“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So,
because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
--Revelation 3:15-16 NRSV
I’m a diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan, and I should be over the moon today. 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year and pro football is back! The Chiefs win in the Super Bowl this year hadn’t happened for fifty years, and it feels like fifty years since this year’s Super Bowl parade due to this pandemic. I am thrilled the Chiefs stomped the Texans last night, but all I can think about are the boos before the game.
Stop and consider for a moment that KC Chiefs fans in Arrowhead stadium last night mere minutes after the Super Bowl Champions banner was unveiled booed their own team before the game even started. The Chiefs haven’t won a Super Bowl in fifty years, and they haven’t had a quarterback this good since Lem Dawson, yet their fans booed them before they even played a down. Why?
The boos began after grammy award winning musician Alica Keyes sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before the game. The song is often called “the Black national anthem” and has been a standard in the Civil Rights Movement. Here is the final verse of this amazing hymn:
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Just think about it. These words were booed on national TV last night!
After the national anthem, players from both teams came out to the middle of the field where many locked arms. On the scoreboard seven messages picked by the players appeared:
We support equality.
We must end racism.
We believe in justice for all.
We must end police brutality.
We choose unconditional love.
It takes all of us.
We believe Black lives matter.
Just think about it. These words were booed on national TV last night!
Not all of the approximately sixteen thousand fans in attendance booed, but enough did to be heard loud and clear on the broadcast. After the game, players said they couldn’t hear it on the field, but you have to wonder if that was true or a careful PR move. The announcers failed to mention the boos and continued throughout the broadcast to speak of the players’ work for “social justice” and “charity” never once using the word “racism” that I heard. Nonetheless, the boos happened and everyone heard them.
Some perhaps will say they booed because the NFL protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag. Yet, last night only one player kneeled during the anthem and you couldn’t hear the boos then. You could hear the boos loud and clear after “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the “moment of unity” when the national anthem was not playing and the American flag was not the focus. Besides, NFL players have clearly stated that when they take a knee during the anthem they are doing so for the same reason they take a knee during the game because a teammate is down and hurting. They have expanded the idea of who a team mate is to include black men and women unfairly treated by our legal system. Yet, that explanation has never mattered to their critics. Last night, the boos didn’t even come during the national anthem. It was only about race.
Some will perhaps say they booed, because “Black Lives Matter” is anti-police. Yet BLM protestors and leaders--all but the a few who are most extreme--have been clear they are against police policies and only certain police who treat Black people worse than white people. Those explanations have not mattered to their critics. I believe these explanations are ignored because of racism.
Some will perhaps say they booed, because “Black Lives Matter” is a Marxist movement. Yet BLM protestors have overwhelmingly not identified as Marxist--again only a few who are most extreme take that label. It’s a slanderous accusation, but critics of BLM say it anyway. I believe they do so because of racism.
Some will perhaps say they booed, because “Black Lives Matter” causes riots. Overwhelmingly BLM protests have been peaceful, without violence and without property damage. It’s a normal practice of media to treat looting and burning as news while ignoring peaceful protests. BLM leaders have denounced violence and property damage--again only a few who are most extreme justify such actions. Yet, those denunciations don’t matter to critics of BLM. I believe that is because of racism.
Some will perhaps say they booed because “All Lives Matter” not just “Black Lives Matter.” From its beginning, BLM has made clear they are not saying Black lives matter more than white lives, rather continuing white supremacy and white privilege values Black lives as less than white ones. The message they hear from white America is “Black lives do not matter.” I like the message some BLM supporters use which says, “All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter too.” Misunderstanding this message at this point in 2020 amounts to willful ignorance. Critics of BLM continue to ignore this clear message. I believe the reason for this ignorance is racism.
In sum, any who wish to deny the reality of systemic racism in America must explain the boos broadcast to the world by Kansas City Chiefs fans last night. There is no good explanation other than racism.
Perhaps you dear reader are wondering why I a white minister would write these words to a majority white church where I am only the interim minister. Why would I send it out in an email? Why would I post it online on social media? Here’s why.
Over fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was accused by white critics of being Marxist, of causing violence and riots, of breaking “law and order,” of disrespecting America and its flag, of disrespecting law enforcement, and so on. One of his most eloquent writings is “A Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in which MLK, Jr. responds to white moderate clergy who say he is causing too much trouble. His response is a resounding criticism of white people who say they support equality for all people but do not want protests. In one of his most damning paragraphs, he writes the following:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
He wrote those words 57 years ago and they resound today. Every white Christian in America who claims to love her or his neighbor should be outraged at the boos at last night’s Chiefs game. Yet, most will merely shrug and many will be glad they occurred.
The only difference between our time and MLK, Jr.’s time is that the white church still had cultural influence. Today our children and grandchildren have left the churches they were raised in en masse. One of the leading reasons for this exodus is the recognition of hypocrisy on the part of the church when it comes to race. They see it for what it is--one cannot claim to love one’s neighbor and remain moderate when it comes to racism, much less remain racist. So they have left.
As a white male clergyman, I confess having done far too little to combat racism. My learning curve has been steep and painful when it comes to racism inhabiting all areas of our culture. What drives me to do more and not keep my mouth shut is that I must face my children and grandchildren. As they learn the extent of racism in America they have already begun asking, “What did you do to change things for the better?” My prayer is that MLK, Jr.’s ever-relevant words will not apply to me: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
Grace and Peace,
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851