With the recent occurrences that have taken place in Ferguson MO and now all over the country; I thought it was important to weigh in from an African American perspective. While Ferguson burns and protests break out all across the nation there seems to be a familiar theme; White cops shoots a young black male and the black community cries out that the system is one of injustice, inequality, and simply does not look out for black people. Didn’t we deal with this in the 1960’s? Is the question that comes to mind. Historically we have seen the images many times and these are the cries that the black community has lifted up since the formation of America. I want to examine this from a Biblical perspective.
In order to properly address the issue I would like to give a little background about myself. I am a middle aged African Pastor who is married and that is the head of a church in the city of Harrisburg, PA. Many would consider me an urban Pastor.
In my formative years the 2 most influential men in my life were my step-father and my Pop Pop. My Pop Pop was a God fearing man who was born in 1912 and grew up in rural GA. He experienced institutional racism on a much deeper level than I ever have. I learned from my Pop Pop that racism was very real; but he taught me not to allow racism to define me or to change how I felt about myself. He also instilled in me to value individuals based on their character and how they treated you. He showed me that there were good people and bad people of all races. Pop Pop would tell me that he has had some great white friends that helped him and cared for him and there were some black people that had done harm to him in his lifetime.
My Stepfather was an aggressive and angry person who was prone to violence at times in his life. In the 60’s he had been a part of the Black Panther movement. He told me stories about racism and talked to me about black people unifying to fight racism and to not back down when confronted with people that wanted to mistreat you and to do harm to you because of the color of your skin.
I give this background as a way of laying the foundation of my “human” reasoning and understanding of racism. In order for both sides of this issue to move from dysfunction to functionality these talks must be had. Not only to we have to understand where the other race is coming from; we have to begin looking at the issue empathetically from both perspectives in order to come to a place of healing and civility. One of the core principles of biblical relationships is to “treat others as you would like to be treated” (Matthew 7:12) the only true way to accomplish this is to put yourself in the shoes of others.
In my time in ministry, I have very rarely come across a broken relationship where one person is 100% wrong and the other is 100% right. Usually both parties share at least a small percentage of the blame in any relationship where hurt, anger, and the root of bitterness prospers.
The civil rights movement was alive and well in the 1960’s; blacks in Selma ALA and in many other cities peacefully protested and even in the midst of violence, police corruption and a legal system that perpetuated institutionalized racism we stood strong and we saw many changes take place. We have come a long way since 1960.
In no means am I suggesting that the problem of racism and injustice has been resolved. I for one have experienced both overt and covert racism; racial profiling and have seen some very real examples of racial inequality in the criminal justice system. There is a ton of reasons why this happens and this is by no means the end all in solving these problems; I am simply providing some insight that I believe can help broach the dialogue between whites and minority groups.
The first thing that I had to understand as a Pastor is the fallen state of humanity. Racism, hate, anger, murder, etc. are all by products of original sin. Mankind, if left unchecked and without the injection of God’s grace continues on a downward spiral of destruction. Man is not inherently good and the Bible tells us that the heart of the man is above all things “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). We start off with bad intentions as a default and no one of faith should ever be surprised when we see sinful humanity act accordingly.
From an African American point of view, we have seen the images. We have experienced the oppression, hurt, and pain of racism. I don’t believe there is any person of color of any notable age that has not experienced some form of racism. This evil has touched us all.
From a Biblical perspective the key word that empowers us over all the works of evil is “forgiveness”. Forgiveness is mandatory for all believers. Forgiveness does not mean that the person or persons did not wrong you; it means that you release that person’s offence against you therefore rendering the offence as harmless against you. It releases you from the bondage of anger and animosity. It takes away that person’s power to hurt you any longer. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter a parable about a person that owed a great amount of debt to the king and after begging for forgiveness he turns around and practices unforgiveness towards someone that owed him a small debt. Jesus then says that the person that had unforgiveness was thrown to the jailers where he was tormented until he paid his debt. From this we can see that when we fail to forgive we are burdened by the offence that has been placed upon us and it actually puts us in bondage. He then tells Peter that you are to forgive 70 times 7…a day. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray; forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who has trespassed against us.
Many of us in the Black community really need to observe forgiveness. Again, not because we have not been wronged but because we will never be able to grow into a healthy community as a whole until we do. I truly believe that we have literally placed ourselves in emotional bondage due to not forgiving past offences. We have to learn to take people and situations.
One of the hypocritical things that I have seen is much hypocrisy on both sides; but especially in the black community. Although we want police officers and non-black people to value us based on who we are and not their pre-conceived notions of people of color. I don’t ever believe that I should pay for the crimes and the misdeeds of the people that have come before me. But isn’t that what is happening? Protests in MO and NYC and across America are done not necessarily due to the individual action of the interaction between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson but we are looking through the lens of “here we go again”; we are remembering Jim Crow and slavery we are remembering the oppression that plagued Black America for centuries. Even when there are inconsistencies in the story of what happened the only thing many blacks can focus on is “another black man gunned down by the system”.
Let’s be honest, statistically a black man in America has an exponentially greater chance of being killed by another black man than a white cop. 90% plus of all homicides perpetrated against black men comes from black men. If we really wanted to turn the tide of African American people dying we would have to address black on black crime first.
Network news stations and other media has really sensationalized the issue between white cops and black men. They choose to focus on the more sensational story while ignoring news that doesn’t induce higher ratings.
One of the prevalent topics that we really have to look at is the elephant in the room; that being the disconnect between cultures. White cops simply don’t relate to young black men. Black people are very demonstrative in how they express themselves and they are aggressive culturally. This helps to precipitate the friction between white and black people. Both sides need to spend more time trying to understand the methods of expression and communication exhibited by the different cultures. There really has to be a concerted effort for inner city policy forces to aggressively recruit officers of color. Through working together with people from the community we can definitely help to bridge the gap between the races.
Biblically we must acknowledge that God equally loves all colors and cultures; the only true difference in us is the hue of this earth suit that we call our skin. Like Dr. King stated, we want to be judged by the content of our character instead of the color of our skin; this valuation of human worth has to work both ways, for the good and the bad. Wrongdoers in our community do not get a pass because of their race just like we do not want to be mistreated for our race either. We need to fight against injustice and crime no matter who it originates from.
I recently posted something on Facebook that stated “If black people believe that the power structure is destroying the community and treating us like animals then the worst response is to destroy our own community and to act like animals”. We have to remember that police officers are human as well and we cannot expect them to come out of the humanness and to ignore threats, aggressiveness, and criminal behavior. Many times they have families and goals that they would like to live long enough to accomplish. We cannot burn, loot, and riot, to fight injustice and then expect the powers that be to look at us as innocent victims in the fight for justice. You ultimately will be judged by the content of your character as well.