In the last couple of years, conversations about race in America have gotten louder and more inflamed than they have ever been since my adulthood (I was 14 when the LA riots happened in the aftermath of the LAPD-Rodney King incident).
From Trayvon Martin in Florida to Michael Brown in Ferguson to Eric Garner in NYC to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the conversation has been growing, especially on social media.
Hoodies. Hands up, don't shoot. I can't breathe. Black Lives Matter.
As a white man living in a suburb, what am I supposed to do with all this? Anyone who isn't white may be disheartened to hear this, but it would be pretty easy for me to ignore it all.
Anyone who isn't white may be disheartened to hear this, but it would be pretty easy for me to ignore all this.
I could take the stance that none of this affects me or my family. This is an issue for the black American community, politicians and police departments to sort out. I live a life where I never have to wonder whether I am judged for the color of my skin (or my gender for that matter).
I could simply view this as the black community 'pulling the race card' and dismiss much or all of what I hear. Taking the position that 'we live in a land of opportunity and anyone who doesn't take advantage of that has only themselves to blame' is a quick and easy way for me to ignore or dismiss this conversation...if I want to.
But I am a follower of Jesus, and I believe that I don't have the right to ignore or dismiss such conversations. Let me explain to my fellow white American Christians why I don't want to do that.
1 - I'm supposed to love people.
Conversations don't exist in a vacuum of ideas. Conversations are interactions between people. So if I dismiss or ignore a conversation, I'm ignoring people. Last time I checked, one of the core tenet of Christian belief is that I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself.
Love doesn't dismiss people who are frustrated and hurt. Love doesn't say, "Quit whining. Suck it up. Deal with it."
One of the core tenet of Christian belief is that I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself.
Love doesn't dismiss people who are frustrated and hurt
If somebody is expressing anger or frustration or any other evidence of some kind of breakdown in community, I should care. My response should never be to silence someone who isn't fulfilling my preferences.
2 - I'm supposed to care about creating community.
Jesus was a part of an oppressed community. The Roman army was occupying Israel (Jesus being an Israelite). Jesus loved the Romans and built connections with them.
The Jews (Jesus being Jewish) hated and ostracized the Samaritans. Jesus loved the Samaritans and built connections with them.
When Jesus was discussing the whole idea of 'love your neighbor', one of his listeners asked, essentially, what does that mean? Who is my neighbor? Jesus responds with a story called The Good Samaritan. One of the primary points of the story is that every interaction is an opportunity to create community whether that person is a friend or a perceived enemy.
3 - I'm supposed to value other cultures
God created humanity to have different cultures. Besides giving us the ability to have different cultures, God himself initiated it at the tower of Babel.
Here's the fun part: nowhere does God say he's going to undo this. In fact, the story of Pentecost demonstrated that God is going to bring redemption in the midst of diverse cultures, not eliminate them.
The story of Pentecost demonstrated that God is going to bring redemption in the midst of cultural diversity, not undo it.
Even more, in the opportunity John of Patmos has to see into the fully realized Kingdom of God, he sees every cultural group and language present.
Diversity is here to stay. We will not merge into one identity, except for the identity of people who have been redeemed by Jesus.
When we make the choice to follow Jesus, we are not baptized into being a different skin tone/ethnic group, we are baptized into a Body of Christ made up of all the skin tones and ethnic groups.
4 - I'm supposed to care about healing brokenness.
Jesus tells us to be peacemakers. If a group of people is saying they are the victims of injustice, ignoring the claim is an abdication of our responsibility as believers.
Note that Jesus did not call us to be blame-assignors, or claim-assessors. He tells us to be peacemakers. That means we have to move towards situations where peace is not in occuring.
If you agree with all this, the next question is, so what am I supposed to do? If I agree that I should not ignore or dismiss the conversation, what is the proper response?
1 - Listen.
Seriously. Stop worrying about what you want other people to think. Don't rant about how much you hate Chris Rock's Oscar monologue. Or how angry you are at Beyonce's Super Bowl dancer's outfits. Or talk about how you dislike Black Lives Matter protests at recent political rallies.
Listen to what is being said. Much of the black American community is frustrated. Why?
Can you explain that position without being snarky or roll your eyes? Don't try to impose your viewpoint on anyone. Find out about their viewpoint.
There are some very legitimate reasons that black Americans are trying to have their voice heard though recent protests. Listen to what is being said.
Black Lives Matter is not a vehicle to claim that other lives are worth less than black lives. It's attempting to draw attention to a system which has resulted in death and discrimination for far too long.
When you respond with "All lives matter", you're saying that you don't believe any of that discrimination exists in our world today. If you believe that, I encourage you to listen more and to...
2 - Learn
Listening is a great way to gain perspectives from other people. Another great way is to seek education on the subject.
Books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, Letters Across the Divide by David Alexander, Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and other such resources may be helpful to you.
You may also start to appreciate what Black Lives Matter really means, and why "All Lives Matter" is therefore not an appropriate response, but rather a choice to ignore a legitimate discussion.
3 - Act
I'm not going to tell you what actions you need to take in order to be part of renewal and restoration in the midst of broken community in America, but I think you need to do something which builds bridges and true community.
It may be seeking out an opportunity to build multicultural relationships.
It may be changing your participation with this conversation from the standpoint of social media posts.
It may be repenting to God for having hated fellow humans instead of loving them.
The bottom line is that intellectual ascent to a change in your perspective is a great start, but it must not be the end.
The broken community in our nation will not heal without people of faith becoming the sutures which pull the split back together.
Jesus sent us as doctors among the sick.
If I went to a doctor who evaluated, diagnosed and then did nothing, I would not be in the care of a good doctor.
I'm not telling you that white people need to fix the injustice which affects black Americans in our country. Black Americans don't need white Americans to 'rescue them' or 'put them in their place'. You and I make terrible, terrible Messiahs. Only the Holy Spirit can bring restoration and healing. I'm saying you should be an agent of that restoration and reconciliation, to be part of God's kingdom come and His will be done on this earth.
I'm not telling you that white people need to fix the injustice which affects black Americans in our country...I'm saying you should be an agent of that restoration and reconciliation, to be part of God's kingdom come and His will be done on this earth.
If we embrace these biblical missions, we can be part of something better than what exists today, and we will be preparing this world for the final and complete arrival of the Kingdom of God.
Cherish the fact that God has given you black brothers and sisters (as well as brothers and sisters from other cultures!). Let their perspectives enrich and enlighten you. Listen to them and learn to see beyond your own experiences. Let your community grow beyond those who look and act like you. In doing so, you will find that you yield a harvest 100 times greater than your efforts.