The apostle Paul writes in the often quoted thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (NIV). Last week, as I first saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, I was cut to the heart. As I sat in my bedroom, numb to what I had just witnessed, I had no words. Could this level or racism still exist? Certainly not today. Certainly not in my country. I then watched as peaceful protests formed. This then of course was followed by angry riots. And then what began as a cry for justice seemed to quickly become political. Black Lives Matter! Blue Lives Matter! All Lives Matter! The noise grew louder as more and more posturing took place. There was a lot of talking and it seemed to be not much listening.
This past week and a half I have wrestled with the growing tension. It has pained me deeply to see how divisive our country, and our community, has once again so quickly become. I watched people become defensive. I watched anger rise. But the more I watched and listened, finally really listening, the more I began to see people who were really hurting. I saw people who did not set out to just destroy things, but who simply wanted to be heard, and they were ready to make their voice heard at any cost. My heart began to fill with compassion.
And then I heard a voice that wrecked me. I watched a bible study led by one of my black brothers. He shared Jesus call in Matthew 5:43-48 to love our enemies. I have no idea what it is like to have black or brown skin in this country. I’ve never really been oppressed. For me, the call to love my enemies has always felt hard, but it has been more this idea that God has asked me to love people who do not like me, not pray for those who are actually persecuting me. But as I watched this pastor call by name the police officer who killed George Floyd and say, “God has called me to love him and to pray for him” I was overwhelmed with emotion. This message to love our enemy, I now feel so inadequate to ever be able to give. Who am I, a person who has never really been oppressed or persecuted, to say, “We must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”
I have listened and watched real stories of oppression this week. I have talked face to face with some of my black friends who have endured horrific slurs and acts of racial hatred. Who live with a fear and extra precautions that I will never experience or have to deal with. And it appears, that for some reason, people are finally taking notice of the deep injustice that continues to exist in our country. And our responses are all over the place. As a white man, what can I do? What can I say? My heart wants to jump in and just make everything better. But I know I can not. I have felt an incredible tension that has grown all week. Should I shut up? Should I join the protestors? Should I say something? And if and when I speak how and to whom should I say it? It was Martin Luther King who said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I do not want to be found guilty of complacency. But I also do not merely want to just be another voice in all the noise.
I do not have many answers. And I am becoming more and more aware that there is not a one size fits all solution. For some we are called to protest. For others we are called to stay home. However, for all, ignorance is no longer an option. The more people I talk with the more apparent it seems that people are finally being cut to the heart. There is a problem. And many are finally listening and seeing this. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter gets up and preaches to the crowd. After he is done, in verse 32 we read that the people “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” To which Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized… and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”
White church, we need to repent! Not necessarily because we have personally been guilty of overt prejudice, but because we have not truly listened to the hearts and the voices of our siblings of color. Because we have not called out, or frankly even noticed, the covert racism that is embedded in our society on so many levels. Because we have not had the compassion of Christ towards those who truly have been oppressed. I wonder why it is so easy for us to sing “It was my sin that nailed him there” in reference to the crucifixion of Christ, but struggle in admitting that our country was founded on principles and systems that allowed whites to prosper while oppressing blacks. Yes, we as a country have come a long way. No, we are not there yet. There is still work to be done. And it has become apparent that the only way things will get better is when we can finally admit that there is a problem. When we are exposed and educated to the reality that so many of our neighbors live with every day. And when our hearts are no longer filled with anger or confusion, but instead filled with love, compassion, and empathy.
Racism is real. Black Lives Matter. White fragility is a thing. Current systems are corrupt. Reform is needed.
However, as I preached last week, the bigger problem lies within each of our hearts. And so, may our prayer be like that of King David in Psalm 139:23-34, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NIV). Pray that God would open our eyes to see the injustice that is present. And may we be filled, not merely with the words of men or angels, but with a humble love that is willing to lay down our life and sacrifice everything for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
This world can be a better place! God’s kingdom is one of equality, no matter the color of our skin. My heart’s cry continues to be “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth [here in our community] as it is in heaven.” And so it is to this end that I stand in solidarity with my black brothers and sisters. Their voice matters. Listen.