My Black Body Is Made in the Image of God

The last twenty-four hours have been immensely painful and frustrating for me. I, along with millions of Americans, have been mourning the slaying of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. In the case of Sterling, videos show him being tasered, tackled to the ground, and ultimately shot multiple times, despite never posing a threat to the lives of the officers. In all honesty, I grow weary of these shootings. The list of black males who have been killed by the same officers who took an oath to protect and serve them continues to grow. I often have recurring thoughts that I may end up on the list.

As a black person in America, it is increasingly evident that I have no other choice but to view the police as an organized gang, sanctioned by the government. I honestly couldn’t tell you what would scare me more—being surrounded by the boys in blue or the Crips in blue. This is not to say that all police officers are criminals, but it is to say that, as a black man, when confronted by a police officer, I cannot assume under any circumstances that this officer will honor my life and respect the God whose image it bears by not seeking to hurt or kill me. It saddens me to say this, but it is true.

Admittedly, some part of me wants to clock out and cowardly disengage from the now all too frequent reports of police misconduct. Why, you ask? Because the problem of police brutality is complex, and solving it requires the ones who have all the power—the politicians, the judicial system, the police departments, and the officers themselves—to admit that there is even a problem in the first place. And the powers that be have, by their action, refused to acknowledge the problem. So with each officer’s acquittal, with each grand jury decision not to even bring an indictment, I lose a little hope for a brighter day. The temptation to throw my hands up in hopeless despair is at an all-time high.

My frustration is compounded as I listen to the same old tired excuses recycled by white conservatives to implicitly justify Sterling’s execution. They exclaim, “Oh, well why did he resist arrest?” “Why did he have a gun on him?” “He’s a convicted felon; he’s no saint.” It seems to me that no person in America gets a more thorough background check than a slain black man at the hands of law enforcement. If a black victim of police aggression once got detention in elementary school for skipping class, conservative media outlets will report it in order to portray him as a thug deserving of death. In the eyes of some whites, a black person who once committed a crime is no longer worthy of having their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected. There is no chance for repentance; no chance for personal redemption—only the lingering assumption of guilt that can at any point justify his unlawful death.

I grow weary.

Sadly, as I observe some of my white brethren in the church—the ones who, unlike the world, know the Lord and His commands—I find even more of a reason for discouragement. Regarding race relations and police brutality, many church leaders and laymen alike range from racist to, at best, apathetic disengagement, choosing instead to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement without even asking if the movement raises any legitimate issues concerning the treatment of black people at the hands of police.

Therefore, I am of the opinion that the church is in need of another major Reformation, not one centered on the doctrine of Justification, but one centered on the doctrine that all people have been created in the image and likeness of God. We need a new generation filled with leaders who are willing to nail ninety-five theses to the doors of churches all over America, demanding that we have conversations exploring how we can expound and propagate this truth until it becomes embedded into the very fabric of all of our churches and, by God’s grace, the culture at large. Because all human life must be honored. Should the Lord bring this to pass, we will then create a culture that recognizes black persons as sacred. Until black bodies are recognized as possessing the same image of God as white bodies, the problem of police brutality will continue.

Bryant Parsons

Bryant Parsons is a proud New Yorker. He is a Christian Union Ministry Fellow at Columbia University. Bryant holds an M.Div from Westminster Theological Seminary. His topics of interest are issues involving systematic theology, apologetics, and Christian engagement with culture. His desire is to see the church in the American context be well-informed, winsome advocates of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5 thoughts on “My Black Body Is Made in the Image of God

  • July 7, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Gotta say it: I find it peculiar how so much of this discussion originates from Protestants. Rarely do I hear about poor race relations amongst Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

  • July 7, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Hey man, I’m deeply saddened by what is going on right now. And to be honest, this whole issue of police brutality has been weighing heavy on my heart for a bit.

    Reading through your post, I was wondering if there is something that must be attached to this reformation of humans as made in the image of God (which I agree whole heartedly with by the way, a devaluing of human life as been happening within America for quite some time, it’s just that now things like social media are putting it front and center). Speaking specifically for Christians, of any color, do we need to have a renaissance of a theology of suffering? I would say that historically African Americans have always suffered in the U.S., though white people do not like acknowledging this. But instead of standing there mistrusting the police and recording their every move, should our response as Christians be one to go and defend our African American brothers and sisters when their lives may be on the line knowing full well we may lose ours.

    Is it possible that this could be one of the greatest signs of love to show a broken and dying world? No doubt we should fight for justice but we’re fooling ourselves to think police or anyone else will stop murdering people. You think far to well of the human heart if you think it will stop apart from Christ.

    Western Christianity (apart from African Americans) has not really had to wrestle with a theology of suffering. So I could be off here, but I’m trying to figure it out.

    My prayers are with brother.

  • July 7, 2016 at 11:24 am

    AMEN! Well said. Things HAVE to change. It is as if they are using young black men as target practice…..& nothing is being done about it.

  • July 7, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Appreciate your post and candid thoughts. Your analysis that solving this problem is complex is so spot on. A part of me wants to give up and disengage. The beauty of the gospel and the body of Christ is that as Christians, we can and should bridge these racial divides and prejudices.

    It seems like God is slowly withholding his common grace from us and our country. Makes me long and yearn for our eternal hope to arrive sooner.

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