I have listened quietly as people have discussed their views of our nation’s current racial divide seen most recently in the deaths of two African American men and five white Dallas police officers. There are strong emotions on both sides of the divide and because I am a white male I acknowledge my inability to fully understand the thoughts and emotions of the African American community, but I want to try to approach this topic from the position of one of Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and not as a Caucasian apologist. The rest of this post, until the concluding paragraph, is for my white friends – specifically for those who claim to live for Jesus.
I am extremely disappointed in the conversation that I see and hear surrounding this topic. Whether I have heard you in person, or seen your posts on social media, I have gathered that the overwhelming response is that of defensiveness, concerning the killing of the two latest African American men by police officers. I confess that I do not understand how that position can be rightfully taken. You are not the person being blamed for killing either of those two men and you do not know all of the facts surrounding the events that ended so tragically, so why are you defensive? You do not know that the officers were justified in shooting either of their victims any more than others can know that the officers were not justified in their shooting. None of us were there and it is none of our jobs to gather the facts and determine whether, or not, the officers were justified in their actions. So why are you so concerned with taking that burden on yourselves?
If this conversation should persist within the Christian community, and I believe it should, then I think the its aim must change. What is not relevant to us is whether the police in Louisiana and Minnesota were justified in their killing the two victims. What is relevant is that there is a 15 year-old now fatherless son who has undoubtedly seen footage of his father being wrestled to the ground by police officers, prior to being shot multiple times and killed. Can you imagine the emotional toll that would have taken on you had you seen that happen to your father? Similarly, there is another family who has watched the video of their son and brother lying in his car covered by a blood soaked shirt while the police officer continued holding him at gunpoint. Can you imagine what you would be feeling following events like that if it were your family member? You would feel extreme grief, sorrow, and rage. Remember, the justification of the officers’ actions is not what is being discussed here. Rather, the humanity of the victims and their families is what we are considering.
So why is it important to remember the point of view that is being brought to your attention? Because Jesus said that people will know his followers by their love (John 13:35) and you will remain incapable of showing that love as long as you continue to disregard the reality of what is being felt within those families and within the African American community at large. Regardless of whether you agree with me so far, or not, the fact is that most of the feelings within the African American community, right now, are the same as the emotions that you experienced when you learned of the five police officers who were ambushed and killed in Dallas. I know that the situations were very different, but I also know that the emotions surrounding them are very similar. With that in mind, how would you feel if someone attempted to provide you with factual reasons stemming from the Dallas shooter’s childhood, or his time served in the military, or otherwise that they felt explained and justified the reasons he felt that it was acceptable to ambush the police officers on duty that evening? You would likely be angry. You would at the very least completely discount everything else that person said to you, as you would write them off as being completely ignorant and uncaring. The point that I am trying to make is that nothing that person could say following his giving a defense of the shooter could come across as loving, or empathetic, because he would seem to be more focused on defending a person who has inflicted pain on you and your community than he was on feeling your pain, or showing support for your community.
The reason that this is so important, Christian, is because your donning that title means that your words and actions – good and bad – represent Jesus to those who are around you. In John 11, when Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, he did not immediate walk to Lazarus’ sisters and those in his community and rebuke them for mourning their brother’s death even though he knew that he was going to raise him from the dead. Instead, Jesus, who knew what was to come, mourned with Lazarus’ community while some even mocked and belittled him for doing so (Jn. 11:37). He was more concerned with that community’s mourning in that moment of grief than with what he knew to be true – Lazarus would live again. If Jesus was that concerned with the legitimate feelings of grief found within those who were mourning, shouldn’t we who claim to be Christians be willing to grieve with those who grieve?
There is a time for truth and facts and all of those things, but it is not when wounds are so fresh. I know that some of your minds are being flooded right now by all of the “reasons” that you believe something about this situation makes it an exception for you, or gives you reason to dismiss what I am saying, but you’re wrong. Regardless of whether your “facts” about the recent events are right, or wrong, you are commanded by Scripture to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Furthermore, we are not only commanded to love those who love us. Instead, Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:43-45). That means that you are to love everyone, which includes showing kindness, compassion, and mercy, regardless of how they have treated you, or of any reasons that you believe that they have given you reason to do otherwise. Do you believe that your conversations and social media posts surrounding this topic is one would cause your African American brother or sister to believe that you are filled with love for them and for their community, or would they immediately dismiss you upon hearing your thoughts because you sound to them as the person who would make a defense for the Dallas shooter would sound to you? Would they be drawn to Jesus by your words, or would they simply be drawn away from you?
This closing paragraph is the only paragraph that I have intended for my Christian friends of all races, instead of just my white brothers and sisters. I am certain that you do not want this racial divide to persist further throughout even more generations of American history, but I think that some of you may be blind to the fact that the reason that it has persisted for this long is because both sides of the divide have continued holding to their “reasons” for considering themselves justified in holding to their sinful feelings that are contrary to the ones Jesus commanded. We know that Jesus said that no one is justified for such feelings, regardless of past or current events. That is why I am urging you, Christian, to represent your King well. Shift your focus from one that seeks to justify your own thoughts and actions to one that is concerned primarily with bridging the racial divide by demonstrating the genuine love and compassion of Jesus. I am convinced that it is in that manner that not only will the racial divide begin to be bridged, but also souls will undoubtedly be drawn into a saving relationship with Jesus because of the love that others see in us.