In The New York Times1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “Black Americans have been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom.” On the 400th anniversary of Africans arriving to this land as slaves, she makes the case that “It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy,” that black Americans have pushed toward the country’s ideals in spite of their circumstances.

I’ve heard it said that history is a “dangerous” memory. It never lets us go until we attest to the wounds and commit to healing. It presses upon us that piercing but powerful word: love, love, love.

Still, it is hard to see how society might change, how such healing might finally come about. Rarely does the one who injures another have the moral imagination to do right unless forced to. Even spiritual awakening, religious education, and visionary declarations have often bore bad fruit. Plenty of promises of peace and freedom only brought on further oppression.

Even if we don’t have all the answers now, we must bear witness. And we must prophesy hope.

The black church in America offers a rich legacy of faith that—like the crucifixion itself—exists at the intersection of chaos and pain and love. Its stories shine through to our present day and remind us that history without hope is indeed a history without help.

The Chaos of Darkness

What greater tribute could be paid to religious faith in general and to their [slaves] religious faith in particular than this: It taught a people how to ride high to life, to look squarely in the face of those facts that argue most dramatically against all hope and to use those facts as raw material out of which they fashioned ...

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