The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have opened fresh wounds not only for our country but also in the mind and heart of this very white midwestern pastor.
Please understand that I come this subject with a very heavy and conflicted heart. On the one hand, as a white male, living in a mostly white city, in a mostly white state, I don’t have the credibility to speak on issues of race. On the other hand, as a pastor, leader, and as one with a platform, I am compelled to speak. You may rightly ask, “Why now?”
Something has changed, and maybe it’s just me, but I don’t fully believe that.
- We are literally watching, live on Facebook, the deaths of our neighbors.
- The outpouring of cries of people from my own conservative tribe seem to be much stronger than at any other time in my lifetime.
- There is a group of people who are truly terrified for their lives and for the lives of their children.
Any one of those things should give us pause to stop, listen, and consider what our response should be, but, when you put all of them together, I believe we are at a moment where we need to take some action.
The main issue at hand is the question of systemic cultural bias and racial injustice against African Americans. The idea that it exists manifests itself it many different ways and to many different degrees. And in the last couple days it has been exacerbated through two different shootings in two very different parts of America.
Now, I understand that the issues involved are extremely complex, run very deep, and have been around for a long time. I don’t believe it is helpful at this point to dive into the complexities about movements of arms, the inner-city, poverty, the fatherless, and everything else–especially for most predominately white churches. Also note, that at this point I’m not interested in prosecuting a case for or against the shootings. This is a personal testimony about an awakening and where I believe we need to go from here. There are always things you will be able to pick apart and question, but our hearts are deceitful, and, often, our biases hidden.
So what do we do?
We need to Listen
Racial injustice is an issue in our country. Do not gloss over this or roll your eyes because that is the whole point. To truly be able to recognize if there is injustice, I need to listen intently and empathize deeply. First, I believe we have done a terrible job of listening. We pretend to hear, and we may even nod in agreement, but then we go on our way unaffected by it all. I need to listen to those crying out. I need to hear their stories. I need to know how they feel. How many times in the gospels does Jesus listen and see and immediately respond with compassion? How could anyone not be cut to the core, listening to a four-year-old tell her mom it will be ok, after watching her father shot in front of her?
If we are listening, we will weep. Someone doesn’t need to be a saint for me to mourn their death. The Apostle Paul lays out exactly how a follower of Jesus is supposed to act in Romans 12. We are commanded to “weep with those who weep.” He follows that command directly with the command to be humble, and not think of yourself as higher than others. I weep with those who mourn today, because I hate the pain that they are in. We weep together because we can all identify together as broken people who need redemption.
This won’t change anything overnight, but our black brothers and sisters will know that we have their backs and in solidarity stand shoulder to shoulder with them. This doesn’t mean we condone all the actions of one group while disavowing another. It means that we will truly listen and empathize.
This goes beyond recognizing racial injustice on an individual level.
The Church Needs to Speak Out
For many reasons, most not very good, predominantly white churches have stood silent on the issue of racial injustice. Mostly it’s because it really doesn’t affect us. Individually, we all want to believe we don’t have a racist bone in our body, and the thought process is that, if I think racism is wrong, I’m good on this issue. There is no need to speak out because my personal opinion is on the right side. What if we had acted in the same manner when the Planned Parenthood videos came out? We all believe abortion is wrong to the core. We didn’t wait for all the facts to come out when we saw those videos. We knew innately that something was deeply wrong. We spoke out, we held rallies, we lobbied our representatives, and rightly so! Because we understand that all humans, including the unborn, are made in the image of God, life is something to be protected. The same thought process applies to racial injustice. We must speak out in solidarity with our brothers and sisters because they, too, are made in the image of God!
The white church has stood silent long enough. Those who speak out against injustice must not only be the ones who are being persecuted. We speak because we believe in the gospel. That is, we believe that Jesus was sent for all men, and salvation is for everyone because God loves all people and values them equally.
Last, we must recognize that it must be the church that speaks the loudest, because the systemic cultural change of sin rooted this deep only comes from the hearts and minds of men being changed by the gospel.
We Must Speak Out with the Gospel
Our own hearts can’t change unless we preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Specifically, in relation to the events of the past couple days, ask yourself pointed questions: Who did you presume was guilty when you heard about the shooting videos? Why haven’t you watched the videos? The point is, if we willingly looked more closely at the assumptions and prejudices buried in our hearts, we would run more quickly to the gospel. And we would not remain silent.
The hearts and fears of the inner city, the police, whites, blacks, Hispanics, and others won’t change, and we’ll keep on killing each other, without the good news of Jesus’ love transforming our lives.
Paul exhorts us earlier in Romans 12 to “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Why? Because of everything in the first 11 chapters of Romans that speak to the glory of Jesus saving us from our sins–because the gospel has been given to all men, and to all men equally.
The tone and timing of this may suggest to some that I am siding with one group over another. Nothing could be further from the truth. For true justice to take place we need to listen with humility.
Like the father unable to heal his son, we cry. “I believe. Help my unbelief.” We stand with you. We want to listen. Help us to hear what you hear and let the gospel guide us to solutions that help us to love all men.