My heart is heavy as I write this. There is so much division in our country right now, and the people who seem to be participating in this division the most, when they have perhaps more power than anyone to fight it, are Christians.
More specifically, white Christians. I hope, if you love Jesus and want to sow peace, you will keep reading.
We don’t have a great track record in this country, us white Christians. That track record is, of course, not your fault -- you did not (I assume) use the Bible to try and convince our black fellow Americans to stay within the unjust system of slavery. No, that wasn’t you. Those people might not even be your physical ancestors.
However, you still inherit responsibility for their actions.
By responsibility, I do not mean guilt. By responsibility, I mean you have a sacred charge to try and fix the wrongs perpetuated by that fraught history.
White Christians: Our spiritual ancestors used their faith to inflict injustice upon people of color, most notably against our black friends and family members in the form of slavery.
White Christians: Our spiritual ancestors used our sacred text to inflict injustice against people of color in the form of lynching, Jim Crow laws and segregation, and cultural hate. Our spiritual ancestors intentionally segregated the church, and formed what is today white evangelicalism.
White Christians: We live in a culture that still, to this day, is less safe for men and women of color than it is for us. This should outrage us, but many of us still, to this day, turn a blind eye.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” In his letter from a Birmingham jail he expands: "First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
Today, my heart is heavy because I am bewildered by the onset of white Christians who are still more devoted to order than to justice. When our spiritual fathers commit a wrong that has repercussions today, we should consider it our responsibility to make it right. Doesn’t our sacred text say to ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8)? If we are to seek to do justice, we must seek to correct these wrongs now.
But instead, I see white Christians choosing to take offense when they could choose humility, compassion, or mercy -- and in their offense they turn their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing what our own fellow Christians, our family, are begging us to see and hear. This is disgraceful.
When we see a protest with the hashtag “Black Lives Matter,” we become offended, asking, “Don’t all lives matter?” -- instead of paying attention to what they’re actually saying. Yes, all lives matter, but black lives are in danger in a specific way; that’s the point. When we see football players kneeling, we become offended, saying "That’s disrespectful!" and ignore the issues they’re trying to address. We choose offense on behalf of a flag, when we should be listening on behalf of the cross. We call them ignorant for ‘disrespecting the anthem,’ when in our own ignorance we take our place in a long line of historically white Christians demanding that people of color stand up.
White Christians: you have inherited a responsibility. You can choose whether to correct the injustices your spiritual ancestors inflicted, or you can choose to ignore the cries for help. You may do so maliciously, or you may do so ignorantly, but whether or not you intend it, the result will be the same: Injustice will continue.
If you’re still finding yourself defensive or offended by these protests, honestly ask yourself: How would Christ respond? We have plenty of examples of Jesus himself being interrupted, often quite disrespectfully, as people demand and plead for his help.
When a group of men literally destroyed the roof of a house to interrupt his teachings, how did Jesus respond? He did not comment on whether their method was right or wrong; he listened and he brought healing.
When a woman pushed her way through the crowd to grab his cloak, and he felt power leave him, how did he respond? He did not comment that her desperation could be construed as disrespectful, even though her response clearly shows she thought he would be furious. Instead, he listened and he brought healing.
When a beggar screamed for mercy, and all those around him told him to be quiet!, clearly showing they believed his actions were disrespectful, how did Jesus respond? He did not take offense; he asked questions, he listened, and he brought healing.
When Jesus was interrupted by children, and his disciples thought they should be quiet and go home -- how did Jesus respond? He asked them to come closer.
He sought those interruptions, those demands, those disruptions -- because His heart was and is for healing and connection. Are you responding how He would respond?
Time and time and time again, we see Jesus being interrupted, we see people demanding and pleading, we see from the reactions of others that those interruptions were considered rude, disrespectful, or even outright wrong, and yet every single time how does Jesus respond? He listens. And he brings healing.
When you hear someone asking for help, and you react to their method of asking -- you are not reacting as Jesus would, simply because you aren’t listening. You are focusing on the aspects of their method that offend you: How dare you destroy that roof! How dare you yell in the street! How dare you grab his robe! How dare you kneel during the anthem!
But the methods are not what matter. The injustice is what matters. Some may say that methods do matter, and point to examples of violent methods. Those are not the methods I'm addressing, and if you lump peaceful protests in with violent ones, you are missing the point entirely -- and in fact doing exactly our forefathers did. Are you listening? Are you working to correct those wrongs today? Because, my fellow white Christians, we have an obligation to correct the wrongs of our fathers. And, if you can choose to let go of offense, that obligation is not so frightening or difficult as you might think.
Start with this: If you see or hear of a protest, an injustice, or a cry for help -- in whatever form -- remember Micah 6:8: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
WALK HUMBLY: Maintain a posture of learning. Don’t assume you know what’s going on. Listen to what they’re actually trying to say, and then listen some more. Ask more questions, and treat those speaking with the love described in 1 Corinthians. 13.
LOVE MERCY: Choose to not get offended, no matter what. Offense is pointless and divisive in these issues. Why do you keep choosing it? Have mercy; be patient and kind; do not be easily angered; keep no record of wrongs. Even if wrongs are committed against you in this arena, that should never deter you from doing what is right. Loving mercy will help you remember this.
SEEK JUSTICE: Do something to help. Listen more. Build relationships. Look internally and seek to dispel any underlying assumptions or prejudices you may have. Call out those who are perpetuating injustice. Find out how you can help change the system, change the unjust laws and the unjust interpretation of laws; fight for liberty and justice for all. That is, after all, what the flag is supposed to represent; if there is not justice for all, then our rigid honor of a symbol becomes hollow.
It is inconvenient and uncomfortable to deal with issues of racial injustice; it is easier to choose offense or ignore it altogether, convincing ourselves it’s not real. But those who experience it don’t have the option to ignore it; it affects them every day. They are killed because of it. If you don’t understand this or don’t believe it, start with #1, and learn. Humbly listen to what they’re saying. Understand historical context and the very real, current consequences of our past.
White Christians: We have a responsibility. Remember Micah 6:8, remember 1 Corinthians 13, and remember the many times Jesus responded to ‘disrespectful protests.’ How would he respond now?
Listen humbly. Seek justice. And bring healing.