The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail, by Christena Cleveland, PhD

As timely as when Christena first spoke out in August 

It’s relatively easy to see the suffering Christ in black men who are already dead and aren’t threatening to hurt anyone. But can you see the suffering Christ in violent responses to injustice? Can you see the cross in the Molotov cocktail?  

by , Ph.D. | Bethel University

Young protestors lighting and preparing to launch a Molotov cocktail at Ferguson police.
Young protestors lighting and preparing to launch a Molotov cocktail at Ferguson police.

Can you see the Imago Dei in these young men? Can you see the suffering Christ in their rage?

This morning at church, the black female preacher said aloud what many of us have been thinking: that Ferguson could have happened in our community. It could still happen in our community. Our north Minneapolis neighborhood is so much like Ferguson, it’s scary. Both communities are lower income and predominantly black. Both have overwhelmingly white police forces. Both have a history of police misconduct toward people in the community, especially lower income black men.  And if you hang around long enough, you’ll feel the rage that many blacks carry in response to long-standing injustice.

Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.

Based on data from communities all over the U.S., a recent study found that local police officers kill black men nearly two times a week. Beyond this, black men suffer from the crushing indignity of being regularly stopped and frisked,harassed by the police for simply “driving while black”, and generally assumed guilty before proven innocent.

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Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist, author, speaker and associate professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University*.  She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California Santa Barbara and is the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart. Christianity Today magazine recently named Christena one of the most influential millennial leaders (see, “33 Under 33“) and JET magazine identified her one as of 5 “online shepherds to follow.” Contact Christena on Facebook, Twitter or her blog

*Disclaimer: Bethel University is also the home of THW senior editor, Gary David Stratton.