Lesson 6: Woke Christianity and Cultural Revolution

Wide Awakes and LincolnLast week a dear Black American friend said she regretted not being able to use Woke any more. She was referring to politicians making it a term of derision but also all sorts of other causes including themselves in a part of black culture. Hearing her say this made me aware how involved the issue is.

I started this series in response to politicians claiming “woke” was destroying our nation. I decided to write about Woke Christianity because my kind of faith was accused of participating in the destruction.

My first impression was “woke” referred to any group that challenged traditional values. Black Lives Matter might have started things rolling by making a big deal of police brutality after the killing of unarmed Black American men, but it seemed to make sense that other oppressed minorities joined them.

Then I discovered the phrase was a long-time part of Black American dialect. It went all the way back to Lead Belly in 1938 warning his people to stay woke to the danger of racism when traveling through an area of Alabama. Woke was part of Black American heritage that referred to being aware of social injustice. If other groups considered themselves woke, they would adopt overtones from that history.

I soon discovered more was involved than simple awareness. I came across Marcus Garvey’s 1923 essay that called “Wake up Africa! Let us build a great nation together.“ Here the idea was waking up to your potential and working together to realize it. Right up to the present, Garvey has had a great influence on Black American music, drama, and dialect. When you listen to musical groups from Africa, you still hear echoes of his words.

This idea of organizing to realize your potential goes even further back into the 19th century. You see this, for example, in the youth group, the Wide Awakes, who supported Lincoln in his 1860 campaign. Wearing uniforms that included capes and large hats and carrying torches they protected Republic candidates and monitored polling places. It was a clever way to activate youth for the abolition cause as you can see in their slogan, “Individually we sleep, United we are awake!”

All of this leads me to think we are presently seeing symptoms of a huge cultural revolution based on black and brown people becoming the majority. Many have been anxious about this for some time. That anxiety turned to fear when this emerging majority began to organize and when other marginalized peoples joined them.

As often happens in revolutions when argument fails, people turn to ridicule and the invocation of God to silence their opponents. I think we are seeing that when conservatives label the new guys woke. The same applies to using God against Christians who do not agree with your version of the faith.

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