Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt, Free for CAPC Members
In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wants to help every believer speak the gospel in the stuff of everyday life.
Several weeks ago, I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and stumbled upon a two-minute video featuring Hiram and Felicita, an African-American couple who have been married for fifteen years. They were one of seven couples featured in Hallmark’s 2015 Valentine’s Day campaign entitled, “Put Your Heart to Paper.” Hallmark challenged each couple to “go beyond ‘I love you’” and express what their significant other means to them without uttering those three words. Hallmark would sit the couple down and showed each what the other had to say. I was intrigued and wildly unprepared for the tsunami of emotions that ensued as I watched them articulate the depth of their love for each other. I watched other couples—Bob and Kim, Carlos and Gaby, and Rob and Kristen—who were equally moving and nearly sent me into an emotional paralysis; but Hiram and Felicita’s image remains salient in my mind. Why? What was it about their story that moved me in such a delightfully unexpected way?
#BlackLoveMatters reminds us of what is good, beautiful, and praise-worthy in this fallen world.Recently, I reflected upon the events concerning the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has successfully brought the issue of police brutality to the fore. The #BlackLivesMatter movement addresses unmitigated aggression against black bodies at the hands of the police, leaving the lives of countless black men, women, and children snuffed out. The movement is like a mirror, reflecting the hate that lies within the heart. Hate is a wicked master; it not only victimizes the victim, but also the victimizer, distorting human identity beyond recognition. On the other hand, #BlackLoveMatters, a movement I’d like to introduce, reminds us of what is good, beautiful, and praise-worthy in this fallen world. Love is a gentle master; it keeps no record of wrong, and it seeks the good of the other person above one’s own.
On the surface, #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackLoveMatters could not be more diametrically opposed, but if you delve deeper, you will see that the two converge on the ground of humanity and dignity, which are firmly rooted in the imago Dei. Hate expressing itself in the form of racism and prejudice threatens to erase black humanity, dignity, and personhood, whereas black love celebrates the divinely endowed blessings. Hiram and Felicita gave full expression to our humanity and dignity. They reminded me of what is at stake if the status quo remains—that is why their commercial left an indelible impression on me. For the first time in a long time, I saw black dignity and humanity displayed on television.
In the span of two minutes, I was reminded of the significance of emphasizing love in the black community. It matters for our humanity and dignity. That is not to say that Asian love , Hispanic love, Caucasian love, and interracial love do not matter—they most certainly do—but Hiram and Felicita reminded me of the need to affirm and celebrate “black love,” because it is rarely seen in the media. Moreover, its depiction is often mischaracterized by gross exaggerations, which render black love unrecognizable.
It is no secret that African-Americans have had to fight “tooth and nail” for their God-given humanity, dignity, and rights in this country. From slavery to Jim Crow, from Jim Crow to police brutality, there is a heaviness that weighs on the hearts of many within our community, a burden which demands that we cry out, eerily echoing the questions of our ancestors in the not-so-distant past saying, “Ain’t I a man?” and “Ain’t I a woman?” Sadly, if we are left to find the answer to those questions within ourselves, we are to be pitied, because a self-referential understanding of our identities is not knowledge, but an illusion. True “knowledge of self” finds its ultimate meaning and significance in the One True God in whose image and likeness we were created.
Now more than ever, I find myself contemplating the indignities we so often suffer in silence, the indignities that go unnoticed by those who inflict them and by those of us who experience them, because enduring varying degrees of indignities has become our way of life—it is the air we breathe. I have given much thought to the broad paintbrush the media uses to paint men and women in our community. Their color of choice: aggression, because to depict us as the multifaceted, dynamic image-bearers we are would humanize us and heap guilt upon the consciences of those who treat us as less than who God created us to be. The indignities we have suffered in our past and present seek to strip us of our God-given humanity, with the intent that we imbibe the dehumanizing messages spoon-fed to us. Lies from the pit of hell seek to exalt themselves above the knowledge of Christ and are meant to keep us bound, silent, and complacent. As image-bearers, we can do no such thing—silence is not an option.
While the Civil Rights Movement did much to restore our dignity, humanity, and equality in this country, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has revealed that there is significant work left to be done. The negative images proliferated about our people through various media platforms such as newspapers, magazines, films, radio, etc. have contributed to the degradation of our dignity, reinforcing the ideas that we are sub-human and unworthy of respect. This ongoing battle in the media has been characterized by wins and losses. As with all wars, innocent victims get caught in the crosshairs of enemy fire, and with the onslaught of reality television, black love has been killed in the media, execution style. Stereotypes which portray black men as criminals, womanizers, dead-beat fathers, and black women as angry gold diggers, enslaved to sexual passions—these perpetuate anti-black sentiment from outside our community, and within, which inevitably pits black men and women against one another.
Perception becomes reality. Television images are powerful tools that shape the way we view ourselves and people of different races. The reality is that there are many people who have never met a black person, much less befriended one. All they know about our people is what they have seen on television. That is why Heathcliff and Claire mattered so very much to us; that is why we cheered when Whitley and Dwayne got married, and why Barack and Michelle Obama have a special place in our hearts, irrespective of our political allegiances. For many, positive portrayals of African-Americans may be the only way that people outside of our community will learn we too are image-bearers, endowed with dignity, capable and worthy of receiving and giving love just as others are. We, too, are human. Hiram and Felicita remind the nation of our dignity and humanity.
The imago Dei is inextricably linked to black dignity and humanity; it is the only ground upon which we make an appeal for black dignity and humanity; any other foundation will inevitably crumble, because only the transcendent One can impute significance to black love. Hiram and Felicita’s love would mean nothing if it had no ultimate referent, which is God. Christ is what gives black love significance. He is love, and it is because He first loved us that we are even able to love. God is inviting us to change our perception, so that black people are seen as the image-bearers we truly are. The little black girl in East Oakland needs to see that black love is real. The teenage black boy living in the suburbs of Los Angeles needs to see that black love is alive and well. I need to see that black love is still possible. I am, you are, we are, #WhyBlackLoveMatters.
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