Last week I got a text from my cousin with one provocative question, “is BLM doing witchcraft?”. I must admit that I was both astonished and confused by his inquiry. A little bit later, I read the article by a White brother in the faith, Michael Brown, a contributor to the Christian Post. A week later, I saw the commentary by Pat Roberston and knew as a third generation African-American pastor from the South that I could not remain silent.
So, my dear Angelenos/Americans and especially those of you who follow in the ways of Christ, I say to you as a Pastor and an activist, the same thing I told my cousin, in my experience BLM does not practice witchcraft but deep African spirituality and pastoral care for those who are forced to take the bitter blow of racism and police sanctioned violence. We must be careful not to be misguided by those who may mean well but do not comprehend the experience of Black spirituality in America. Sadly, the dominant White evangelical form of Christianity demonizes things which is not understood or agreed with as demonic, devilish, savage, sinful or witchcraft. This is done not because the Bible says so, but because it is a projection of defending a way of life that often excludes minorities who choose not to assimilate. The witchcraft myth is a long-standing narrative used by White Christians as a form of anti-Blackness against African people and their descendants for a spirituality they do not understand. One must recall that the Salem Witch trials started when a White puritan slave master accused his slave of practicing witchcraft. An assertion that was never proven, used to kill hundreds of women and then was later revealed after Tituba (the slave accused) was released that it was literally fabricated and imposed by the wrath of beatings. We must not succumb to this lie, a lie with basis is not grounded in scripture but in the demonization anything that is “other.” To put it plainly, there has always been at least two expressions of Black Church experience in America. One that was influenced and shaped by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and imposed by those who kept our ancestors in the chains of slavery and the other what W.E.B. DuBois called the religion and spirituality of the Negro classified by “the frenzy (The Spirit), the music and the preacher.”
The ritual of pouring libations is an ancient practice passed down through the generations to each of us and shows up in every Black church. Why?
1) We are a spiritual people. If you have ever been to a revival then you have felt what we call the Spirit. The Bible tells us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but of powers and principalities. Furthermore, it tells us that we are in this world but not of this world, that heaven is real and angels and demons exist. Spiritual beings exist. Understanding the world(s) in which we exist is not witchcraft but is Biblical. In the African American experience understanding this context is pivotal to our spirituality in order to not only survive but thrive. The pouring of libations is one manifestation of acknowledgement of this very fact. It is exactly the same as communion, the pouring out of liquid to connect us to our spiritual ancestor Jesus the Christ and literally consuming his “blood” to tap into his power.
2) Jesus mentioned ancestors all the time and actually talked with them. If you are a Christian, then you consider yourself as a believer of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is acknowledging your ancestral lineage and Jesus referred to his often. In fact, when Jesus goes up on a mountain with three of his beloved disciples he prays and communes with the ancestors of Moses, Elijah and Abraham. We call it the Mount of Transfiguration but for Jesus the actual experience was one of tapping into the Spirit, the power of God through prayer, and gaining insight and strength for the journey ahead. Jesus didn’t call it the Mount of Transfiguration, western ideology and Eurocentric theology due to the urge to classify what is not readily understood but experienced, labeled Jesus’ experience as such. Libations in the BLM context, from my experience, acts as a similar healing balm for families, Black families in particular, who loved one’s blood still cries out from Earth due to the heinous evil of police sanctioned violence. When families and community call out the names of loved ones that have been robbed and stolen from us, we summon power from their energy, their life force to continue this journey. Scripture says we have such a great cloud of witnesses (ancestors) so let run this race with faith and courage, press on to see what the end will be.
3) Libations are pastoral care and calling it witchcraft is nothing more than whistleblowing to discourage a movement that may actually revive the soul of this nation. Calling libations witchcraft is a direct assault on the spirituality of Black women and people who are claiming their agency. We have seen this playbook before throughout history when powerful women arose the calls of witchcraft and ungodliness magnified to benign and prosecute social movements. Let us be maladjusted to false doctrines that will rather burn, enslave, tar, and demonize spiritual religious practices that do not assimilate to their way of following Christ. King urged our White sisters and brothers to not stand idly by while the evil and vile spirit of racism delivers the soul of our nation to destruction/hell and the same truth remains today. Let’s call libations and the spiritual African ritual of acknowledging our ancestors, the cloud of witness and the lives we carry what it is- pastoral care. Pastoral care in the most basic sense is holding space, journeying with another and seeking wisdom and guidance through study and prayer. If you ever attend a BLM protest then you have seen the power of grieving mothers, fathers and families calling the name of their slain loved one. You have seen the tears which at times move mothers and fathers to call out their child/loved one’s name followed by a wail out to Jesus that sends shivers down your spine. The moment of libations is a moment of ancestral wisdom that unapologetically says we see you, we hear you and yes, your Black life mattered to us even if it did not matter to the world.
As a Pastor, I see this as a sacred experience and holy work that gets to the heart of our faith and proclaims like Hagar that God is truly El-Roi, the God who sees us. To put it another way, libations declares in African spirituality and Christianity that God is still the God of the oppressed and leaves us ways and practices to remind us that we are never alone and that the evil and demonic spirit of racism must be expelled from our land. Simply put, it calls me and too many other pastors to the prophetic ministry of calling out systems of oppression and summoning the streams of justice.
In closing, I urge those of you who are misguided in your understanding or influenced by such dangerous rhetoric to follow the advice of Paul the evangelist to not get caught up in quarreling and condemnation that you fall into the temptation of being an ally to demonization and division. God has always shown up throughout history to exact God’s justice and righteousness for those who are all too often forced to live with their back against the wall of oppression. Black Lives Matter is a sacred movement and the power of libations is that it might just spark the Spirit of the living God to renew our nation. As a Black person, I have been forced for far too long to observe the Holy Days of manifest destiny that revere the ancestors known as founding fathers and presidents. Now is the time for us as Black people of the diaspora to fan the flames of our ancestors (2 Tim 1:6) and prophetically call forth their names and gifts to renew and revive the soul of America. Scripture requires us to do so in these times of crisis. As Paul was poured out as a libation in 2 Timothy 4:6, because he knew much like me the African wisdom that I am because we are, let us as a nation pour the libation of freedom, justice and righteousness passed on to me and us through my ancestors, great grandfathers and big mamas to call once again our nation to move into the power of love and remove the mask we can no longer hide behind.