of another is fabricated, and it’s hard to tell how those who haven’t been there know whether someone is telling the truth or not about something that happened to them.

        The insistence on speaking about what “most blacks” are like (without actually knowing) coupled with denial of experiences that don’t fit your opinion of race relations in society, are main reasons that people might take issue with you regarding racial issues.

        Furthermore, when topics like this come up, a type of hypocrisy inevitably comes into play. Rioting is undeniably wrong, and yet I question whether many decrying the rioting here were doing the same for the dozens of riots over sports, drinking ban, etc. by white Americans & Canadians. I wonder if those talking about how badly this reflects on the character of blacks in Ferguson were saying the same about the hundreds of college students and sports fans who had even less of a reason to be angry. If this would be a truly “post-racial” society, then it needs to be post-racial in actuality, meaning that things are not treated differently depending upon the color of the person doing it.

        1. TheKnowerseeker
          TheKnowerseeker August 20, 2014 at 2:56 PM |

          Unless a white is well-to-do, s/he has lived among “most blacks” (in America) and well understands “most blacks” (in America). (I happen to have grown up poor but worked my tail off and am now a member of the middle class.) We don’t need the media! I think it’s “most blacks” who don’t understand “most whites”. Do you live under a rock or something?

          1. Denise
            Denise August 20, 2014 at 4:34 PM |

            Most people know who they have known and lived with, not those they have not. Extrapolating to “most blacks” from one’s limited experiences with specific black people is the foundation upon which prejudices build. It allows one to think that they do not have to judge individually, according to what each has done, but rather can extrapolate from that other black person they met once.

            Further, those who are in the minority often spend much of their time with those who are not of their race.

            1. TheKnowerseeker
              TheKnowerseeker August 21, 2014 at 8:22 AM |

              I have lived in six separate counties/parishes in the U.S. split between Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. The “black community” in each place has held the same general hatred toward whites, and black Americans I’ve met who do not hold to that hatred are few and far between; they are the gleaming “black pearls” that I mentioned earlier: rare and beautiful souls. About the media: When white people like me see the black hatred being presented on screen, it is simply a reaffirmation of what we’ve already experienced in our day-to-day lives. We don’t get that information “from the media”; it’s just a reaffirmation.

              On the upside, I’ve been surprised to find that the middle-class black Americans that I work with in my office today treat me with a lot of decency, respect, and even friendship as an individual that I didn’t ever expect to experience from black Americans, though I can still sense the hatred for whites in general simmering just beneath the surface, just waiting for an excuse to explode. (My wife and I have found that black people from other countries do not have this simmering hatred and are readily willing to befriend us without reservation.) Generally, the less they embrace ghetto/hip-hop culture, the better they treat me. But, is this a good sign for the future of race relations in America? I would like to think so, though maybe my workplace is just a little oasis….

              By the way, the media is reporting now that Michael Brown bashed the police officer’s face in before he was shot. You have got to stop rushing to the defense of thugs before you know all the facts.

              1. Denise
                Denise August 21, 2014 at 11:08 AM |

                Honesty, I’m going to simply call shenanigans on what you are saying. Actually being a black person who has lived all over the country, I find that in situations like this, many whites assume it is about them to a far greater degree than it actually is. There is generally not “simmering hatred” nor is that taught, nor do black people generally sit around talking about white people, badly or otherwise, though many assume that to be the case.

                Furthermore, what many do not understand is that “middle class, educated” black people that you praise are much more common than you think. However, they are dispersed throughout the US and are often only 1 of a handful in a majority white setting. You think they are the exception when they are not. You simply haven’t met enough.

                All citizens should be concerned about the fact that the US police force killed 5 times the number of people in 2012 than the UK, even adjusting for population. The killings are not necessary, and other wealthy, developed nations with diverse populations manage to avoid it. That black American men are disproportionately represented in this number (and they are) is a key part of the outrage.

                1. TheKnowerseeker
                  TheKnowerseeker August 21, 2014 at 1:18 PM |

                  I’m done talking about it too.

  21. Links to Think: 14.08.18
    Links to Think: 14.08.18 August 18, 2014 at 4:01 PM |

    […] “The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail” – News in recent months has reminded all of us how broken this world is. I’ve seen a variety of responses to the Ferguson tragedy, but I think it’s important for those who are in Christ to understand this perspective from which Christena Cleveland writes: […]

  22. Leigh Kramer
    Leigh Kramer August 18, 2014 at 6:14 PM |

    This is so powerful, Christena. Thank you.

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  26. TheKnowerseeker
    TheKnowerseeker August 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM |

    Christena Cleveland, you are an Uncle Tom for black racists. No thank you.

    1. Rob
      Rob August 20, 2014 at 11:16 AM |

      Hey TheKnowerseeker, I think you’d be better served by switching up your screenname (and hopefully the convictions behind it) to TheSeekerknower. You’d benefit a whole lot more from such a transformation, I think. Peace.

      1. TheKnowerseeker
        TheKnowerseeker August 20, 2014 at 11:19 AM |

        Hey Rob, I don’t think I have to say where you can go. “Peace” yourself.

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  30. Margaret
    Margaret August 21, 2014 at 12:17 AM |

    Loved this. Thank you!

  31. Dan
    Dan August 21, 2014 at 8:54 AM |

    THANK YOU for this piece! Being white, I try to understand and see the harsh realities around me, asking the Spirit to give me a sense of what is going on. I remember riding the bus one day in downtown Minneapolis and as we passed in front of the Public Library I looked out and saw 8-10 Minneapolis police surrounding an almost passed out Native American. He could have been drunk. I’m thinking, “REALLY? It’s takes 8-10 police to handle this?”

    As I was observing this, I began to hear the murmurs on the bus. People saw the scene and began to say a bit louder, “Yep. Just like that. All the time.”

    I could feel that rage. And my heart was broken. I am so heartbroken in this day, longing to be some sort of agent for healing, if that is possible. I want to be a “blessed” peacemaker.


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  40. rob
    rob August 24, 2014 at 6:45 PM |

    Is one disqualified from their perspective simply because they have not experienced the same experiential perspective?

    The question seems to be one of “accurate empathy”
    Miller and Rollnick state that

    We don’t mean sympathy, a feeling of pity for or comraderie with another person. neither do we mean identification: “I’ve been there and I know what your experiencing, let me tell you my story.” Those may or may not be present, but empathiy is an ability to understand another’s frame of reference and the conviction that it is worthwhile to do so. … It is to “sense ˆsomeones inner world of personal meanings as if it were your own, but without ever losing the ‘as if quality’… (emphasis mine)…

    But to simply dismiss someone.. because they haven’t “been there” just seems crazy to me. and really in this virtual format, No one really knows in depth what anyone has or has not gone through.

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  53. Pam
    Pam August 29, 2014 at 11:51 AM |

    YES!!!!!! Thank so much to Christena Cleveland for writing this important piece!!! I was in Ferguson last week, the Imago Dei is so evident in the protestors for those with eyes to see. They evidence the message of the Gospel –that there is a Force more powerful, more lasting, and more beautiful — than the force of the empire. What I saw in their eyes was determination and JOY, even in the midst of the righteous rage they feel. They are free already, just as Christ was free as he went to the cross.

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