I went to bed Thursday night troubled by the unfolding stories of the 2 black men who died in police involved shootings over the previous 2 days. I woke up Friday to the terrible news that 5 law enforcement officers had been killed overnight. I have kept silent in the aftermath of similar events in the past. I have written nothing about #blacklivesmatter and virtually nothing in regard to race in general. This silence is somewhat due to the fact that there are always an abundance of voices speaking out after these events. It also probably has something to do with not knowing exactly what to say. And, honestly, it’s also been because I am white. I have felt like this fact has left me somehow unqualified to speak or rendered my opinion irrelevant.
However, after these most recent events I feel I must say something. I feel it is time for white men and women to speak up. More importantly, I think it is time for white Christians to speak up. And I don’t mean speak up merely to defend police officers or to try to smear the reputations of the deceased men. I’ve seen too much of that and I am as tired of that as I am of the very loud silence from white Christians. We must speak up with comfort for those who are hurting. We must speak out against violence. We must speak up in support of our black brothers and sisters who are treated differently because of the color of their skin. We must speak out against racism of all kinds. We must speak up.
We must speak up with sadness. When someone dies a tragic and violent death, we should be saddened. We should be filled with sorrow that an image bearer of God has been taken from us. In John 11:33, Jesus was “deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” when he saw the sadness of his friends weeping for their dead brother. This should be our first response. Before we get defensive; before we get angry; before we try to figure out who was right and who was wrong; we should feel sad. I am greatly disturbed by a culture (even in Christian circles) that is unmoved by violent death. I believe that when we hear about these acts of violence we must speak up with a shared sadness.
We must speak up with compassion. Another thing to keep in mind is that every one of these lives that are taken leaves a hole in another life. I don’t care if these men are good or bad, saints or criminals, black or white; we should feel compassion for those who are hurting as a result of their death. In many of these cases, that includes whole communities. It doesn’t matter if you understand or agree with why a particular community is hurting; if they are hurting then you should care. I should care. We should be moved with compassion by the pain of the black community in the aftermath of these deaths. We should feel compassion for the law enforcement community. Showing compassion for one does not mean I don’t care about the other. Before we take sides, we must have compassion.
We must speak up with sensitivity. Too many of the voices that I do hear after a tragedy such as this are defensive, ignorant and disrespectful. I must be sensitive to those who are different than I am. I must not assume that my experience is theirs and that I have the right to determine how they must feel. As a community, we must speak up with a voice that is sensitive to the plight and pain of our brothers and sisters rather than dismissive of it.
We must speak up with humility. We cannot be so arrogant as to assume that we could possibly know all the facts in any one of these incidents, much less in all of them. The vast majority of us have no means of knowing what actually happened, yet far too often we pridefully formulate opinions as if we have all of the facts. Someone’s race does not make them guilty or innocent, but neither does the fact that someone is a police officer. We must be humble enough to admit that we have pre-conceived ideas and that they could be wrong. We must be humble enough to admit we don’t know everything. We must be humble enough to admit there could be societal issues and problems that we are unaware of or even that we are unknowingly contributing toward. I am deeply troubled by the number of Christians who arrogantly speak up after these tragedies claiming to have all the answers and condemning anyone who disagrees with them. I urge all of my brothers and sisters to speak up, but to do so with a gracious humility.
We must speak up with awareness. This might take some effort, but we have to be aware of the realities of the world around us. Do some research. Talk to people of a different skin color or nationality. Do something to gain awareness of what is going on in the world around you. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and insist there is no racism. The fact of the matter is that we live in a fallen world and in this world racism is alive and well. People are mistreated because of their skin color. People fear those who are different than they are. People make assumptions about certain communities and races without regard for individual differences. Unfortunately, I’m talking about good people as well as evil ones. We must be aware that racism doesn’t only exist within the hearts and minds of evil, hate filled extremists, but in the hearts and minds of good and well-meaning people. We have to quit denying that there is a problem. We must quit ignoring it. We must speak up with an educated awareness of the pervasiveness of racial discord in our culture.
We must speak up with truth. I’m not speaking of merely being factual, though we should certainly strive for accuracy and honesty. I’m primarily talking about speaking up with the truth of God’s Word. We must speak the truth that all life matters to God because we are each made in the image of God. We must speak the truth that God loves everyone, regardless of race. We must speak out with the truth that hatred and violence are an abomination. We must speak up with the truth that God offers forgiveness to all who will accept it. We must speak the truth that in God’s eyes we are one race, all equal before Him. We must speak up with the truth that in Jesus we can tear down racial divides and become unified in Him. We must speak the truth that only in Christ can we find healing.
Only when we speak up in this way can we make a difference. We cannot change the world by wishing it better or by ignoring its problems. We cannot change anything through arguing or fighting. We can’t make things better by placing blame. We can only hope to change our world if we are courageous enough to speak up in a way that honors God, manifests His love, and proclaims His truth.
Photo By Frerieke from The Hague, The Netherlands (Flickr: Day 20.06 _ Diversity and Unity) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons