In the wake of the two grand jury decisions in which both cases involve the killing of a black man by a white police officer, we have seen an outpouring of anger, frustration and resentment that is not going away. Some have expressed their feelings violently. Others are protesting peacefully. Some believe justice has been served and we need to move on.
While it seems everyone has an opinion to share, with a few exceptions, many white evangelical leaders have remained incredibly silent. Because Jesus called us to be "one" we must address anything that divides us or causes disunity.
I share a close friendship of more than a decade with Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., of Eastern Star Church. Over the last several weeks, we have talked about these events that have reopened painful wounds in our nation. Here are a few hightlights of our conversation.
1. We feel the pain of real people.
First of all, we come together to jointly express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner. We can only imagine the pain of the loss these families are going through. We want to let them know we love them and we are praying for God’s comfort and peace.
We are both sons, husbands and fathers. I have a 21-year-old son and Jeffrey has four sons under the age of 24. Michael Brown was someone's son. Eric Garner was a father and a husband. These are families who will not have their loved one at the table this Christmas. The officers involved are flesh and blood too, each experiencing tragic loss in their own way. Their lives will never be the same. We invite you to pray for these grieving families.
2. We condemn violence.
The circumstances regarding these deaths have been tragic and neither should have taken place. In the heart-wrenching case of Eric Garner, the video is so painfully clear we wonder how this case did not go to trial. In the case of Michael Brown, Jr. there are many extenuating and debatable circumstances. But none of us would agree with the violence and destruction that occurred in Ferguson in the aftermath of the grand jury's decision. No one's pain gives them the right to burn down someone’s business. Violence and looting is unjust, and more injustice only makes things worse.
It was Dr. King who said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." The outrage over injustice is real, but it must be channeled correctly, in the voting booth, and in peaceful freedom of speech.
3. We are not getting any closer together.
Regardless of our personal views on the outcomes of each case, what we all CAN agree on is that we are a nation divided. Depending on our ethnicity, we are interpreting these events very differently. In the aftermath of Ferguson, BBC News analyzed the racial and social division on Twitter asking the question,
"Does Twitter encourage real conversation - or does it trap users in bubbles with like-minded people? Now an in-depth survey of tweets after the events in Ferguson shows not one but at least two online conversations - with little overlap between them...And when the two sides were talking, they weren't being very nice. They have very different backgrounds, said very different things, and often when they did talk to each other, they said very nasty things."
One thing is clear…we are not getting any closer together. We are talking past each other. Much of the collective conversation is not dialogue. It’s just more information being given to defend our own point of view, and at worst labeling and attacking one another, straining our relationships even further.
4. We MUST learn a new way of listening.
Our problem is, we all grew up experiencing the world differently. The narrative of how the world "is" makes perfect sense to us. It's all we know. Most of what we experience reinforces our own narrative of the way things are. It's much easier to live with our own story than to listen and understand the experience of others. When we cannot see something that we do not even know we should be seeing, we call it a blind spot. As Jesus said, “Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye?”
We are having a hard time seeing the log in our own eye! Things are not going to get better until we admit there are things we don't see and understand...until we admit there are even things we don’t know that we don’t know.
Until we get out of the box of only seeing from our own perspective there will be no change. We need to listen to learn! Now more than ever we must become sensitive to the experience of others. We need a dialogue were we don’t listen to defend our own point of view, but we just listen, without agreeing or disagreeing, to learn something we do not know.
As Ed Stetzer wrote the evening of the Michael Brown verdict, may we all begin to see more clearly the “context to this tragedy...the pain behind the problem...that we might acknowledge that injustice really does exist.”
5. We MUST love one another.
The command of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself" is non-optional for the Christian. We must follow the example of Jesus, who humbled himself and took the place of the oppressed. Let us humble ourselves, considering the view of others over our own, looking out not only from our own point of view, but taking interest in the experience of others.
We invite you to begin a dialogue with someone from a different ethnicity and seek to learn from each other. Friendship changes the conversation.
For further learning:
Scott Ridout, President, Converge Worldwide, "Converge Responds to Ferguson"
Derwin Gray, Pastor of Transformation Church, Charlotte, NC, "Ferguson and the Cross"
Bob Roberts, Jr, Pastor of Northwood Church, Dallas TX, "Why the Church Can't Bring Peace to Ferguson"
Tony Evans, Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Church, Dallas TX, "My Reflections on Ferguson"
Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Church, South Barrington IL, "The Dual Narrative Dynamic"