by Pastor Leon Scoggins
No justice, no peace! These are the words that are filling streets around the world. This is a cry out from a people who are fed up.
They are fed up with Black people being murdered at the hands of white officers with justice nowhere in sight. As a young Black man in America, I am disgusted to think that your skin color can confess your guilt.
But what’s even more disgusting is the silence of many church leaders during this time, as people around the world rise up in efforts to see justice come to a system that was birthed out of hatred. As a young Black pastor, I feel it’s my responsibility to speak and call these actions – or lack of actions rather – on the carpet.
Just a few weeks ago, many churches around the world were crying out publicly for permission to reopen their churches after being shut down for about three months due to COVID-19. We saw spiritual leaders on both sides speaking out boldly on whether or not we should open our church doors.
Hey! I was one of them! And who would have thought that the George Floyd murder by the Minneapolis Police Department would take the spotlight.
I’ve always been one to take a stand for my people against ANY type of injustice. So doing it for the past four days wasn’t hard at all. I was at the protest in both Oakland and Stockton with the people. I felt the burning pain of tear gas in my eyes.
Feeling the pain of our people is an experience I will never forget. Understand, this is not to discredit any pastors and spiritual leaders. There are many that have been on the frontlines doing the work. I’m extremely grateful for certain pastors who’ve invited me to the front lines as a young Black pastor.
When you look at figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and so many others; although their views may have been different from time to time, the common denominator is that they all were spiritual leaders.
I believe that the Jesus we preach about has empowered pastors with pure hearts to lead the way in times like these. It should be impossible for us to claim to serve a JUST God but keep silent when we see INJUSTICE in our streets.
In this moment, the church should be at the forefront of this movement. Not in the back. Every good leader knows you cannot lead from behind.
Seeing many spiritual leaders sit on the sidelines criticizing protesters for speaking out aggressively, or seeing them condemn looters for vandalizing buildings is disgusting, and let me tell you why. It’s disgusting because we love to give orders and directions from a distance instead of being on the frontlines leading to show our people the way.
. . . this is a time for war. War against a system that doesn’t represent Jesus. War against a system that has been after our lives for over 400 years.
To every pastor who preached a message this past Sunday that was insensitive to the struggle and frustration of our people: Understand this, you can’t PREACH to a community you did not REACH. If we want our message of peace to come across, it can only happen when we have relationships with the people.
It seems that we as pastors focus more on our political connections than we do the people we are really called to serve. We are not only called to our church community, but to young Black men who are in the streets hurting. Not only to politicians so we can look good, but have relationships with young people whose minds and perspectives are being shaped by the streets for the worse because of our inability to be present.
The Bible that I read says: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
I know people expect me to preach a time for peace message, but the reality is this is a time for war. War against a system that doesn’t represent Jesus. War against a system that has been after our lives for over 400 years.
This is the time that the doors of our churches should be open. Not to have church services but to offer free water to protesters. To be resting stops for people on the frontlines fighting for our freedom. God knows if my church had its own building, Life City Church would step up in this manner.
We as pastors should be extremely vocal in support of our people’s freedom. Not on the sidelines trying to speak in our safe spaces. Not putting on community events using “Black Lives Matter” as a filter for our own self advertising moments.
We need to be out there with the people who matter most. Trust and believe a time is coming when this is all over and emotions come to a calm, that people will need a church to go to that not only feeds their spirits, but cares about the struggles we face every day being Black. Anyone who is silent to our pain becomes an enemy to our people.
Pastor Leon Scoggins, 24, who preached his first sermon at the age of 7, grew up in the Center of Hope Community Church in Oakland, pastored by Bishop Ernestine Cleveland-Reems, and received his license to preach at Providence Baptist Church in Richmond at age 16. A graduate of the Oakland School for the Arts, he has performed as a percussionist on stage with Ledisi and more. He currently pastors Life City Church in Stockton and can be reached at PastorLeonScoggins@gmail.com or Leon Scoggins on Facebook and @LeonScoggins on Instagram. This story was partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.