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Aug 13, 2015 | The Very Rev. Mike Kinman

We Are All Held Captive by Racism

 Ed. note: Read Dean Kinman’s blog post, “Hearing Sandra Bland—It has to be personal,”  at

When I woke up on August 9, 2014, I had no idea my life was about to change forever. Usually, that’s the way it works.


At about 12:30 p.m., my Twitter exploded with tweets and pictures of a young man lying shot to death in the street. It happened about 15 minutes from my house in a neighborhood I’d never even driven through in my 18 years in St. Louis.


Dean Kinman (pictured far left) gathered with clergy and others September 30, 2014, in a peaceful protest in front of the Ferguson Police Department following the death of Michael Brown, 18, who was fatally shot, August 9, 2014 by Darren Wilson, 28, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. 

At six the next morning, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant and fellow Magdalene St. Louis board member, called and asked me to be at the Ferguson Police Department that afternoon for a prayer vigil.


I have never been the same since … and a year from now I hope I will look back at the person I am now writing this and realize I’m different from that.


And thank God.


I used to think when Jesus read from the scroll about releasing the captives he was talking about setting a few prisoners free. That sounded great. That fit into my privileged schema that I was in control and I could choose to grace others with my generosity and help them out.


But that’s not who Jesus is. Jesus is incarnation. Jesus is revolutionary. And this year, I have begun to learn and grow in relationship with the Revolutionary Jesus. And he is terrifying. And he is life. And he walks the way of the cross. And he bids me follow him. He bids us all.


As a white, male, educated, straight American, I have more privilege than 99% of the world’s population but because privilege is like the air I breathe it is hard for me to see and easy for me to take for granted.


I was asked to write a piece as a white person to white people about “Why should white, privileged people care enough to really do anything to change their behavior about race and privilege?”


It’s the “what’s in it for me?” question.


The “what’s in it for me” question is where the American church runs off the rails. Because if we are to follow Jesus, what is in it for us is never what our society values—more power, more stuff, more fun. If we are to follow Jesus, what is in it for us is the way of the cross—it is all things being counted as loss (Philippians 3:8).


But Paul doesn’t end the sentence there. He says: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”


What’s in it for me? Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.


And so this year, I was drawn into neighborhoods where I’d never been. I was challenged to speak openly about white privilege and white supremacy and police violence among people who took those words as shaming and attacking, even though that was not my intent. I was challenged to realize that letting the oppressed go free takes standing with the oppressed and willing to be counted among them.


And when I, imperfectly, haltingly, tried to do these things … I met Jesus.


I met Jesus in the black clergy, like Traci, who have been pastoring their underserved and oppressed communities with a fraction of the resources I have—many of them working second jobs all the time.


I met Jesus in Brittany, Alexis, Ashley, Netta, DeRay and so many other young activists—many of them women, many of them LGBTQ, who literally put themselves in harm’s way and suffered tear gas and arrest and rubber bullets and a thousand micro- and macroaggressions, just standing up and saying that their lives matter.


I met Jesus in leaving my comfort zone—mentally, emotionally and physically—and much of the time having no real idea what I was doing and praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life.


And I realized that the captive that Jesus was freeing was me. My participation in systems that oppress was turning me into the crowd yelling “crucify,” and I had to stop or lose my soul. I realized that my privilege holds me captive and separates me from Jesus, that I had loved it more than Jesus my Lord. And that I had to break that addiction and the only thing that could do that was the power of love.


What’s in it for us as white people? Why talk about white privilege and white supremacy, race, class and power? Why change our lives?


Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, calling us forward.


Because we are captives needing to be released.


Because we cannot free the oppressed from the outside in, only from the inside out.


Because the way to know Jesus Christ is to count all as loss so that we may gain Christ.


Today, may this scripture be fulfilled in our hearing.


Kinman is dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Mo.