Lately, one of my family members has had many encounters with law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, and it has terrified me. My family member is not a model citizen, but I still love him. I feared for his life and prayed that the Lord would protect him.
The thoughts streamed through my mind: What if he complied just like Philando? What if he was at home like Korry? What if they thought he had a weapon like Tamir? What if he resisted like Mike Brown? What if they abused him like Freddie Gray? What if they grabbed him like Alton Sterling or Eric Garner? Each scenario I replayed in my head ended with his death.
I feared he would be the next image-bearer to die at the hands of those who have sworn to protect us. I thought about the many articles that would bear his image and his name, but would be devoid of his dignity. Journalists would have blamed him for his own death, and those in blue would walk away unscathed. I was afraid an officer would ignore his education, his respectful career, and shoot him like Charles Kinsey.
We could spend time debating the morality and differences of the people mentioned above. The fact is that most of them did not live to tell their story. I was anxious the same fate would befall a member of my family. He could have been the next hashtag, his death could have motivated a riot, or there could have been a vigil for him. He is not your family, but he is your neighbor. He deserves a voice in life and in death.
Church, I plead with you: do not look at racial issues and side-step them. If you are avoiding racial issues, you are avoiding the millions of your neighbors who are hurting. The Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan are great examples of avoiding the hurting. They looked upon the beaten individual who needed their help and continued on their way. They believed that assisting this wounded person wasn’t their business.
So often major evangelical voices consider these issues to be concerns for minority churches, but speaking up about racial issues is not limited to minority believers. These issues are Christian issues because they affect the body of Christ and our neighbors—not to mention that these issues are direct results of sin and we must denounce sin. Thus, if you are in the majority, you can speak up about these matters. Yet, I would also challenge you to listen and embrace before you speak.
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
We often share our opinions too swiftly. I challenge you to listen to minority believers about racism in American before you give them a lecture on your opinion. You can’t deny the truthfulness of a position unless you have listened to it. Listen to them with the knowledge that you all share the same Spirit of God, and He can correct falsehood better than you.
B) Embrace The Differences
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
This commandment doesn’t contain qualifiers, so we must love our Black neighbor, Asian neighbor, Hispanic neighbor, and White neighbor. God requires us to love those who are different from us. When the topic of race arises, it’s common to hear someone say they are colorblind.” While the sentiment may spring from a positive motivation, this statement is unhelpful because it denies that God intentionally created us with differences and that there is incredible beauty in the diversity of Christ’s Church. We must embrace the differences, not just accept the characteristics we share.
As people who are part of the majority, you have the option of ignoring racial issues, but minorities don’t have that privilege. Frequently we are questioned about our positions regarding racially-charged events. We can’t help but speak about our kinsfolk who are victims of sinful systems. We can’t just walk around them because they are family, and we could be the next victim of injustice. I urge you to speak for those who don’t have voices in your circles of influence.
Silence is Sin
Imagine the silence among the Jews and the Gentiles before Paul confronted Peter in Galatians 2. Peter feared the Jews so he slowly started to disinherit the Gentiles. There was no Jewish-Gentile forum to talk about the gospel and racial reconciliation. They did not collectively confront the hypocrisy of Peter. The Jews probably talked to the Jews, believing it is morally right to separate themselves from the sinful Gentiles. The Gentiles probably talked among themselves, believing that the Jews were corrupt and that Peter was a traitor. However, the conversations among the groups possibly never left their sphere of influence, so there was silence about these issues.
But Paul, the Jew who was a missionary to the Gentiles, broke the silence. He confronted Peter in front of everybody. He accused him of being out of step with the gospel. He acknowledged these racial issues were not Gentile or Jewish issues but Christian issues. The question is this: will you break the silence in your church, workplace, community, and family? Will you continue to seek the approval of man or of God? Are you out of step with the gospel? I don’t say this as an angry black man, but as someone who is trying to encourage himself and others to love our neighbors. So Listen, Embrace, and Speak out of love for your neighbors and for the glory of God.
In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.