I don’t typically comment publicly about social issues or specific current events. When I do, I try to reserve my comments to private or at least in-person conversations and to be sure I have all pertinent information and can have a balanced, accurate perspective. Over the last week, the racism issue in our nation has been heavy on my heart and mind. The scenes from Minneapolis are appalling and it is undeniably wrong what happened to George Floyd. At this point, I can’t say nothing. So here are a few, hopefully coherent, thoughts.
I know of no one who is condoning what happened. I don’t pretend to know the true motives of the police in that incident, but it is hard to imagine that the race of Mr. Floyd did not play into it at least a little. I have family in law enforcement and I’m thankful for them. So, I called my brother and asked if a knee on the neck was ever taught to him in his training as proper method of restraint. Thankfully, he responded with a resounding no and that this was bad policing. In some ways if that had been taught, it would be easier to fix. Fix the training – fix the problem. However, as I figured, it is a much deeper issue.
The thing that broke my heart the most in this was the seeming indifference of those who committed to protect and serve their community. There should be effort to protect and care for every person – even if they are rightly detained. The indifference displayed in the attitude and responses of the officers involved in the George Floyd video revealed a deeper issue of hatred and lack of concern for the sanctity of human life. I see this as one of the bigger issues. We must regain an appreciation and love for every person – no matter the color of their skin. Hearing George Floyd say “I can’t breathe” is heartbreaking, but for many they echo this sentiment from their own experiences.
Racism isn’t a uniquely American issue. I’ve traveled to enough places to know it is a dominant experience in the world for many. Our sin nature leads humans to hate and to regard as lesser people those who are not like us. Some may say – that’s the issue we need to deal with- it’s just a sin issue. True, racism is, at its heart, a sin issue. However, sometimes sin manifests itself in a specific sin. In this case racism – which has been a plague on our nation and world for far too long.
I can’t solve the racism issue around the world. Truthfully, I can’t even change it all in our nation. But I can make a difference where I am. I can speak up when I see it around me and I will do my part to change the hearts of those around me. The only true cure is the gospel – the truth of Jesus Christ that he came to forgive sins and make us new creations. Christ in us should change our hearts and our thinking.
But now is not the time to just quote Scripture or stand on platitudes. So here are a couple of realizations I’ve concluded the last few days and what I think we each can do to help.
White privilege is real – maybe not as much because of skin tone, but because of being in the majority in the culture. I know for some this thought is a trigger and honestly I’ve questioned it in the past. I read today a definition that really helped it “click” for me. It said, “white privilege doesn’t mean that your life isn’t difficult, it means that your skin color isn’t one of the things contributing to the difficulty.” I know what it’s like to be somewhere and to not physically blend in. I’ve felt it in other countries where everyone looked at me because my skin tone was different. It was uncomfortable to say the least. But, I’ve never been followed or had someone question me or suspect I was up to no good because of the color of my skin and I’ve not experienced it continually in my own country.
Recently, my son turned 16 and started driving. That’s a scary moment for any parent, but I never felt the need to sit him down and have a specific conversation about how to respond if he was pulled over. I never warned him to be extra careful in that situation because his movements or motives might be seen as suspicious. I understand this conversation is a reality in many minority families around our nation. The need for this type of conversation needs to stop.
Also, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is one of those terms that is a lightning rod for many. It is often responded to with “ALL lives matter.” True all lives matter. But I heard a pastor say this and it hit home with me. To paraphrase him, the reason the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is important is that for so long, for so many, black lives didn’t matter. We must be better than that and we must show that the lives of black people do matter and will fight to show that they do.
We who have any amount of privilege or ability need to make sure we are doing everything we can to bring others along too, and to fight for the personhood, dignity, and sanctity of those who are less-privileged and less-able. That’s what we who are Christians should do. Jesus sacrificed his own “privilege” for the good of others, for us. (Phil. 2)
What do we do? How do I as an individual make a difference. Two thoughts:
First, we follow Scripture. I think we do like James instructs us and we become “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” All of us need to listen and not try to always have an answer or reply. Sometimes we just need to hear and try to understand. Then we need to be slow to speak and get angry. This is difficult in a culture that feeds on extremes in the news media and on social media. But we need to remember than James also tells us that man’s anger doesn’t produce godly righteousness. Instead of becoming angry, “receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Turn to what Scripture says. Which leads me to the next action step.
Second, love your neighbor as yourself. We need to get to know our neighbor who doesn’t look like us. I’ve been reminded of a story my grandfather told me about growing up in segregated, rural, eastern Arkansas. Possibly as racially divided a place as ever existed. There was a boy named Joe who lived down the creek from them and would come to their place and they’d play together. He and Joe were friends. But Joe was black and had to go to a different school. He told me that he didn’t understand then why Joe couldn’t go to his white school. Why did my grandfather feel this way about Joe? Because he and Joe were friends.
Part of the problem I think is that we just need to be better neighbors and friends. Stop and talk to the family that lives on your street that is a different color than you are. Get to know them, invite them over for a cook-out. Ask them how their day was at work or how their family is doing. Get to know them as people, not just by their color. Maybe I’m naïve, but I really think if all of us will make a better effort at this simple act, house by house, heart by heart, we can make a difference.
One of my biggest fears right now is that the rioting and looting will distract from the message. Early last week I sensed that the heart of America was ready for a change. It is time for senseless racism to end. My prayer is and I have confidence that justice will be served for George Floyd and any of the others who have been wrongly killed. Each of us needs do our part to stand up against injustice wherever we see it, fight for the rights and good of others, love one another, and assume the best of others first. We need to do this now so that the people of our nation can breathe again…and some as though for the first time.