Thursday, July 07, 2016
BREAKING MY SILENCE
There are a half dozen other articles I had planned to write this week, but until I say this I can’t bring myself to write anything else.
America has a problem. We know that this country has several serious problems, actually, but this one is getting worse by the day and we can’t afford to remain silent about it any longer.
Black people in this country – especially black men – are routinely harassed, beaten, tased and shot to death, simply for being black.
We have to admit: Black lives do not matter in the same way that White lives do.
Please understand: Everything I say here is directed entirely at the Christian Church in America. This is not about politics. This is not about ideology. This is about what it means to follow Jesus and counting the cost.
I watched a video clip the other day from a black woman who called for White males to stand up and speak out on this issue of violence against black people. She said that it didn’t matter how many black people went and protested and marched and held signs calling for justice in front of the courthouse. They’ve done that. It doesn’t change anything.
I believe she is right.
But, if just 50 white men stood outside the courthouse in Baton Rouge and held signs demanding justice for Alton Sterling, it would create a bigger ripple than if 200 black people did the same thing.
I hate saying that, and I hate that we live in a country where this is the case, but it is, indeed, the case.
Black people in this country need advocates, and they need advocates that have power and influence and privileges that they do not – and will not – ever have. At least, not until we stand up next to them and demand that they receive equal treatment and respect.
Power in America rests in the hands of white males. We are the ultimate in privilege.
Don’t believe me? Then if you’re a white male I challenge you to seriously ask yourself if you would trade places with a black man. Would you be willing to grow up in a black neighborhood? Would you be willing to go to a black school where the quality of education is reduced? Would you be willing to grow up in poverty? Would you be willing to have people treat you differently – as “less than” a man? Would you trade all of your opportunities for advancement with someone who is looked at with suspicion? Would you trade your life with the life of Alton Sterling, or Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin, or Michael Brown?
This is the reality for black men in America today:
Carry a legal weapon in your pocket and you’ll get shot.
Carry a BB gun off the shelf at a Wal-Mart and you’ll get shot.
No weapon? You may still get shot.
Hands in the air? Prepare to be shot.
Running away? Shot.
Toy gun? Also shot.
Twelve years old? Shot dead and no charges against the officers.
In fact, no charges for any officers in any shooting cases where black people were shot dead without cause.
These are “unfortunate accidents,” they say. These are “isolated incidents.”
Never mind that they happen every other day.
Never mind that white people point loaded guns at cops and do not get shot.
Never mind that white people shoot people to death in a church, or a movie theater, and still get treated tenderly and respectfully without getting shot and earn their day in court.
There is an inequity here that needs to be addressed.
I believe the problem is two-fold:
First, we have to admit that we are living in a culture where racism is still alive and well. We have to admit this. We have to intentionally work to change this.
Second, we need to admit that there is a problem with the way our police departments use deadly force. We need to systematically re-train our police officers to change their tactics when it comes to drawing their weapons. The training should start with the largest metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, etc., and then move on to smaller districts and counties.
Christians in America especially need to elevate this issue of police violence against minorities. We need to make it as important an issue as abortion, or religious freedom.
We have to stop standing on the side of the oppressors and we have to quit making excuses for why the oppressed “deserved” what happened to them.
We need to advocate for the oppressed, and that includes minorities, and LGBTQ, and Muslims, and victims of rape, and the poor, and immigrants, just to name a few.
There is a concept in the Bible called “Shalom”. It’s about much more than “peace”. It’s about a community where everyone enjoys the peace of God. It’s the idea that everyone has enough food, and shelter, and peace, and opportunity as everyone else. If everyone in the community doesn’t enjoy this shalom, then no one has it.
The idea was floated in the Old Covenant, but it was never actually realized until right after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the people of God and they began to love one another as Jesus loved them. Suddenly, they were selling their property and sharing what they had with those who had nothing. Why? Because they had been touched and transformed by the love of Christ.
The result was that “there was not a needy person among them.”
So, if we have been touched and transformed by the love of Christ, we also need to seek the “shalom” of everyone in our community. If there are some among us – especially if they are brothers and sisters in Christ – and they have no shalom, then none of us can really enjoy it either.
I’m here to tell you that you and I have brothers and sisters in the black community who are desperate for shalom. They have no rest. They have no peace. They haven’t the opportunities that you and I in the white community enjoy and take for granted.
This means that it doesn’t matter what anyone does or does not “deserve”. What matters is how we want others to treat us, and then extending that same treatment to everyone – especially those who are on the outside looking in.
I wish I could afford to fly to Baton Rouge and stand outside the courthouse holding a sign that says “Justice For Alton Sterling!” with 40 other white Christian men. I wish I could mobilize a group of white Christians willing to stand up and link arms with members of the black community and say in unison with them: “Enough of the violence against black people!”
But here’s what I can do: I can speak up. I can raise my voice. I can risk my reputation among other white people by taking a stand against this systemic racism and violence.
Here's what I cannot do: I cannot trade places with Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile, or Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice. Because I am white and nothing can change that.
Here's what else I cannot do any longer: Remain silent and do nothing while more people are shot and killed because of the color of their skin.
Speak up. Stand with them.
Our brothers and sisters need us now.