“Release Barabbas for us!” (Luke 23:18)

In Bangladesh, an 18-year-old student named Nusrat Jahan Rafi has died from the trauma of being set on fire, an attacked that caused 80% burn injuries on her body. The student had accused the school principal, an influential local leader, of attempted rape. Her family received threats after the filing their complaint against the principal in late March. Although police were slow to investigate, when at last they detained the principal, a protest was organized to demand his release.

“Release Barabbas for us!”

In Louisiana, the 21-year-old son of a sheriff’s deputy has been arrested as a suspect in the arson of three Black churches: St. Mary Baptist Church (Port Barre), Greater Union Baptist Church (Opelousas), and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church (Opelousas). A motion has been filed to deny bail for the suspect, but consideration of racism as a factor in the case is being just as steadily denied. “The deputy knew nothing about his son’s alleged activities,” per the sheriff. “I don’t know what this young man’s motive was,” per the governor.

“Release Barabbas for us!”

In anti-racism workshops from churches to universities to businesses (as described recently, for example, by Ijeoma Oluo about a corporate training event and by DeeDee Roe about a Christian women’s conference), white attendees consistently insist that their emotional comfort and elementary instruction be centered. Ensnared by white guilt and frustrated by the focus on non-white experiences in such workshops, white folks predictably seek reprieve by demanding more time for change, more hand-holding while they learn, and more exceptions to make room for themselves as “good guys.”

“Release Barabbas for us!”

How often do we cast doubt over the guilt (or severity of guilt) of the modern-day Barabbas, deflecting discussions of responsibility with talk of God’s grace? How often have we hushed someone — or been hushed — from crying out for accountability? How often is personal or collective injury dismissed for “lack of evidence,” as though the evidence of testimony holds no weight? How often are perpetrators defended and accusers demonized?

Who are we trying to relieve of accountability?

“Release Barabbas for us” so that we don’t have to confront the systemic nature of sexual abuse that we have collectively allowed and ignored. If the rapist’s guilt is questionable, then our role in looking the other way is also dubious. “Release Barabbas for us” so that we who are white do not need to hold ourselves accountable for the insidious racism of white Christian nationalism. If heavy metal influenced the deputy’s son, then white theology can escape examination. “Release Barabbas for us” so that the government isn’t destabilized and our daily routines threatened, no matter how dysfunctional the government may be, no matter how injustice-perpetuating our daily routines may be. If Barabbas is not a rebel crying out for the government’s reform, then we are not complicit citizens who benefit from its abuses.

souza-cruci-large
Souza, F. N. (Francis Newton), 1924-2002. Crucifixion, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55300 [retrieved April 2, 2018]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gandalfspics/5312574176/
Release Barabbas for us, and crucify the One who has no patience for our injustice and no grace for our lack of hospitality.

Release Barabbas for us, and crucify the One who touches the untouchable and commands us to do the same.

Release Barabbas for us, and crucify the One whose salvation of our discord with God requires the redemption of our discord with one another.

Crucify him.


Rachel G. Hackenberg‘s book with co-author Martha Spong, Denial Is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith), searches for faith through life’s trials. Rachel has also written Writing to God and Sacred Pause.


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3 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: Release Barabbas

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