A friend of mine has a delightful 10 year-old daughter. She’s smart, funny, and a joy to interact with. Earlier this week she saw the photo of the policeman with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. She instantly burst into tears and cried, “Why does everyone hate people who look like me?”
Read that again, especially if you are Anglo. Because George Floyd doesn’t look like you.
Consider the experience of LZ Granderson. He writes, “I was 12 when an officer placed his gun to the back of my head while his knee rested in the center of my back. I had been sent to the store to buy a gallon of milk. I came home with trauma. As the officer placed me in handcuffs, he said I looked like a burglary suspect he was searching for. I was told something similar in my 20s, a full-time reporter fresh out of graduate school, after I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. The officer asked what I was doing in the neighborhood. When I told him I lived in it, he asked what I did to be able to afford to live there. In my 30s, shortly after moving in with my now-husband, Steve, in his predominantly white Michigan suburb, I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. Another officer telling me he thought I ‘looked like someone.’ Six years ago, now in my 40s and on assignment for CNN during the Ferguson uprising outside St. Louis, I was pulled over yet again for looking like someone. And those are just a fraction of the times I’ve been pulled over for ‘looking like someone.’”
As a white man in America, I have never been stopped for “looking like someone.” The closest experience I’ve had happened in France. Early one morning I was taking my friends to the train station. One was from Indonesia and the other from Singapore. After we got into the car, a police car pulled up blocking us in the parking space. He wanted to see papers and asked questions. Although the police were allowed to do this because France was under an emergency order due to recent terrorism, every fiber of my being wanted to scream, “you have no right to do this because we were doing nothing wrong!” I was angry on the inside, but calm on the outside. I cannot imagine how I would react if I was placed in handcuffs multiple times because I “looked like someone” just based on the color of my skin.
We must see the history of our country for what it is. The colonists threw off the authority of the king and set up a representative republic. It was a heady time and many of their ideals are worthwhile. But we are a country with a birth defect. Enshrined in our constitution is the idea that slaves were to be counted as only “three-fifths” of a person. It took almost a hundred years and a civil war to abolish slavery. It took several more years to make sure that race could not be used to keep someone from voting. That doesn’t mean that the blacks were welcomed into the polling places. Threats, violence, and insidious means were often used to keep them away.
Segregation became a way of life. Jim Crow laws made sure that whites were given priority in every facet of life. The “free” descendants of slavery lived as second-class citizens serving or entertaining white society. This troubled some whites, was delighted in by others, and for many was just accepted as the way things were. For the blacks, it was all too apparent that society was set up to keep them down.
Then came the civil rights movement. With leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement awakened the country to the many injustices in the laws of the land. Laws were changed. Jim Crow disappeared. Schools were integrated. “Separate but equal” was rightly destroyed for being the farce that it was. True progress was made in the laws of the land.
The legacy of a society structured in both law and attitude to keep a group of people down leaves a deep and painful wound. Merely changing laws does not heal the trauma of generations of discrimination. The attitudes of people toward those of another race are difficult to change. Furthermore, several centuries of systemic racism have resulted in large swaths of African Americans mired in poverty. The work of healing and reconciliation is far from finished.
This isn’t simply about the actions of some members of the police. Discrimination still exists on many levels. Rev. Timothy Keller writes about a couple of them. He tells about a town in Virginia that was made up of 25-30% blacks, but because the system stipulated that the six council members be elected by a majority vote, there was never a black council member. The area where the whites lived got all of the resources of the town. This seemed “normal and right” to those in charge, but it was a grossly unfair voting system that discriminated against one group.
Rev. Keller also talks about a car dealership. The salesmen had a lot of leeway in negotiating prices. There was a bottom amount, but the top end was open. You dickered until a price was arrived at. That seems fair, doesn’t? When the owner starting thinking about discrimination issues he did some research and discovered that African American women always wound up paying significantly more than white men. He realized that was not fair, even if it was unintentional. He changed his policy so that everyone was offered the same take-it-or-leave-it price.
Or consider the story of Christian Cooper. A man birdwatching in Central Park. A woman is breaking the local law by not having her dog on a leash in an area set aside for birding. He asks her to put her dog on a leash and she refuses. She then calls 911 and says in an affected voice that an African American is threatening her. The implication is clear: the police better come quickly to protect her, a white woman, from one of “those” African Americans. Fortunately he videotaped the incident so her claim was exposed for the lie what it was. While she later apologized, it was a window into the America that African Americans live in every day. The color of their skin can instantly be used against them.
Racism is evil and it needs to be dealt with in our society and in our hearts.
It is often said that social justice issues are “liberal” and as evangelicals we aren’t supposed to be involved with social justice. Many white evangelical congregations have a sense that “we are just supposed to get people saved and everything will work out. Besides, Jesus said things would only get worse, so why work to better society?”
There was a time that conservative white Christians had a different attitude. They ran soup kitchens, many worked to abolish slavery, started schools, and were involved in a myriad of other projects simply to lovingly serve their neighbors.
Then there came a division as the mainline churches drifted away from biblical Christianity. They were left with a vague notion of Christian “love” and focused on issues of social justice to the exclusion of evangelism. It has been called the “social gospel”. The reaction by the conservative white church was to say, “what good is feeding someone if they are still going to wind up in hell?” They moved away from involvement in social justice issues and focused almost solely on evangelism. As a result, in many evangelical churches any talk of dealing with injustice in society is labeled as “being liberal”.
Still, conservative white evangelicals do get involved in social justice issues. This is readily apparent in the pro-life movement. Across the country, evangelical Christians raise awareness, run medical clinics, provide resources, lobby congress, and vote for pro-life candidates. They see the wrong in society and work hard to put an end to the injustice of abortion. This is good and is to be applauded.
It is a also a “safe” issue for white evangelicals. They can do all sorts things to support the pro-life cause with little personal risk. They might get into some disagreements with pro-choice supporters, but that’s about all the personal threat they face.
Dealing with racism is different. It means admitting that there are advantages in being white, even if you yourself are not prejudiced. Perhaps being white improved your chances of getting your job. Or maybe it means that you are more likely to move up the corporate ladder. Or less likely to be pulled over by the police. Confronting racism would create a more level playing field for everyone when it previously had been tilted in your favor. Dealing with racism could affect you and your way of life.
Would you deal with the issue of racism if it could alter your lifestyle? Or would you choose to ignore it? As followers of Christ, we must look to the teachings of Scripture to see how important the issue is and what we are to do.
So let me lay out some things to think about from the Scriptures:
1. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
This passage is a great equalizer. Every person on the planet is created in the image of God. As a result, all of them have both enormous and equal value. It doesn’t make any difference where they grew up, what color of skin they have, what gender they are, or what language they speak. They are created in the image of God. It doesn’t take much to see that one of the first steps in racism or discrimination is to say that a particular group of people are of lesser value than another. Think of the blatant expression of this by Hitler regarding the Jews. They were considered sub-human and the resulting logic was the “final solution” and the death of millions. That’s an extreme example that shows us that this issue is not just a white-black issue but involves any attempt to say that one group is less valuable than another.
2. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23).
Like being made in the image of God, this verse is a great equalizer. We are all guilty before God. We simply cannot say that we are better than another person. Nor can we say that one people is better than another. Latinos are not better than Anglos. African Americans are not better than Japanese Americans. You get my point. We are all guilty before a holy God and none of us deserves better treatment because of our ethnicity.
3. Love is our marching order (Mathew 22:37-40).
We are to love others and to treat them the way we would want to be treated. It’s a simple thing. Would we want someone making disparaging remarks about us because we are ____? Then it is wrong for us to make disparaging remarks like that. The command is to love others. Even our enemies. There isn’t an exception and the order has not been rescinded.
4. We are to pursue justice (Micah 6:8)
The Bible is full of commands to work towards a just and fair society. James warns us against the horrible sin of showing partiality (James 2:1-13). Discrimination is partiality and sin. It can become systemic in society and when it does Christians need to speak against it. We have an obligation to help those who are marginalized (James 1:27). We dare not be silent: “Open your mouths for the mute, for the rights of all those who are destitute. Open your mouths, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
5. In Christ we are one (Galatians 3:28).
One of the glories of the gospel is that we are all one in Christ. Just as we are made in the image of God and equally sinners, in Christ we are all united. Ephesians 2-3 goes into great detail to say that the dividing wall that separates people from one another on the basis of ethnicity has been destroyed.
6. God’s delight is in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 5:9-10).
The Lord is building a kingdom made of people from every nation and language. This is the heart of God. As participants in that kingdom, we are called to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, and look out for their interests. Racism and discrimination are anathema to kingdom people. And we work to both prevent it and to defend those who suffer from it. It’s what kingdom people do.
Do you see it? Dealing with racism is a gospel issue. It is biblical.
But what can you do?
Here I simply share what Kelvin Walker, the Sr. Vice President of the C&MA wrote on Facebook.
I’ve received a lot of requests from a number of people for me to address these two questions: “What can I do?” “How do I help?” First of all, thank you. That you want to help, speak out, and be a part of bringing an end to this means more than you know.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and prayer over the past couple of days. I realize that everyone has a different view on this. And, I’m sure that not everyone will agree on what I’ve listed. I’m sure there will be questions like, “Why didn’t you say this?” or “Why did you leave that out?” or “Why did you say THAT?” This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions by any means. That being said, here are some thoughts that I offer to you:
1) Sit in the lament with those that are lamenting – without offering suggestions on “Another way to see this…” or “At least, things aren’t as bad as they were.” Lament is not a time to soothe or escape the discomfort of the pain. Neither is it a time to invalidate the realities that Black and Brown people face every day in this world. Lament is designed to openly and honestly express the pain of the situation. You bring hope when you sit in the pain with me without trying to discredit, ease, or escape my pain.
2) Listen to learn, not to refute. They say that experience is the best teacher. While it may not be your experience, listening to the experiences of Black and Brown people in TODAY’S America, and what we’ve been forced to learn and endure just so we can survive, will teach you more than a course on racism and injustice detached from story and experience will ever teach you. Story and experience are POWERFUL.
3) When acts of racism and injustice happen, break the habit of vilifying the victim and putting his/her past on display. And, don’t allow others to do it. There is no justification for any act of racism or injustice. Whether it is caught on camera, or (as in the majority of cases) is hidden from the camera, it is wrong. It is sinful. It is dehumanizing and strips people of their dignity – PERIOD.
4) Use your voice to speak out against it. Do not give in to the fear of the backlash you might possibly receive from your friends, your community, and/or, your colleagues. When we sit silent, we sit complicit. This perpetuates the injustice and allows the racist acts/attitudes/patterns to go unchallenged.
5) If you are a pastor, let this subject make its way into your preaching series before an act of racism or injustice happens. That being said, a statement this weekend that speaks against injustice followed by a prayer that cries out to God for justice is a way to begin to speak out from the pulpit if you’ve not done it before. If you have been one who has spoken out in the past, or you have already spoken out recently, thank you. Don’t stop. Your voice matters and is appreciated.
6) Read and educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the world. Listen to podcasts. Watch Ted Talks. Further, and this is the hard truth, educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the Church. Then, with the power of the Holy Spirit, refuse to allow it to continue under your watch.
7) Hope with me that Jesus will return soon and right every unjust and racist action that has taken place in the world. Until then, we lament, we speak out, we challenge unjust systems/actions/attitudes, and we long for the day where life will be here on earth as it is in heaven.
I close with this quote from Nicky Gumbel: “When injustices around the world are screaming ‘your life is of no value,’ the Church cannot remain silent. Apathy makes excuses. Love finds a way.”
Word of Life Staff
A place for the Word of Life staff and guest writers to share of themselves in writing with the Word of Life family.