Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
Eminem, aka Slim Shady, aka Marshall Mathers, performed an a cappella diss to the President for the BET Awards. His performance rivaled that of his infamous beef with the Ja Rule/Murder Inc. Records camp. If you’ve never heard of it, just trust that it was a hip-hop showdown of epic proportions (imagine some of the more intense scenes in the hit movie 8 Mile).
Eminem always presents a heartfelt intensity in his lyrics and performances. He rarely (if ever) minces words for what’s on his heart and mind. And he is unapologetic about his convictions.
So it was not shocking to see the real Slim Shady delivering lyrical body blows on camera. What was shocking was seeing and hearing him direct his anger and frustration at the executive office of the United States.My white Christian brothers and sisters can learn how to fight injustice from Eminem’s performance.
This is not a new phenomenon. Michael Jackson, Public Enemy, NWA, and Nina Simone have all penned songs that communicated their frustrations with the government’s inaction and injustice.
But Eminem’s a cappella freestyle—titled “The Storm”—was unique for its ability to broadly capture his passions, frustrations, and the innate awareness of his race to communicate his hope. The vulgarities in his freestyle expressed what many African Americans feel. His tone commanded everyone’s attention. And his body language kept the listener engaged, questioning and anticipating every movement for what he would say next.
While I do not condone willfully disrespecting governments nor governmental figures, white people—particularly my white Christian brothers and sisters—can learn how to fight injustice from Eminem’s performance.
First of all, don’t be afraid to say something. The inability and unwillingness to speak is translated as compliance and agreement with the divisive and hurtful comments, legislation, and actions of our historically unjust culture.
If you’re truly for truth and against all injustices, be salt and speak out. This doesn’t mean you should record a diss verse to the President, but it could mean voicing your displeasure with covert racist speech while chatting at the office around the printer. It could mean educating neighbors when they make broad accusatory comments about a whole race of people.
Perhaps you aren’t sure what you should say. Access to the Internet remedies that—you can start by following minority activists on social media. Check out leaders like Jamar Tisby, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ava DuVernay, Ekemini Uwan, or Shaun King. Maybe you won’t agree with everything they say, but perhaps you can stand with them where you do agree. Maybe you’ll repost and retweet some of their words to let your followers know where you stand. This is not an ideal place to stay, but it is a safe place to start. Whatever level it may be, start talking about justice and truth.
Eminem didn’t have to speak out. He didn’t have to align himself with anyone or any group of people. He still would have gone down as one of the greatest emcees in hip-hop history, by African American and white American standards. The safe choice for Slim Shady would have been to remain visibly invisible.
But Em doesn’t ignore the facts of the pervasive injustices of his culture. He understands the people who hold the most power in the United States share his skin color. He also recognizes that many of his fans look like him. But he dives into the waters of discomfort and challenges his fans to choose a side (and challenge is probably an understatement).
I can understand how it would be more comfortable to stay quiet rather than make your position on topics of social inequality known. I get how much easier it is to ignore history than to invest your spare time in research and getting to know the real stories of Christian and non-Christian African Americans. It would be nice to not have to think about race because my race was dominant. But it would only be a fantasy to ignore the sins of our heritage. Those sins really do exist. Sin is not contained to a fixed point in time—it indirectly effects all of us even today.
But the comforts of race are not earned. It is not an achievement. It is not an accident. You were born to your parents, in this country, at this time for a reason. Your race is a gift. My race is a gift. We are called to use the distinctions of our complexions as a means to glorify God.
White Christians are part of “white evangelicalism” whether they like it or not. How you speak and act about racial inequality within that category has large implications. Just trying to disassociate from the label is not bringing about the redemption that’s needed.
Eminem realizes this, although he’s not coming at it from a Christian angle. But he is willing to lose fans and support to usher in a greater thing. He is willing to suffer and identify with the weak and victimized. Do you know anyone else who was willing to do something similarly? (Check out Isaiah 53:4–5.)
While Eminem performed his diss to the President, a group of African American men silhouetted his background. This symbol communicated who he stands with and who he’s speaking for.
Their presence signified their willingness to give Eminem the floor so he could speak up for them. Em earned that right to speak. He did not use the platform to tell the men behind him how they should feel. He spoke for and with them.
African Americans get weary of having to constantly defend our motivations for why we all should be treated equally. There are constant attempts to turn the conversation of economic and racial inequality and injustice into conversations of disrespect of country, flag, and military. We need clear conversations of the real issues at hand without deflection. Christians can lead the way in this. When white evangelicals are unafraid to choose the side of justice and mercy, it helps narrow the unnecessarily wide scope of the conversation of civil injustice.
So if white brothers and sisters are inserting themselves in uncomfortable conversations and speaking up with and for African Americans, it relieves the wearisome burden of constantly having to defend. To do this is to fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
It’s hard to ally with people you don’t know very well. Get to know the stories of African Americans through the lens of our history. Seek out and listen to the stories of those presently marginalized. Spend more than a couple minutes after service talking to the black guy at church. Text, meet, email, and have genuine conversation with people to know them as fully. And listen to their heart. Ask for ways you can ally with us—then ally with us.
Eminem’s diss verse should make you question the level of your own passion against injustice. You should question if you have a real passion against these injustices, which are sins against God. If you aren’t grieved and passionate, ask God to soften your heart to match His.
This matters because your passion about injustice is not merely a private matter of the heart. It is directly linked to how you treat others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For this is the law and the prophets.
There is a horrendous inability in America—and within the American church—to sympathize with the weaknesses of one another. There was much in Eminem’s verse that resonated with me. I felt his emotions. I felt his frustrations. He gave a voice to my emotions in ways I could not previously communicate without disbanding my circle of Christian white brothers and sisters. His heart was passionate and obvious.
Unfortunately, there are only two white people I know personally that share a similar passion for what burdens my soul as an African American—and I attend a predominately white evangelical church. We need more passionate hearts like Em’s in our churches.
Eminem’s performance won’t be a bumper video for any pastor’s sermon on “racial reconciliation” this weekend, but it can challenge our definitions of Christian mercy, justice, and grace. It can help white evangelicals question the domineering effects of their culture. And it can help us develop a picture of how we should vigorously pursue unity with passion and truth.
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