Racism, Violence, and the Part We Play

[This appeared first at LifeChurchNC.com]

July 8, 2016

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” 

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While we were headed out on our first date-night in several weeks, Molly sensed that something was bugging me, and so she began to press in.  I shared how my heart was just unsettled following all of the news, videos and responses circulating from the fatal shootings this week that involved white police officers and led to the deaths of two black men.  My heart was (and remains) heavy, filled with emotion and frustrated by this feeling of a need to do something or say something, and yet completely perplexed about what that needed to be.

Perhaps you’ve felt the same way this week.

If you’ve watched the news at all this week, you’re well aware of the events that took place in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent fallout from both.  While there remain plenty of unknowns in both situations that should give us pause before condemning these acts as ‘murder’ at the hands of racialist police officers (which many have done) and further undermining trust for local law enforcement, the undeniable reality is that there remains question of how these situations would have been different had the two black men who were killed been white. Yesterday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton argued that the outcome would most likely had been different if the people in the car were white.  I tend to agree.

(Before you disagree or write me off, hang with me here. I’ll come back to this in a moment.)

And then, just after arriving home last night, I turned on the news to learn that several police officers had been shot in Dallas while providing security for a peaceful protest and demonstration taking place in the downtown area in response to the deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota.  What we now know is that 5 police offers are dead who were targeted by a lone gunman, apparently in retaliation of the civilian deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota at the hands of police offers.  Before the death of the gunman that concluded a long stand-off with police in the early ours of Friday morning, Micah Johnson cited that he was angry about the killings and wanted to retaliate by killing whites; in particular, white officers.

My heart aches this morning along with many of you, along with people across this country.  When will the violence stop?  Where does it go from here?  What’s next?

Yet, we know until Jesus finishes His redemptive work and reconciles all creation to Himself, there will never be an end to the acts of violence, hatred, confusion, accusation and retaliation we continue to experience in our world.  It’s during such times that we should be all the more aware that we are but foreigners here on earth, called to be ambassadors of the reconciliation between God and man that lies at the heart of the Kingdom of which we are citizens. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)  It’s during such times that this world we live in needs to know more than ever before there is hope. But that hope and peace will never come from human hands; it only comes from the Divine hands of our Creator.  And it is during such times we should long all the more for the return of our Victorious King Jesus to set things right and to establish His everlasting Kingdom on earth.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.  


What difference does it make if they were black or white?

So, back to the assumptions of how the shootings earlier in the week may have been different had they involved white people and not black people.  There are many who would write these sentiments off as non-sense, presumptive and say that this was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence and that we’re reading way too much into.  That’s understandable.  I would be one of the first to warn how we need to be careful not to label the officers in Louisiana and Minnesota as blatant racists simply because they were white.  However, to say that race didn’t play a part or doesn’t play a part is pure ignorance.  The simple fact of the matter is, it does, it has, and it will continue to do so.

There are many in my generation who would say that racism isn’t an issue anymore, that it’s not my fault, and wonder why we can’t just drop this whole thing and move on.  Besides, this isn’t the 1950’s or 60’s.  Can’t we just be colorblind?  And yet, it’s exactly this thinking, this abdication of responsibility simply because it doesn’t seem to directly involve me, this ignorance of the past that serves to prevent deep wounds from ever being fully healed caused by hundreds of years of slavery, oppression and the dehumanization of black people.  Those scars don’t just go away; they remain evident on the generations that follow.

We see this reality in the lives and the history of the Israelites – a people who spent over 400 years as slaves in Egypt.  God worked diligently to establish a new identity among this people so that they would begin to believe that they were no longer slaves but a nation of priests.  And yet, it took generations to break these cycles.  So, why would we think it would be any different today?

I am proud to be part of a church made up of people from different races, ethnicities and socioeconomics. And each day we continue to move closer to becoming a church-body that reflects the diversity not only of our community, but ultimately the diversity of the Kingdom of God.  Which means that when we don’t understand why situations from this week serve to be particularly painful and troubling for one group, we work all the harder to understand.  Because we’re family.  And because God’s family is made up of the red and yellow, black and white, for they are all precious in His sight.

Last night, we went to see The Free State of Jones, based on a true story of events that took place from 1862-1875 in southeastern Mississippi.  In one scene, a white man asks a black man the question, Why are you a free man?  The black man responds, Because I’m a child of God, and children of God can’t be owned.  While this form of slavery no longer exists, the work of restoring human dignity and confronting the stereotypes that exist but that we are often unaware of, certainly does.

What do we need to do?  

I reached out to a couple of my friends yesterday who are African American and pastors of local churches with the question, what do we need to do?  While we’re still looking for answers to that question, here’s what I’m convinced we all must do in the meantime:

  1. We must not turn the other way.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, our silence as the people of God during such times can be deafening and even more hurtful.
  2. Our hearts must be broken for the turmoil in our nation and the world. As Bob Pierce once said, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
  3. Broken hearts should lead to desperate prayer for the families and friends of those who have lost their lives – for comfort, for peace and for healing.
  4. And our desperation should lead to renewed fervor to join the Father’s work of healing and reconciliation between races that remains real and necessary today as a result of the injustices of the past.  Just because you didn’t live 60, 120 or 300 years ago, and just because you weren’t the cause of the wounds brought about by past generations, doesn’t mean you can’t say, “I’m sorry,” and be about the every day work of racial reconciliation.

May we prayerfully and desperately, with broken hearts, work to find ways to lead this charge alongside others for the sake of freedom, peace, healing, reconciliation and for the glory of the name of Jesus, whose broken heart led Him to the cross to claim victory over sin and to unleash a hope that will ultimately make all things new.

Until that day comes, let’s do all we can to bring heaven to earth.  

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