What a year this week has been. Like many, if not all, of you, I was appalled by George Floyd’s death under the knee of that police officer. And this, on the heels of Breonna Taylor’s death, and the videos of Ahmaud Arbery’s death back in February. A compounding of sin, a compounding of death, a compounding of grief. Like many, if not all, of you, I was convicted to do something to help make our society, our country, better than it is. The question is, how do we do that? If you are like me, you’re seeing all these videos, reading all these articles, or social media posts, and you’re feeling somewhat helpless and like you don’t know what to do.
I do not pretend to have all the answers here. I have a perspective and some suggestions, and I know at least some of what I will do in the midst of all this chaos and pain.
Typically, I rely on a view of political involvement you could call a kind of “political quietism.” My Amish, Mennonite, and other brothers and sisters are well-acquainted with this view. If you look up that phrase, you’ll quickly discover a belief that rejects and discourages political involvement. My personal view is somewhat different. I do not believe we should just sit back and say, “That’s just the way it is.” I encourage political involvement in certain ways, but my kind of quietism is to generally encourage a narrower focus. For example, I encourage people to put their focus on local elections, local efforts, meaning to start your focus at levels like local school district, city, region, and then outward up to the national level. A bottom-to-top focus, rather than a top-to-bottom focus.
The events of recent years, months, and this last week have challenged how I think about that view. I do not want to bind the conscience of people to act in certain ways (to protest or not to protest? Etc). My views on humanity, the church, and society lead me to begin in myself, and I would encourage that in you. One of my recent devotional readings included Jesus’s “Woes” to the Pharisees, who in that day were the experienced religious leaders who should know better. One of those Woes states, “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean” (Matt. 23:26 CSB). In the Psalms, King David wrote, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 CSB). So, I believe if we are to make a change in this country with regard to how Americans of color are treated, we each have to begin with ourselves. In the past, I was the kind of person to say, “I’m not racist” while still holding to subconscious racist tendencies and behaviors. I confess that, in my past, I have been overly suspicious of men of color. I repented of that lack of self-introspection and that kind of racism years ago, but the events of this last week, especially, pushed me to re-examine my heart and to ask the Lord to search me and show me any offensive way in me. I think Scripture shows us that we MUST do the same. If it has been some time or if you have never asked the Lord to search your heart and show you where you need to repent, now is the time. In addition, I would add my voice to those saying that being “colorblind” is not enough. People who genuinely experience grievous treatment due to the color of their skin really do need us to act as friends on their behalf. I believe God created humanity, and that He created human beings in variety because He loves our variety, so to try to erase those differences doesn’t really deal with the racism in our midst (or in ourselves). Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
Introspection isn’t enough to make a difference. We cannot stop with our own souls and motives and methods and assume there will be peace around us. So the question for those feeling helpless, and the question for quietists like myself is, what do we do next?
Christian ethics come from what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments, to love God, and to love neighbor. There are times when it can be unloving of us to be introspective, and then do nothing for our neighbors. This is not to say that everyone needs to make social media posts! I have been reticent to make social media posts or blog posts about many things. By now, you probably already have read about how most people do not use social media to get their minds changed, but merely to reinforce what they already believe. (I have a blog post in the works to deal with my view on how to use social media.) You and I have the most impact on the people we actually know, and the people to whom we have committed ourselves as fellow “coworkers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3) such as fellow church members or other ministry partners, but also our friends and family. I know many people who actively work with their churches and communities who don’t “live” on social media. They make real efforts, they make real changes, all without posting about it. (I am aware of the irony of my saying so here, on the internet.) I am grateful for their example and I aspire to be like them in making a better impact in real life apart from internet posts. Before we congratulate ourselves for not being “always online,” we return to introspection. Some of us post online and then do nothing about that cause in real life (aka “slacktivism”). Some of us don’t post online and also fail to act in real life. We can’t excuse either behavior in ourselves. We can’t keep acting like things will get better without our involvement at some level.
Here is where I am at. I am an associate pastor for our church. My primary responsibility is the youth ministry. As a part of that, I minister to 7th-12th grade students, their parents/families, and I minister to and lead our youth ministry team. Outside of the changes I make in myself, and how I impact my family as their husband/father, my greatest impact is to those 7th-12th grade students, their families, and the team around me. I have to address these issues with the students and their families as I have opportunity and as I create opportunities. That is my primary target once I have dealt with myself and my family. For you, whoever is reading this, your next level of impact outside of yourself and your family is your ministry. How do you serve your church? That’s your target for pushing back the sin of racism. Take your ministry, whether volunteer or paid, as a serious priority after your relationship with God and your relationship with your family. Stop playing church and step up to really love those people and meet those needs.
The next step is, I think, between you and God as you seek how to make a change in our society. Some will attend protests like the one set for Fresno’s city hall on May 31st at 2pm. If you attend, I urge you to attend peacefully. I believe that Christians in recent protests have intended those events to remain peaceful. Some, like this prayer gathering at the Hennepin Avenue bridge in Minneapolis (link), have remained peaceful. I do not know how exactly all these violent protests began or developed. Journalists are still gathering data on that. (I won’t comment on those potential reasons here, except to say, don’t jump to blaming “Soros” or whatever; I think it’s more than any one cause.) If you protest, be better than the officers who killed Floyd and Taylor, or the vigilantes who killed Arbery. Some of you won’t attend a protest, but maybe you’d be willing to donate to causes that will help Americans of color to build something constructive like better marriages and more mature individuals (Build a Better Us), or you can donate to causes that train people of color for Christian ministry like Gateway Seminary or Southeastern Seminary through their Kingdom Diversity initiative (Gateway; SEBTS).
Beyond that, I think we need to build up good people to become good law enforcement officers and other relevant vocations (elected and otherwise) who can make real change in how our cities and counties do policing.
We pray. We seek change in ourselves and our families. Then we make an impact in our ministries and in our churches to turn racism into true love for neighbor. Then we seek to support through donations and attendance in any effort you believe the Lord has called you to support. To do nothing is, truly, to do nothing. If we don’t want the violent protesting, or even the nonviolent protesting, we have to do something about the cause.