“I can’t breathe.” How many times will we have to hear those words? The cries of George Floyd fell on deaf ears and you have to wonder where our culture is heading. Some thoughts:
If the Church doesn’t provide a voice of justice from heaven, there is always an enemy speaking a substitute from hell. God’s people need to own the justice conversation. Things always get twisted when the people who know the Judge recuse themselves from the justice dialogue in court of public thought.
My heart grieves to hear my black friends describing more fear of a racial pandemic than a global COVID pandemic. As a Caucasian brother, I hear you. We hear you.
Let’s get honest: the system is messed up. Faulty foundations will always lead to faulty construction. The roots of policing in our country were loaded with racism from the beginning. The slave patrols of the 1700s consisted of volunteer vigilantes who served to round up slaves trying to escape, while thwarting the efforts of the Underground Railroad. The more recognizable centralized police forces began to appear in the 1800s. Their efforts were often more focused on controlling the potential for disorder among the lower class than responding to crime across the board. Implicit bias is more deadly than explicit racism because it operates underground. And unaccountable.
The system is not the people. There are incredibly honorable and courageous cops protecting the innocent and keeping the peace on the streets of our cities. If you are one of those officers, we thank you. You are heroes. This is why we need to learn to simultaneously show gratitude for the many good guys (and gals) while calling for change in a system where there are problems. There were some really great people working for Enron, but the company itself had a systemic problem. There are high character people working for low character organizations. It’s a culture issue.
What is culture? It’s what you teach and what you tolerate. Something has to shift in the culture of law enforcement on both fronts.
It is not unrealistic to demand improved and upgraded teaching, training and vetting of police officers. Every one of us is biased. Every one of us is broken in more ways than we have the courage to admit. Put a badge on a broken person and we have a problem – unless we ensure adequate preparation. I won’t let someone do surgery on me unless I know that they have been taught, instructed, and fully prepared. If we kept seeing reports of deadly hernia operations, everybody would demand a change in how we educate surgeons. It is time to call for such change.
Culture starts with what we teach, but it’s revealed by what we tolerate. We have tolerated a system that has not provided equal justice and accountability for all. Regardless of what an organization says it values, the real culture of an organization is revealed by what they tolerate. I have looked in the eyes of girls devastated to watch their family turn a blind eye to their molesting relatives. It’s a toxic culture. Injustice unaddressed torments the soul and poisons the onlookers. And we have a history of police brutality that has tormented the souls of those on the receiving end of injustice. God says it like this: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Rebuke the oppressor. Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Those with power must be held accountable.
You cannot correct what you will not acknowledge. Refusal to call out racialized sin has blocked our capacity to heed the warning of the prophets of old. Repent.
It is troubling to hear voices claim that we are falling into a leftist social justice warrior syndrome. Let’s be real. If I want justice for the unborn (and I do), I have to look to the right side of the aisle, because the left is painfully silent. But if I want racial justice, I have to look to the left. It is embarrassing that it has taken the ubiquity of cell phone cameras to open the eyes of culture to injustice that has been there all along. If the Church won’t say it, it seems that God will allow Youtube, Facebook, or Instagram to bring it to light. We really don’t need to hear another person point out that they never owned a slave. Or bring up black on black crime. Or boast in color-blindness. Don’t tell me I’m falling prey to the news media machine if you have not wept with those who wept. Injustice must be confessed. Hatred must be addressed. Indifference must be forsaken. The blood of the innocent cries out to heaven. God forbid that we block our ears. I have contributed to the problem, and I repent. My silence has been part of the problem, and I repent.
If you question the need to repent of corporate or systemic sin, then I challenge you to consider Nehemiah (1:6) or Daniel (9:20) or Isaiah (6:5). These giants of the faith discerned the need for humility to repent of both personal and corporate sin. If you don’t recognize racialized sin in our culture, please read The New Jim Crow. Or watch 13th. Or go ask a black friend what is going on in their heart right now. 911 calls in Central Park. Riots on the streets on Minneapolis. It’s been a brutal week.
I have hope. Especially if we will combine our justice with mercy and humility. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Ahmaud Arbery incident. As I would expect there was pushback from people who disagreed – some of them forcefully. I don’t automatically allow all comments to be posted, frankly, because I don’t want the whole world watching people behaving in ways devoid of love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. Instead I responded with personal messages, just in case people were actually interested in dialogue. Plus, I’m fallible. I miss it. I could say things better. I need to learn. I question my own motives. So I stayed up late one night, wrote some follow-up emails, and hit the send button. I waited a couple days to check my inbox, but when I finally did, my heart was warmed. People were open. And good. And humble. It’s amazing what happens when people discuss things in the name of Jesus. Instead of arguing online in the name of their hatred. I don’t have any hope in justice without Jesus. But if we’ll acknowledge Him in all of our ways, he’ll direct our paths.
We have the opportunity to do something special right now. Everybody expects all the kids to run to the black side of the cafeteria or the white side of the cafeteria. Everybody expects every detail of every situation to become highly politicized during an election year. Everybody expects people to be defined by their race. But what if we embrace our race, while defining ourselves by our ultimate identity – beloved of God, confirmed by a bloody cross and an empty tomb? I bet we’d change the world. We are grieving. But let’s not grieve as those who have no hope.