Posts Tagged protest

The Autumn of Our Discontent – Rev. Matt Sapp* – Heritage Fellowship Baptist Church

Now is the autumn of our discontent. On this second day of fall, Colin Kaepernick and countless other athletes are kneeling during the national anthem. More African-Americans have inexplicably been killed by police bullets. Bombs are going off in New York City. And protests are disrupting life in Charlotte and have at times turned violent.

As bombs go off in New York we’re forced again to grapple with challenging conversations surrounding Muslims and immigrants. And, sadly, much of the political and religious rhetoric surrounding all of the events of the last week betrays an unsettling level of prejudice and seems specifically calculated to prey upon our fears.

US Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents a portion of the Charlotte community, said that the protesters there are angry not over the hard to explain death of another black man, but because they “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”

This week of unrest follows a bit of a lull that may have allowed us to forget police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, and the tragic targeting of police officers in Dallas just a few months ago. But now we are reminded.

And, this week happens in a context where it’s somehow become controversial to acknowledge that African-Americans continue to face daily obstacles and challenges that the rest of us don’t—controversial to acknowledge that prejudice is real and that the legacy of racism persists in every corner of our nation. But unfolding events seem to be removing any doubt.

So what are we to do? How do we act in this climate? Do we kneel or stand? Do we march in protest or stay home? Do we wade into political waters or stay silent? Those aren’t “one size fits all” questions. Those are decisions we each need to make for ourselves.

But there is one thing that’s true for all of us. Whether we kneel or stand before the American flag pales in importance to whether we’re willing to kneel before the throne of God—and not just to ask for guidance in challenging times, but to beg for forgiveness for the roles we have played in getting us to this point in our national history.

Forgiveness for our own prejudices. Forgiveness for giving in to our own fears. Forgiveness for feeding divisiveness. Forgiveness as white American Christians for our indifference to the needs of our more vulnerable brothers and sisters of differing races, religions and ethnicities.

I’m reminded this week of how important it is to model holiness, health and wholeness in our communities. So I hope that some of the things we’re doing at HERITAGE right now will help us as we seek to be faithful Christians in this unusual American climate.

I hope REST on Wednesday nights is helping us to be holy. I hope it’s helping us to listen for and recognize the real voice of God, so that when someone tells you that the voice of God is heard in terrorizing bomb blasts or the hateful rhetoric that inevitably follows, you can say, “No, you’re wrong. I spent some time with God last Wednesday, and that’s not what God sounds like.”

I hope that our HERITAGE Home Groups are helping us to form healthy relationships that encourage us to stand together to reject division, hatred and fear—relationships that encourage us to see that in our common humanity there is far more that unites us than divides us.

And, I hope that in our HERITAGE Home Groups we are forming healthy relationships with the larger purpose of building whole communities together.

We are a divided nation. Our communities are fractured across so many lines it’s hard to see a productive way forward. As we watch that fracturedness play itself out in hateful political rhetoric and kneeling football players, in bomb blasts and the religious divisiveness that follows, in the misfired guns of police officers and the misguided actions of protesters, we have a responsibility to represent something different–to model and embody some sense of wholeness.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to speak across the fracturedness to remind our neighbors that we need each other and to point through all the clutter to the true nature of God.

Holy. Healthy. Whole. Is that seared into your memory yet? At HERITAGE we seek to be HOLY individuals who are forming HEALTHY relationships to build WHOLE communities together. Our community needs us to model holiness, health and wholeness now more than ever.

Thank you for your partnership in that journey.

“Rev. Matt Sapp is pastor of Heritage Fellowship Baptist Church, Canton, GA.


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Why the Music Matters – Robert F. Darden – Baylor University

Darden Photos 585 (1)In the course of the research for my two-volume book on the importance of black sacred music on the civil rights movement, I learned a lot. I mean, a lot. I learned how essential the spirituals were to African-American slaves yearning to be free.

I learned how essential the freedom songs – which were, for the most part, based on the spirituals – were to African Americans yearning for their full rights as American citizens during the civil rights movement.

And I learned how essential the spirituals and freedom songs are to not just African Americans but all of the world’s citizens in the 21st century.

Perhaps you knew that songs like “We Shall Overcome” were sung during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the short-lived rebellion that culminated in Tiananmen Square. But did you also know they were sung in the Arab Spring, in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution and in the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Charleston, Orlando, Dallas and a dozen more beside?

These songs are still being sung.


Certainly my research and interviews showed that a significant reason for their continued use is that the spirituals and freedom songs were based on words of faith. During the darkest days for African Americans in this country, the one place they could find shelter, solace, inspiration and hope was the black church. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the movement relied on African American churches in every movement city and operation. Without the financial support of the black church, without the volunteers, and without the spiritual foundation of faith, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would have struggled mightily.

These songs – “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Freedom,” “Up Above My Head, I Hear Freedom in the Air,” “We Shall Not be Moved” and a thousand more – were bathed in the blood of martyrs, honed through hard experience, and transformed in the faith of every marcher, every protester, every prisoner of conscience.

But I learned something else about my decade’s long immersion in the spirituals and freedom songs – what I call the protest spirituals. The civil rights movement’s moral power was wedded to the principle of non-violence. Perhaps it is best articulated in this quote from one of King’s sermons in 1967: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.” It was a holy principle grounded in Jesus’ abhorrence of violence as detailed throughout the New Testament.

For that belief to work, then the music that provided the fuel that drove the engine of the movement, as one of my interviewees told, had to be equally potent … and non-violent.

And the protest spirituals were just that. None of the roughly six thousand known spirituals espouses revenge, anger, hatred or recrimination, even during the worst days of slavery. Legendary African American composer John Wesley Work worked extensively with the spirituals. This is a quote from his book Folk Song of the American Negro, published in 1915: “Another characteristic of the Negro song is, as has been stated before, that it has no expression of hatred or revenge. If these songs taught no other truths save this, they would be invaluable. That a race which had suffered and toiled as the Negro had, could find no expression for bitterness and hatred, yes, could positively love, is strong evidence that it possesses a clear comprehension of the great force in life, and that it must have had experience in the fundamentals of Christianity.”

Work then concludes his essay with an extraordinary line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s beautiful Sea Dreams: “One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven.”

The spirituals and freedom songs, at their best, are songs of love, convicting those who hear them. Angry songs calling for vengeance simply have not worked, nor have they endured. That’s why the protest spirituals, particularly “We Shall Overcome,” are still cherished, still sung today not just by African Americans, but all people striving for freedom and justice the world over.

One final thought: “We Shall Overcome” is the lone freedom song that is always sung with the singers joining hands, arms crossed. You can’t cause much damage with your arms crossed and your hands linked. All you can do is sing and, in your singing, testify to the life-changing power and grace of the risen Christ who disavowed violence. And whose only weapon was love.

Robert F. Darden is a Professor of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor University. He is the author of more than two dozen books, most recently Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume I: Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement (Penn State University Press, 2014) and Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume II: Black Sacred Music from Sit-Ins to Resurrection City (Penn State University Press, September 2016).

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