Note: This is a long post, but I wanted to run it in it’s entirety for a couple reasons. Why? Because Curt is an African-American pastor trying to help his mixed race congregation walk through issues of race and justice. He is wise, even-handed, and helps both blacks and whites understand some of the real issues at stake. I would encourage you to read the whole thing so that you can understand what is going on in Ferguson, and in the United States. (Stephen)
Are you ready for the next Ferguson? Probably not. If you’re like most people, you probably hope that the current headlines mean that things are getting back to “normal.” That with the recent DOJ findings, maybe now we can move on. I mean, it’s good to move on, right? Yes. But unfortunately, that kind of thinking, though understandable, is unlikely.
Don’t let our sound bite society fool you. The media may have moved on, but the issues that surround Ferguson, and other racially charged situations between blacks and whites, are still lurking, waiting for the chance to force us back into conversations that most of us really don’t want to have. Make no mistake, the next Ferguson will be here sooner than you think. So, are you ready?
Before we discuss what it means to be “ready,” let’s briefly talk about why, with so many other ethnicities in our country, black and white situations get the most attention? Especially, white police officer versus black male.
There is a lot that could be said on this topic. In fact, a lot has been said. So let me give you the cliff notes version. In our country’s history, slavery both created and justified a prolonged, sinful, abusive, yet near unanimous acceptance of hatred towards black people. Most notably, between white authority figures and black men.
Because of this, along with a mutual commitment to not trust the other, coupled with a quasi-communal embracing of criminal behavior as an acceptable identity among black people, little progress has been made.
To be fair, I am drastically oversimplifying the issues here. And I will use generalizations of white and black people to make my point, which I will explain in more detail below. But, I do believe the problems are mutual. Meaning, everyone, on some level, is at fault.
So what do we do when the next Ferguson happens? If it is possible to get “ready,” how do we do that? There are probably a million courses of action you can take. Everything from protesting to praying is acceptable. But, before you take any cultural action, I would encourage you to start with these two.
1. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
When it comes to racially charged situations, most of the failure among Christians is the inability to weep with those who weep. White people tend to trust the law and reduce these situations down to waiting for the facts to be released. Black people tend to be suspicious, assume foul play, and become angry once the incident is reported. And everyone seems to miss the fact that there are people that are really hurting over these situations.
To make matters worse, both sides go on social media and post blog posts or news links that reveal their position on the situation. If black people see white people post something that seems like a white cop killing a black man is justified, they get offended. And white people, in turn, also get offended and push back.
Ironically, Scripture doesn’t call us to agree on whether or not a white cop was justified in killing an unarmed black man. We don’t have to agree on the facts of these situations at all. Personally, I don’t think we will agree because our worldviews on race issues are too different.
But, what we can do, is weep with those who weep.
Whether or not you agree on the situation, your brother or sister, may be hurting. If you are white, the fact that you had a best friend in college that was black means nothing in those moments. What matters is that you understand that some people (usually black people) are hurt by these types of things. And we just need someone who will weep as we weep.
We don’t look as these situations as case by case like you do. Black people tend to see each one of these killings as part of a giant mosaic, where each death at the hands of someone white is part of a bigger picture of historical injustice, that we may have moved on from in terms of years, but not in terms of memories.
Which leads me to the second thing we must do.
2. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Romans 12:16
Both black people and white people fail miserably in these situations, especially when they are racially charged, because each side can sinfully be “wise in their own eyes.” Mind you, I am talking about Christians here. Not the world. I have heard some of the most painful things come from fellow believers that the world wasn’t even saying. At least not out loud.
Being wise in our own eyes is a problem that everyone must acknowledge and change. And there are two specific ways that blacks and whites do this when racially charged situations like Ferguson happen.
Black People (Entitled)
One of the ways we are wise in our own sight is that we think white people need to agree with our interpretation of every one of these events, and, in effect, throw out the judicial process because of the history of racial injustice in our country. I used to feel this way all the time. But I didn’t notice it until 1994, during the O.J. Simpson trial.
I, as well as most of the black people I knew, thought that O.J. Simpson killed his estranged wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. And as we sat around the television waiting for the verdict to be announced, we knew there was no way he was beating that charge.
When the jury announced he was not guilty, we erupted in celebration. Not because we thought he was innocent, but because a black man had beaten the system. It was as if, for one brief moment, his not guilty status made up for Emmit Till, and all the other black men throughout history that have been killed just for looking at a white woman. It was a slap in the face to all white people, and I loved it. I felt entitled to have a black man be set free even though he may have committed the crime.
Since then (and really before then), I, as well as many other black people, can feel entitled. We feel that white people should agree with our perspective on almost every race issue between blacks and whites, both past and present. And if they do not, they are racist. Or, “they just don’t get it.” And when they don’t get it, we get angry.
In any given ‘hood’, you will see people with “Free [Insert Person]” t-shirts, even though these people committed the crimes they were accused of.
But, what fruit of the Spirit is that? How does this response honor the Lord? If black lives matter, shouldn’t there be massive outrage at all murders of young black men, even if by other black men? How are we not just being wise in our own eyes when we are angry that white people don’t see it the way we see it? And how are we any better than the white people who demand that we “get over it?”
White People (Dismissive)
For the life of me, I will never understand how some white people expect black people to just get over it. Jewish people don’t get over the Holocaust. They remember it and mourn over it. But yet, black people are supposed to just forget about hundreds of years of slavery and decades of civil rights mistreatment? Impossible. I’ve heard it said somewhere that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Black people will never just “get over it.” And there’s a good reason why.
Many of you have heard of Ancestry.com. This is a website that provides a service for anyone to track their family history in America. You can find out where you came from and how your family has developed over the years. It can be a source of significant encouragement. Why is that? Because we are wired to find our identity in historical events that help us know who we are today. We get a sense of pride when we learn how our ancestors came from nothing and developed that into something.
But when you’re black, the further back in history you go, the more ashamed, angry, and hurt you become. The pain of slavery can be too much to bear, especially when you find out that your last name was given to you based on who owned your family.
It can be painful, when you’re black, to not have confidence in your history. In fact, black people are the only people who try to redefine themselves every generation because our history is too painful to find a firm identity in. We change what it means to black all the time, hoping to find something that we can stick with. But it never does.
We try to distance ourselves from the legalized injustices of history. For this reason, I rarely meet someone black who would love to go back in time and see some historical event. Because depending on what year it was, we might see the most painful things we could ever imagine. Or worse, get caught and be thrown into slavery.
Believe me, we try to get over it. But every time a black man is killed by a white person (especially male, especially law enforcement) it throws us back to the days when white men could kill black men (and women) without any penalty. I’m not saying this thinking is right, I’m just saying that it’s real. And if you think I’m overstating the issue, ask anyone who is Jewish, how they feel when they hear that a German killed someone Jewish.
And again, I am oversimplifying the issue to make the point. All black people don’t feel this way, and all white people don’t act this way. There is much to be proud if you are black. We have made tremendous contributions to the health and stability of this nation. And we do have a rich history of perseverance, achievement against the odds, and demonstrated dignity. But, there is a significant reality, even among believers, that it can be painful to have the kind of history we have in this country. And painful for both black and white people.
One of the best ways to not be wise in our own eyes is to remember that our identity, is not rooted in black history or American history, but in redemptive history. God had given us an identity with historical roots that go much deeper than the few hundred years that America has existed. Our identity is found in Christ as a man, Christ at the cross, and Christ resurrected. I am not the descendant of a slave owner. I am a descendant of Abraham, a child of the promise, a co-heir with Christ, awaiting the eternal blessings that come with faith in Him. This doesn’t mean that I forget about what’s happening or about what has happened, it just means that my identity is not ultimately rooted in it. And I can respond in ways that supercede my natural responses of anger and blame.
The next Ferguson is coming, and when it does, we can weep with those who weep, and resist the temptation to be wise in our own eyes. If we can do these two things first, we can make a real difference in the world as we persevere until the Lord comes back for us.
If you are interested, you can listen to the sermon I preached at my church on this back in November.