Through a quirk of fate, I am tasked with writing the piece that posts on Spectrum on Thanksgiving. I am sure that I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy Thanksgiving. It is by far my favorite holiday of the year. Not only does it have the best food, but for me, this holiday is the one that I most closely connect with the concept of family. I have vivid memories of my childhood and teenage years, when the family would descend on my house like a swarm and we would spend the day laughing and eating and watching football. I take solace in the fact that my parents don’t live far away from my budding family even now, and so we make the drive almost every year to spend this time with my parents. These next few days will be a joy for me, and Thanksgiving is one of those rare moments when we all share the same space for a while. I absolutely love it.
Yet as good as I feel about my blood family at this time of year, I find myself distressed about my spiritual family. Both in real life and online, I have found my church’s response to the racially-tinged events of the past couple of years to be sorely lacking. More than a few of my posts in this space over the last few years focused on racial issues. This is not because I’m seeking to fulfill the stereotype of the “angry Black man” or because I have some great desire to overly fixate on race. I wrote because I wanted my family to know what it felt like to experience these things. I wanted to give a sense of what thoughts exist when these events happen and why the pain and suffering feels so real even when the people most directly affected are not tied to me by blood.
These unjustified deaths of Black men and women affect me so viscerally because of the fictive kinship I feel with each victim. So many Black people see each other as family. I think we create these bonds for a couple of reasons. Because Black people are in the minority, the bonds of family that we create in social spaces exist simply for commonality, comfort, and caring. We want to look out for each other because we share the similar experience of being Black in this society. But I think fictive kinship amongst Black people goes a little further than just that. The legacy of slavery means that Black people from across the diaspora do not know the extent of their family. Therefore, there is fictive kinship amongst many Black people because in an unconscious way we realize that we might actually be related and that slavery and racism stripped the knowledge of that relation from us. This understanding makes every Black person my brother, sister, uncle, aunt, or cousin.
But the fictive kinship I feel with each Christian (and especially with each Adventist) is just as real and important to me as the relational feeling I have for other Black people. The familial bond that I have with each follower of Christ is also based in blood. We treat this bond as real, too. We call each other brother and sister, at least partially, in recognition of the truth that every believer in Christ is family. I take that reality and the pursuant title seriously. Calling me brother means I have the responsibility to each member of the family to treat them as I would want to be treated and to always remember that we are family under the auspices of Christ first. What has shocked me most about some of the responses to my pieces the last couple of years is not that people disagreed. I expect that. What has shocked me is how unloving the criticism has been. I continue to be amazed at how many of these types of responses lacked compassion.
My prayer this Thanksgiving is that we see the family that extends beyond the dinner tables so many of us will sit around today. I pray that the Friend that sticks closer than a brother may cause us to treat each other like the family His sacrifice allowed us to be.
By racially-tinged events I mean the rash of African-Americans shot by the police, the election of Trump, and the rise of the alt-right, specifically the riot in Charlottesville, to name a few.
Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. My official research interest is religious liberty, and I would prefer to focus on that.
As an aside, this point always hits me whenever I watch Black people in ancestry.com commercials.
Both of me and the deceased.
For example, one person in a private message accused me of seeking pity when I mentioned the idea of compassion. Another person, after explaining to me that you can’t have a good relationship with Christ if you have a criminal record, told me that he wasn’t concerned for any of the victims because they were not Christians.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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