Peaceful Protests & the 40-60

If you have insisted on peaceful-only protests, you really need to affirm when athletes protest peacefully.

This week, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the floor in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Some voices complained when pandemic entertainment was put on hold, as NBA players used their voice to demand justice and change. So if you are one of those who have condemned violent protests in the past, you really should applaud these players who have used their voice peacefully, clearly, and powerfully.

To all my friends who feel exhausted by the cycles of collective trauma: I am so incredibly sorry. It’s real, it’s valid, and it’s evil. It was on this day (August 28) in 1955 that Emmett Till was killed. And it was on this day in 1963 that MLK turned the Lincoln Memorial into a pulpit and preached “I Have a Dream” straight out of the Prophets of old.

Decades later and I can’t even imagine the emotions that the children of Jacob Blake are enduring. I can’t fathom what kind of grace and understanding will be needed to walk this journey with these children. No child should have to watch their daddy get shot in the back, and no people should have to watch the replays of all-too familiar violence. Lord Jesus, we pray for these children, and we cry out for justice.

This brings me to an appeal.

I keep hearing people call for unity and reconciliation and peace – and I get it. We want our cities to stop burning and our social media feeds to get back to normal. But there is a thought I can’t shake from one of Martin Luther King’s later writings: “The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates.” (Where Do We Go From Here?)

This brings me to an appeal.

What exactly is the cost of “unity” in our country? For a white man, it has meant taking about five steps toward the middle ground of reconciliation. It’s a bargain rate. But for the black man – if we are honest – the middle ground has required something more like 95 steps. Multiply that by generations of oppression, and it’s exhausting.

I was speaking with a pastor friend this week when we talked about this very reality. I’m white. He’s black. And he’s exhausted. “Let me be honest,” he explained. “I’ll meet you in the middle, but I’ve only got about 40 steps to give. I’m tired, and I’m going to need you to give me 60.

This was incredibly helpful.

And this is my appeal.  It’s not exactly in the Bible, and I have no scientific data to support a “40-60 proposal”. It’s just fresh out of the dialogue of my friend and me trying to walk a journey together. I’ve heard people call for a relational 50-50 or 100-100, and I understand the rationale. Nevertheless, I ask you to consider some version of this unity-path moving forward. If you are lighter-skinned, I believe now is a really good time to leave your comfort zone and make the journey toward true peace, not another insulting false peace. Perhaps this starts by simply asking your friends, what would it look like for me to make a 60 step trek?

And just to be clear, one of those steps probably means listening to what these protesters are meaning by their protests, and not what you are hearing by their protests.

People in the majority often ask, what is required of me? The prophet Micah posed a similar question centuries ago. “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you?” It’s such a great question and his answer is as relevant now as it was then: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) My friend was letting me know: Mike, you have lived with a set of privileges that have allowed you the convenience of taking five steps for every 95 of mine. But this not sustainable, this is not just, and this is not love. There is a price to pay, privilege to acknowledge, and humility to embrace. Real change is not cheap, and true reconciliation does not come at a bargain rate.

Just look at the Cross.

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