Sober Reflections on the Social Unrest and Racial Hostility Today3
Let me first ask for your patience. It is incredibly difficult to know when to speak and when to be patient and silent on such matters that currently confront us as a society. Many would criticize me for not speaking sooner. I understand their frustration. Others would criticize me had I chosen to speak early on in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd, thinking that to speak before all the evidence is known is both premature and unwise. Then there are those who will criticize me no matter when or whether I speak, and should I choose to speak will find multiple reasons to disagree. All this is, sadly, unavoidable, and is a reflection of the emotionally charged nature of what we are seeing in our country. So, with all this in mind, I will proceed cautiously.
First, what happened in Minneapolis several weeks ago was a horrific tragedy. All of us should grieve deeply not only that George Floyd died but also because of the manner in which his death occurred. We should pray for his family and friends that they would be comforted as they deal with this heart-breaking loss. Whatever else may be said or believed about Floyd’s death, sincere and heartfelt lament is called for anytime a human being, be he/she black, white, brown, or of some other ethnicity, dies.
Second, we should pray for justice to be served in regard to the police officers who were involved. It is so very easy, and natural, for us to jump to conclusions about their motivation. Was it racism? Was it more an issue of incompetence or stupidity? Was it meanness? Would the officer have acted in the same way had the victim been white? Was he simply a bully? Did he misinterpret or underestimate the gravity of the situation, not realizing until it was too late that the victim was in danger of dying? Or is there some other explanation that might account for what happened? We may never know with certainty, but we need to let the legal system run its proper course as the authorities in Minneapolis seek to determine what justice requires.
Third, regardless of what you may think concerning the motivation of Officer Derek Chauvin (as well as the other three officers), all of us must denounce any and all forms of racism. It is evil. It is contrary to the biblical truth that all men and women of every ethnicity are equally created in the image of God and are therefore deserving of equal treatment under the law.
Fourth, whereas we certainly can understand the anger and frustration on the part of many, be they black, white, or of some other ethnicity, we cannot and will not endorse violence, looting, killing, or the destruction of property under any circumstance.
Fifth, wherever injustice exists it must be opposed. But it must be opposed justly. That is to say, any and all illegal efforts to bring justice to bear on any particular situation will ultimately fail. Full and final justice will not come until Christ returns. Our responsibility as Christians is to heed the words of Micah 6:8, that we “do justice” and “love kindness” and “walk humbly” with our God.
Sixth, we must be grateful for and supportive of those police officers who labor faithfully and diligently to protect us and to keep our society safe. Are there police officers who abuse their authority and power? Yes. Just as there are ministers and pastors who fleece the sheep for personal gain and promotion, and just as there are politicians who are corrupt and self-serving, and businessmen who lie, cheat, and embezzle. There are evil people in all areas of life, at all levels of responsibility. Sin is not the exclusive domain of any race or profession or sector of our society. No ethnicity is more sinful than any other. Sin is a universal, human disease with which we are all infected. In the famous words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart.”
My prayer for Bridgeway here in OKC is that we honor those officers who are putting their lives on the line each day to protect us and our homes and families. Pray for the families who each day watch their spouses walk out the door, wondering if they will see them alive yet again.
Seventh, we must also pray with equal fervor and sincerity for our brothers and sisters in the black community who have been objects of injustice or brutality or who live in fear that such may soon come their way. We can debate endlessly about whether such fear is justified, but no one can deny that such fear exists. We must come alongside them to fight for equal treatment and for the respect, honor, dignity, and love that they and people of all ethnicities deserve.
Having said all this, there is also a sense in which I am not even qualified to speak to these issues.
I am not a police officer. I have never been involved in a live shooting incident or a scenario in which it became necessary to subdue a physically violent individual who resisted arrest. I have no familiarity whatsoever with the policies that govern how an officer is to deal with people who behave in unlawful and threatening ways.
Likewise, I am not a black person. I have never had my worth questioned because of the color of my skin. I have no idea what it is like to be black in a culture that is predominantly white. I have never been the object of racism, nor have I ever lived in fear of what might happen to me should I be confronted by a police officer.
So, given these obvious limitations, perhaps I should not even make an effort to address the current problems we face in our country. Perhaps.
I am sure, sadly, that some who hear these words will be frustrated that I did not unconditionally and without qualification denounce all police officers. There will be some who will be frustrated that I did not unconditionally and without qualification denounce all those who engaged in a variety of protests over these past few weeks. But we must recognize that the vast majority of police officers in our city are good, loyal, fair-minded public servants. We must also recognize that the vast majority of those who protest are good, law-abiding citizens whose primary concern is for equal justice under the law.
This statement alone will ultimately accomplish very little when it comes to the sin of racism and the social unrest in our society. The only solution is the power of the grace of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our only hope is that hostility, hatred, division, and mistrust will be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit in bringing to bear on human hearts of all ethnicities the transforming and forgiving mercy of the cross of Christ. My appeal, therefore, is that people everywhere would repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). Only then will the love of Christ prevail over selfish and sinful impulses and make known the truth that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
That being said, is there nothing that we can do right now, of a practical nature? Yes, there is.
This past Friday P. J. Smyth, of Monument Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, wrote a blog on the one-month anniversary of George Floyd’s death, asking the question, How can Christians serve in this cultural moment?
His answer, which he acknowledges is far from being the total answer, is this: Make friends – proper friends – with someone of a different ethnic reality to you. He explains:
Theologically, friend-making (especially with the goal of understanding, loving, and healing) is an undeniable part of the Second Commandment. It is also how the gospel spreads, and the gospel is the only lasting hope for racial justice and reconciliation.
Sociologically, a grass-roots movement of cross-ethnic friendships must raise the tide of racial understanding, justice, and reconciliation in society. Laws need to be amended. Structures need to be adjusted. But these changes will not happen, at least will not happen peacefully and productively, without an expanded matrix of cross-ethnic friendships.
Christians, if there is one thing we can do by the grace of God, it is friend-making with people who are different from us. In Christ, this is our super-power (2 Cor. 5:18, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 2:13-19).
What if we all developed a decent friendship with a person of another ethnicity over the next year? Intentional cross-ethnic friend-making is where our call to be faithful Christians, and faithful citizens intersect in this cultural moment.