Disclaimer: The opinions stated in this blog are my own and do not neccesarily represent the views of New Song Community Church.
To My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A few months ago I was having a conversation with a friend regarding race issues in America, because if you haven’t noticed…
I acquitted myself of the conversation, “What right do I a white, middle class, male from the rural Midwest have to discuss social injustice?” The conversation ended quickly after he encouraged me to share my thoughts publicly.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I must apologize for my cowardice. I have grown too afraid to be honest. In order not to appropriate the platform of those who have actually suffered injustices; or, condescendingly “give a voice to the voiceless”; or, offend loved one’s political ideologies; or, malign family and friends who have courageously served as police officers; or, for whatever bad excuse I could conjure I’ve buried my moderate white voice in the sand. I am sorry.
But the Internet is a large place and I’m not stealing anyone’s platform at tommywelty.wordpress.com. This bandwidth could be used just as well to post pictures of cats (#lawlz), or my meager attempts at poetry.
“Authorities can’t say if there was a particularly good reason why police arrested [Freddie] Gray. According to the city, an officer made eye contact with Gray, and he took off running, so they pursued him. Though he’d had scrapes with the law before, there’s no indication he was wanted at the time. And though he was found with a switchblade, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime.”
“The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray” by David A Graham, The Atlantic
This next bit is conjecture because I’m white and have never had to worry about police brutality, but I’d have run too if I were in Freddie Gray’s situation.
Monday night I wept as I read an article in the Baltimore Sun from September 2014 about how the city has paid out $5.7 million since 2011 in police brutality cases. The article states:
“Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.”
“Undue Force” by Mark Puente, Baltimore Sun
This is not to say all, or even most police are racists, by no means! But, now the mere suggestion of systemic injustice is blasphemy. To hint that there may be an issue between law enforcement and race is to slap my cousin-in-law in the face as he’s putting his life on the line to protect innocents lives. Which is decidedly not my intent.
Over the last twelve months or so my Facebook feed has been littered with drivel on all sides after the events in Ferguson, and New York City, and now Baltimore. Tuesday morning I saw:
- A picture of Willy Wonka declaring that if the police are arresting you then you’re guilty. The person who posted it obviously forgot about due process.
- Another individual declared all officers bigots because the best cure for profiling is profiling, amiright?! Or, amiright Hammurabi?
- I saw a political cartoon of a straw man, sorry, “looter” holding a sign reading: “Black Lives Matter but police, private property, and public safety don’t!” Forgive me, equating protestors to looters is a frustrating error but what is even more frustrating… No, frustrating isn’t nearly strong enough, maybe enraging? The suggestion that black lives matter a proportionate amount to private property is the apex of racial insensitivity.
- And I will say nothing of the disgusting meme I saw juxtaposing the protests with a scene from Jumanji.
What is happening and has been happening in America is a complex, nuanced problem with seeds planted centuries ago taking root through generation after generation and we no longer know how to think. All our thoughts are memes. Blame Obama, blame white privilege, blame Bush, blame whoever you will, just don’t blame me. Before considering all aspects – the history, the socioeconomic context, the facts, the individuals, our own motives, worries, and prejudices – we choose a side and goddamnit whatever The Party says is true.
But, what should the Christian response be?
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked
and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be
the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
Psalm 11.4-7 ESV
First, God hates the wicked and those who love violence. Violence, just or unjust, is an assertion of self. The historic and current violent systemic injustices served to the black community are born of self from the individuals perpetuating these prejudices. The appropriation of peaceful, non-violent protests by rioters and looters – born of selfish desire.
Violence is pride.
To these the psalmist, David, prays that God would rain down a familiar judgement of fire and I was reminded of Matthew 25.31-46. There Christ repays the sheep and goats their dues. To the righteous he rewards their inconspicuous acts of charity. But the damnable sin of the wicked is violent inhospitality, their selfish refusal to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner. Whatever has been done or left undone, has been to done or left undone to Jesus.
Dr. King continues,
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? … Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Secondly from Psalm 11 is this cup of wrath. In Gethsemane, Christ prays that the Father would take that cup of our just rewards away from him. Three times he begs, “Take this cup from me.” Our wickedness… No, my wickedness, my violence, my inhospitality is the fire in the bitter cup that Christ drank deeply from. On the cross is crucified all our cowardices and prejudices, our false dichotomies, our politics, our memes, our straw men, our rioting, our brutality, our violence. At Calvary’s hill the ground is level. In Christ Jesus there is neither black nor white, conservative nor liberal, male nor female, poor nor rich.
Let us consider all the facts with grace and love towards our neighbor. Let us sit and wonder at complexity before reducing it to low resolution memes. We must put away our shallow, caustic thinking and instead remember the gospel of Jesus Christ as the Spirit leads us in hospitality.
Father enthroned in Heaven, as you watch us in our struggles show us grace. See our anger and hostility towards each other. Do not repay us what we’re due. Spirit bind us together in love and bind us to the death and resurrection of the Father’s last Word: Jesus. That all our prejudices, anger, distrust, and fear mongering would be put to death and we can be raised up in love with him. Father, let the world know us not by our memes, bumperstickers, or politics but by the love You’ve shown Your enemies on the cross expressed to one another.
Addendum 1: The events recorded this past weekend (Sunday June 7th, 2015) in McKinney, Texas are horrifying. The video of an officer man-handling a 14 year old girl, resting both knees on her back, and then pulling a weapon is disgusting and heartbreaking. The responses on social media? Also disgusting and heartbreaking. I’ve seen levelheaded, intelligent people justifying an officer corralling only the black teenagers, letting the white ones be, and then throwing a child to the ground and pulling his weapon (regardless of if holstered later). I’ve seen the “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend” card played; “See it’s not a race issue this person I’m using as a token said so.”
Our ability to identify and address obvious problems, name them, claim fault, and get better has been ruined by memes and trolling. I was always certain I’d have to repost this. I wasn’t expecting to have to repost it a month later. Sadly, I’m sure I’ll have to repost it again soon.
There is a problem in America. Just because the police have a dangerous job, and just because most are kind and courageous people who aim to protect all citizens, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call a spade a spade.
There is a systemic, historic racial problem in America.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“
David A Graham, The Atlantic:The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray
Mark Puente, Baltimore Sun: Undue Force
Yoni Applebaum, The Atlantic: McKinney, Texas, and the Racial History of American Swimming Pools
Mike Cosper, Worship Arts Pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY: McKinney, Privilege, and Our Circle of Concern