I was asked in the Q&A this past Sunday how we ought to be thinking about the racial struggles that have been brought back into the light with the horrific death of George Floyd. Here is what I shared.
As a pastor, reflecting on these things has been a quiet journey for me over the past years. My window into this has been through assisting dozens of people escaping the clutches and damage of abuse through Celebrate Recovery. Later, my doctoral program introduced me to a broader set of teachers and urban students from a variety of backgrounds who helped me learn and begin coming to terms with the benefits I have experienced from generations of racism. But still, I am a white guy from a blue-collar family who has lived in mostly white neighborhoods.
However, as I reflect on these events in light of scripture, I would like to offer these reflections to two different groups within Project 938 in a way that everyone can hear.
First of all, to our people of color and those who have experienced abuse and oppression, please hear my remorse, sadness and disappointment at everything that has created a climate where these abuses continue to occur without change. I stand with you to call for a change in the systems that have perpetuated injustice for George Floyd and others. I have remorse, for I know that there have been times I could have spoken and didn’t, and times I even silently perpetuated problems that I am only coming to understand more fully now.
Your voice is important
Your voice is important to me, it is important to our community and it is important to our world. The growing conversation over the past several years culminating in the past week has made it clear that your voice needs to be heard. I encourage you to continue to reflect, speak up, and express your experience in creative ways.
Unfortunately, the world we live in—and human hearts in general—defaults towards resistance to negative feedback. Every one of us can share stories about how we fought back when given feedback we don’t want to hear. Just because feedback is resisted, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak. Those of us in the majority need to learn to listen and when we don’t, I charge you to not be discouraged, but rather to be creative.
When minorities are victimized and suppressed, it can affect our personal sense of identity. Before you were ever victimized, I want you to know that God made you in his image and no evil of this world can change that fact. Your glorious design is an eternal testimony to your value, dignity, worth and ability. Before you were ever a victim, you are someone who is made in the image of a creator.
So please, continue to creatively express yourself for our world to hear you.
To the majority culture of Project 938, I want us to hear two important things:
Let’s listen and learn
This is a time for us to actively listen and learn. We should demonstrate our solidarity with our friends who are experiencing a kind of pain that is likely difficult for us to know or understand. As those who have been the majority, it is tempting to see ourselves as the normal version of culture versus just one flavor of culture. Our experience is not normal. It is unique and therefore the experiences of the minorities among us are similarly unique in a way that we ought to seek to understand.
For me, listening to my friends tell their stories of being treated differently by a variety of institutions continues to surprise me as their experiences are so much different than my own. Sometimes cultural differences have led me to regrettably dismiss feedback and release myself from the responsibility to listen and discern. That may be tempting as we see riots accompany the protests and hear some people dismiss the issue altogether because of the violence that has ensued. We need to remember though that there was violence and looting when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The looting then didn’t make the celebration any less legitimate, and the looting and rioting now doesn’t make the peaceful protesters less worthy of consideration.
As a parent, I can sometimes take my children’s misbehavior and take it personally—“what’s wrong with you. Why won’t you…?” When I take their emotionally driven actions personally, it becomes an us vs. them conversation. Either my kids are wrong, or I am wrong. Could it be the kids? Could it be the parents? Or could it be that there is something that I don’t understand yet? Learning to listen and learn and discern has led me to my better moments as a parent and I believe it will help us see what we may have been blind to before.
Here are a few ways to learn:
· Check in with your friends who are people of color and let them know you are thinking of them. Seek an opportunity to learn more.
· Talk with your friends or your small group about what you are learning from all of this. Listen to hear what others are experiencing. One friend asked me today: “What do you fear when it comes to this movement?”
· Read. Learn from others outside of your tradition or cultural heritage. Here are a few books and authors that have become meaningful to me over the years:
Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King
Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell
Restoring Manhood, by Eric Mason (church planter and pastor in Phila)
The Next Evangelicalism, by Soong Chan Rah
Ask yourself, “what is happening inside of me,” as we experience these tremendous protests on this issue. Personally, as I have engaged with my friends and others on these issues, I have found myself revisiting tragedy in my own family. This is important to know, because the grief of this issue brings me back to grief not fully addressed previously. If I am not careful, I can find myself responding, not to the call of God on my life for a particular moment, but rather responding to all of the pain of my past in any given moment—and missing the actual moment entirely.
This is a gospel issue.
Way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way before this has ever been a political issue, this is a gospel issue. From the moment that shame clouded the space between Adam and Eve, when murder emerged in the generation that follows; love, respect, and honor towards others have been central to the call of humanity and has been central to Jesus’ restoration of humanity.
He summarizes the vision of what it means to be human as one who loves God and loves others. This addresses the immediate brokenness that occurs in our separation from God. As a gospel issue, we know that racism plays out in two important ways:
1. It is layered in the heart pervasively. Shame, guilt, manipulation, fear, and hate dwell in the sin that resides in every human heart. Racism hasn’t just popped up in America, but it is a stain upon every culture of every time in every place. The battle for civil liberties and equality is a distinctively Christian vision and the battlefield is in the sinful complexity of the human heart.
2. It is layered in the institutions of power. Everything that humans create are reflections of our hearts in good, bad and racist ways. Racism can be baked into the layers of power and cultural formation in ways that we are still blind to and often unwilling to see.
The problem is deeper and wider than we can imagine. Yet, Jesus’s solution is deeper and wider than this problem.
It is by his wounds that we are healed, (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus’ death and resurrection offer us a transformative experience that reunites us to the source of love that can free us from guilt, shame, self-loathing, hate and oppression. As we are united with Jesus by His Spirit, we have access to the life of Jesus and his power that moved him to say, “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” as the officers in charge were brutally snuffing the breath out of his lungs through crucifixion. Though we do not have record of Jesus saying, “I can’t breathe,” we do have him saying, “It is finished.” Through Jesus, we can find forgiveness and the source of love that can end the hate in our hearts.
“God is pleased to reconcile all things” (Colossians 1:20).
As King of the Kingdom of God, Jesus wants to not just reorder our hearts but to renew all things and to restore all things, reflecting his divinity, love, and concern. He has placed each of us into places of authority and influence in the world. Some of us have visible signs of our authority and official positions of power, whether in our employment, volunteerism, or government. Some of us have influence. Jesus’ call on each of us is to use our influence to reflect his order. Remember, each of us are made in the image of God and therefore each of us must leave the residue of God’s character upon all things we steward. This is a reflection in our work, our friendship, our advocacy, our parenting, and even our voting.
Let’s choose to see the tension as an unfortunate opportunity for growth. Martin Luther King once said, “Peace is not the absence of tension, but rather the presence of justice.” May we step into this moment, healed by Jesus stripes and living as an extension of his image, extending God’s justice in every aspect of our lives and society.
To the glory of God and the healing of our world.