Last night I was invited to speak at a small rally in Gary, Indiana in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri. The following are my remarks at that event:
If will allow me tonight, I want to speak both as a white man and as a pastor.
A recent PEW research poll demonstrates that Whites have different views than African-Americans on whether or not the shooting raises important issues about race. I first heard about the shooting two Sunday mornings ago on facebook. While my white friends were talking about the deaths of a NASCAR driver and a famous comedian, my African-American friends were talking about Ferguson.
Once my white friends began to talk about the shooting, the refrain I most often heard was to “wait for the facts.” And as a white person who believes in justice, I can understand the sentiment. The 24-hour news cycle is not known for getting the facts right or getting all the facts out at all. The call to “wait” means that justice cannot be done by convicting someone with such lack of information, mis-information and half-truths. And if one wants to understand the White response to this issue (generally speaking) that’s it.
I admit that as a white person, with a white worldview and experience, that was my first reaction too. But then I read a Facebook post by an African American friend of mine – this theologically conservative, bible-believing, gospel-loving African-American preacher and teacher posted that he routinely had to have “the talk” with his boys. I knew he was not talking about the birds and the bees.
You see, I don’t have to have that talk with my son. I don’t have to prepare him for what it means to be Black in America, or how to overcome obstacles that others don’t have. I don’t have to prepare them for how to respond when being stopped by the police so that a situation doesn’t escalate. And as I continued to ask myself about how my African-American friends were responding to this situation, and how it differed from my initial reaction, I began to understand.
See, I don’t have to wait to understand that, innocent or guilty, Michael Brown is a man of inherent worth and dignity as one created in the image of God – that his life, his African-American life, has value. I don’t have to wait to see that officials seem more interested in spin-control than they do about letting the facts be known. I don’t have to wait to see that a military response to peaceful protesters is obscene. I don’t have to wait to know that many of my African-American bothers have been harassed by racial profiling practices that humiliate and degrade. I don’t have to wait to know that our criminal justice system unfairly targets African-Americans, treats them with suspicion, and imprisons them disproportionally. I don’t have to wait to see that laws like stop and frisk and stand your ground are unequally applied. I don’t have to wait to see that there remains racial injustice, prejudice, and inequality in our society systems of government. I don’t have to wait to know that my minority-majority four-star High School is described by whites in my area as a bad school just because of the race of its students. I don’t have to wait to see that this shooting in Ferguson – whatever the facts – raises profound issues about race and justice in our society. I don’t have to wait to see that the heart of man is desperately wicked and that racism and prejudice is evidence of our sinful condition.
Let me now speak as a pastor for just a moment. See, the Bible is deeply concerned about justice. And we as Christians ought to be concerned when a society treats people unequally and unjustly. Even more than that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the message that Jesus Christ died for sinners and saves all who turns to him in faith – also has profound implications for the issue of race. We must repent of our racism and prejudice. We must understand that racial injustice is an affront the gospel! To tolerate such injustice in our society is anathema. We must call and work for a racial justice in our society. And we must strive for racial unity in the body of Christ.
I do believe that white evangelicals truly desire racial unity and we are making real progress in that regard, but we have a long way to go. And one important step is to hear our African American brothers and acknowledge their experience. I have been encouraged since I first wrote about Ferguson, about how many white evangelicals have taken up this issue in articles and blogs. I have been encouraged the current series at Christianity Today encouraging white readers to listen to Black voices on racial justice issues. But we have a long way to go when only 1 in 5 conservatives think that Ferguson raises profound issues about race.
Paul spoke of the “mystery of the gospel”. The mystery is that in Christ – we are a new humanity – we are the people of God in which all racial/ethnic and other barriers are broken down – Christ conquered the sin that separates us from God – and the effects of sin that create barriers among peoples of different races and ethnicities. We are to pursue and to live out what God has already declared us to be. And we long for that day when people of every tribe, people, tongue and nation will stand as brothers and sisters worshipping before the throne of God. Jesus taught us to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The New Testament calls us to pursue that heavenly vision.
I am challenging my fellow white evangelicals not only to rid ourselves of personal prejudice, but also to shed our partisanship, our defensiveness, our fear, our naivety, and our myopic worldview and open our eyes to the real issues, concerns and experiences of African-Americans. It’s time to stop seeing justice issues as “their” issues (your issues) and embrace them as ours as well. It’s time for us as white believers to begin to understand the real life experiences and pain of the African-American community. If we truly desire racial unity in the body of Christ, it’s time for white Christians to listen, understand, dialogue with, pray for, and stand with our African-American brothers and sisters as we live together as one people of God.
That’s why I am here standing with you tonight.