Faith & Fandom
Black Panther and The Creation of Killmonger
Black Panther turned out to be a truly great movie, and an important movie to a lot of people. I personally think it's one of the highest quality Marvel movies, and while T'Challa is obviously the "Hero" of the story, Erik Killmonger hit me the hardest. I wasn’t intrigued necessarily by his actions or motives, but in the circumstances that led to his creation. Killmonger is the son of N'jobu. N'jobu is the brother of the late King T'chaka. In one of the early flashbacks of the movie, we see that N'jobu had left Wakanda and was living in the "real world." His perspective and mindset had shifted, seeing what life was like outside of Wakanda. He came to a place where he was willing to support stealing from and ultimately betraying Wakanda. This, of course, was personal for T'chaka, being betrayed by not only one of his citizens, but more importantly his brother.
When N'jobu attacked, T'chaka reacted and, in turn, killed his brother. Now, I know he was angry, but if you are in a bullet proof vibranium suit, you can disarm one dude with a gun without killing him. While N'jobu's death and circumstances were tragic, the real tragedy was the fact that they left Erik. They killed a boy's father and left the boy alone in the streets to fend for himself without so much as a note. They abandoned this kid because they didn't want to deal with the consequences of their own actions. Everything that Killmonger did, every life taken, and every aspect of collateral damage in his wake was the result of the horrible decision of T’chaka.
Killmonger may have been the "villain" of the story, but I think like all good villains, we can actually sympathize. We can truly understand his motivation, and his feelings aren't invalid. In reality, he was a victim more so than a villain, and though that doesn't make his actions justifiable, they are understandable. These actions and choices mar what would have been a seemingly flawless leadership of King T'chaka. If T'chaka had dealt any differently with the situation, it would have been such a different outcome. Instead, he hid from his actions, ran from the consequences, and lived the rest of his life under the shadow and shame of that one choice.
This is one of the biggest lessons we need to learn. This goes for Christians, kings, leaders, and human beings in general. We have to deal with the results of our actions. We have to deal with the fallout that we produce. We can't ignore it or hide from it, even though our nature is to hide and ignore our faults. We desire to guard our pride and good name and maintain some fictional image or perfection or infallibility. We don't want to admit our mistakes to anyone, including ourselves. T’chaka ordered this secret to be buried and never be spoken of again. He went to his grave with this on his soul. Jesus teaches us that that is unacceptable. Look at this passage in Matthew 5.
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who
says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus is making it clear that our actions have consequences, even our feelings and words have consequences, let alone murdering a dude and abandoning his newly orphaned son. Here's where it gets deeper though; “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." - Matthew 5:22-28
T'chaka made a huge mistake when it came to Killmonger. He could have apologized to the boy. He could have brought him up from the street and contritely explained the situation and begged for forgiveness. He could have taken him in as a son and brought him home to Wakanda. He could have left Zuri there to raise him. He could have sent someone from Wakanda to be his family, but instead he abandoned the boy. If they can send someone there to spy on N'jobu, they can send someone there to raise a flipping kid.
It was a fatal error. T'chaka made a horrible mistake that day, but he continued making horrible mistakes every day until the day he died in Civil War. Every day he didn't deal with his mistake was another mistake. Every day he didn't deal with his sin and the consequences of his actions only made them worse. That's why Matthew 5:23 is so crucial. Jesus tells us that if you are a Christian or a leader, or even if you are a person who is trying to live your life in a way that is remotely pleasing to God and you know someone out in the world that has a problem with you, stop what you are doing and deal with it. If there is someone in the world that has a legitimate claim to offense because of your actions, stop what you are doing and deal with it. Own it. Claim it. Take what comes, but don't try and portray yourself as a leader, a Christian, a worshiper or anything else until you've dealt with what you've done. This isn't about you having a problem with others, or if you think their offense is legitimate in your opinion. The instruction is clear. Stop what you are doing, and deal with it.
If you are ignoring the damage you've done, the pain you've caused, or the consequences of your actions, God doesn't want what you are bringing. He doesn't want your praise. He doesn't want your service. Until you've dealt with your actions, everything you bring Him is tainted. King T'chaka stopped being a leader the minute he chose to ignore what he had done to Killmonger. He was never a great leader again. He may have been a good king and done great things for Wakanda, but he forfeited being the great man he could have been. He could have prevented all the backlash that Killmonger created if he'd just left his proverbial gift at the alter and gone and reconciled.
In our lives, if we know there are people hurting out there, people who are wounded and hurt because of your actions, go deal with it. He wants us to handle our actions before we bring Him anything. That means before you worship Him, give an offering, or do any of the standard things you do to further your relationship with God. Your next step in furthering your relationship with God is to go deal with the person wounded because of your actions. Dealing with the conflict that is waiting on you is an act of obedience and subsequently, worship. Right now, there are probably many of us who are in the same place as T'chaka. There are people we have hurt or wounded, and we are living day by day ignoring the fact there are people in the world in pain because of us. If you're in that place, don't live out your life the way T'chaka did. Until you deal with those situations, everything you do is tainted by it. Even if it doesn't affect you, it's effecting others and their view of you, and consequently, God. Reconciliation may not always occur. You may not be able to make the situation better, but you do have the obligation to try.
Why does it matter? Why is it so important that we deal with the damage we cause in other people's lives? You may feel like that's an unfair expectation because other people may not care about the damage they do in your life. Why do you need to be the one who actually does the hard thing? It’s because
our actions make people stumble. It makes it hard for them to live day to day. What T'chaka did caused Killmonger to stumble through every day of his life up until the point of his death. Killmonger suffered and struggled. If T'chaka would have made any effort to restore Killmonger, it would have been such a weight off that boy. Why is an effort to reconcile so important? Here's why. Jesus makes a statement, and it's one of Jesus' statements that legitimately causes a bit of fear in my life.
"Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.“ If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” -Luke17:1-5
It's a given that pain is going to come, that suffering is going to take place. It's a given that people are going to hurt, but Jesus warns us not to be the cause of that pain. Jesus literally says "woe." That's a warning and a threat of consequences. It’s a cautionary statement that you don't wanna be the reason that people are stumbling. T'chaka was the cause of that stumbling in Killmonger's life. Jesus states that if you cause someone to stumble, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied to your neck and be thrown into the sea. For those of you not adept in ancient grain manufacturing, a millstone is a giant wheel shaped rock weighing roughly between 1,500-3,000 pounds.
Jesus is saying it's better for you to have a rock the weight of a car tied to your throat and for you to be violently dragged to the bottom of the ocean as you choke and drown in the cold depths of the dark rather than to cause someone to stumble. T'chakka raised T'challa, knowing there was a little boy like his son on the other side of the world suffering, struggling, and stumbling. He was responsible for that.
Please, if you know you have done something that has hurt others, deal with it. Don't ignore it. Don't let it fester. Killmonger didn't become who he was overnight. T'chaka had decades he could have gone back and made amends for his actions. It was a daily choice to leave that boy there. What have your negative actions shaped in the lives of others?
The aftermath of our actions is our responsibility.
"Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." - Hebrews 12:14-15
When we don't deal with the pain and stumbling we cause in other's lives, it's like a seed that grows. It grows into a root that gets deep in people's lives and becomes so deeply wrapped into who they are that it becomes almost inseparable from their lives. The day T'chaka killed N’jobu, a seed was planted, and by the time Killmonger walked into Wakanda, the root was full-grown. That bitter root grew beyond just Killmonger, but also affecting W'kabi and the war dogs. T'chaka had a long time to prevent that outcome.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to make sure no bitter root grows. Sometimes it takes more than an apology. Sometimes that process takes time and action, but the lives and hearts of people are so worth it. It is a spiritual responsibility as a Christian to own your actions, just like a King and Black Panther has that responsibility to his people, which is what we see T'challa finally beginning to do in the post credit scenes. We can't wait till the credits roll on our lives to get started on this. Even as painful as it would have been, I believe if at any point T'chaka or a representative of Wakanda would have made an effort to confess and ask forgiveness from Killmonger, the story would have ended differently. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." - James 5:16
We shouldn't just confess our sins to God. We need to confess our sins to the ones that our sins affect. Killmonger could have spent his life living side by side as a brother and friend to T’challa. Instead, T'chaka's actions turned him into an enemy.
There's a lot of people in this world that could be friends of
God, but instead, the actions of God's people have turned them into enemies of God. If God's people would repent, ask forgiveness, seek reconciliation, then we could stop being the thing that trips people up and keeps them from God. We could prevent that root of bitterness and be the catalyst that brings people closer to God instead of preventing them from ever truly seeing Him. Search your heart and search your life. Do what you can to prevent your choices from creating spiritual Killmongers in your life.