This week Cleveland Police released the extended video of the November 23rd fatal shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland Police officers. Warning, it’s not easy to watch. Obviously this is just the latest in a series of high profile incidents involving a confrontation between African American men and white police officers (The ambush killing of two NYPD officers has been in the news of late as well). As I watched this video, and thought about those other incidents (Ferguson, Eric Garner, etc.) I was reminded of an article I wrote shortly after the Ferguson incident, but ultimately decided not to publish. At the time, every pastor, blogger, and journalist had done a story on the incident, and I thought my voice might not be all that unique. I’m still not sure it is, but having read dozens of articles and news stories about the incident, no one has quite expressed how I feel about it, so I’m publishing it now.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am quite obviously white. I am not a legal expert, nor am I an expert on racial relations and public policy. I am however a pastor, tasked with the difficult work of teaching and living the Word of God in public. This is in fact the task of all believers, and as such, I hope the few thoughts I’ve laid out will help. Finally, I am utterly torn between supporting my friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ in law enforcement who put their lives on the line daily in order to keep my family safe, and supporting my friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ in the African American community who feel like their lives and the lives of their children are in danger from the very people who ought to be protecting them. My prayer, as a follower of Christ, is that the Church would be a better model of Christlike love across all boundaries, racial, ethnic, and socio-economic. The following 10 statements are, in my humble opinion, a step in that direction. I have edited a few of these in order to better encompass all of the recent incidences, however, they were originally written with Ferguson particularly in mind.
The Gospel, Race, And Love: 10 Thoughts
- Regardless of your position, people lost their lives and that is a tragedy. We should offer the compassion and comfort of Christ before we ever weigh in on the legality, fairness, or social impact of the incident.
- When we shout “JUSTICE!” (whether in affirmation or disgust over the grand jury’s decision), but fail to shout equally as loud for mercy, compassion, and love, then we are nothing more than a clanging cymbal, and a noisy gong. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
- The media is not a friend or servant of the people. It is a business and will only ever act in its own best interest. This means we should be careful when listening, watching, and reading their coverage. It is not without bias.
- Regardless of your opinion of whether the shootings (or physical takedown in the case of Eric Garner) were “justified,” they are yet another instance of those who feel they lack power or privilege being injured by those they believe have power and privilege. As such, it’s understandable that emotions and tensions are running high. We should offer the grace and truth of Christ before we ever think to defend our position, or argue our opinion.
- A tense situation and volatile emotions are no excuse for violence, looting, and lawlessness. To do violence in the name of non-violence is sheer hypocrisy. So too is injuring, damaging property, and looting from those for whom you claim to be rioting.
- There are those who make a living off of exploiting these kinds of situations (Al Sharpton, the Blaze, Fox News, just to name a few). Without the hype they are out of a job. We would all do well to remember that and ignore them.
- Having said that, the fact that some people are exploiting the situation and thereby making things worse is too simplistic a reason for the reaction of the African American community. To blame the community’s reaction solely on “race-baiting,” or the media, is an insult to the community. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. It’s time to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ from non-white communities.
- Broad generalities and stereotyping do us absolutely no good. Ferguson is a real place. Michael Brown and Darren Wilson are real people. (As are Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu) They’re unique. Standing up for one is not standing up for all. Criticizing one is not criticizing all.
- Internet trolling, Facebook posting, and even blogging are poor substitutes for being the hands and feet of Jesus in these situations, and in these communities.
- The unbelieving world is watching our reaction to these incidents. The unbelieving world is judging the validity of our faith, and whether or not it works in real life, based upon our reaction. This should give us deep, soul-stirring pause.