Two days ago – Saturday, August 9th – an 18-year old black man, Michael Brown, was shot and killed. In many ways, it’s the same old story, and as a black man myself, I wanted to write about it. This is a long post, but it has to be, given the subject matter.
Basic rundown is here. Basically – and no one yet really knows what happened for sure – he was gunned down by a police officer. The officer claims that Brown physically confronted him and tried to grab his gun, and managed to fire off a shot. Witnesses claim differently – that Brown had already surrendered and had his hands up. It’s been confirmed that all shell casings found match the officer’s gun.
This is the same old story. Oscar Grant, his story told in the astounding film Fruitvale Station that I’d recommend to anyone wanting a look into the crisis of being black in America, was killed via gunshot as he was being held, face down, on the ground by the police with his hands behind his back. In 2012, a teenage black man was gunned down by an older white man in a very questionable situation. And then there’s the case of Trayvon Martin, a murder that has strong racial implications to it regardless of how you look at it.
Am I saying white people are monsters? Never. For me to do such a thing would be to curse people made in God’s image, and to be guilty of the sin of racial hatred. But there’s a deeper issue here, one that concerns our human condition.
LZ Granderson wrote an amazingly astounding column on the subject of dead young black men. In it, he says he’s tired of the many things involved in these – the traumas, the injustice, the anger, the rage. I am too. We all should be. He also said something that I think all privileged non-black people in America need to consider strongly. He’s tired of worrying whether his 17-year old will be gunned down. If you’re a parent who’s never had to worry about that, put yourself in the shoes of Trayvon Martin’s mother, for instance. Your only son is gunned down, and not only does the person who shot him not get convicted, but your son’s name is smeared and run through the mud by people “just asking questions”. It’s traumatic in and of itself, but it’s what many black people in America have to deal with every day.
As well, in the United States, there’s a long history of police violence and police aggression against black people. At the very least, police suspicion. I’m not well-researched enough to know the causes of this. I, personally, would think it’s a mix of blatant racism toward black people, racist stereotypes and perceptions of black crime that inform the mindsets of police officers that don’t know any better, and actual black crime experienced by the police officers in question, which in itself has a number of societal, economic and class-based roots. Altogether, though, it combines to create an incredibly volatile, violent, and traumatic situation on a constant basis across the entire country.
I’m not angry when I write this. I’m not seeking to sow division. But these are real issues, real crises in America and in the American human condition, and they need to be recognized and addressed, even by – especially by – God’s people.
These are issues with deep gospel implications. As ministers of the gospel, as God’s royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), we’re to seek the good and the betterment of our communities. That’s why many churches do outreach and try to help the downtrodden in their communities, and have their members seek to get involved in their communities to seek the betterment of their neighbours lives, regardless of whether those neighbours know Jesus or not.
This is what must be understood, though: these murders, these killings and deaths of black people, shatter the communities in which they occur. Friends and families are left in the wake, torn apart, devastated, but still here while their loved one isn’t. Bystanders witness this, or hear about it, and are filled with rage and lash out in anger, or keep their anger inside and grow distrustful, bitter, angry toward the people-group of the person who’s done the killing. As God’s people, we have an obligation to seek the betterment of our communities, and yes, of all communities (as the Church is God’s gift to the world), and that means seeking to heal harm and trauma where it occurs, seek justice where associated injustice is present, and to prevent these harms and traumas and injustice from ever happening, in so much as is possible.
And that’s another thing. God is a God of justice. That’s why Hell exists. That’s why the Bible speaks so much about protecting and looking out for the downtrodden, the hurt, the oppressed, the neglected, the rejected. As God’s people, we have to be people who seek justice – and that means praying for, and actively working toward in as much as is possible, justice to be found in these sorts of situations.
Further, and this is a very dangerous spiritual situation here, these killings – when justice is not found, when nothing seems to be done, when nobody seems to care about the deaths of people who are made in God’s image, who were loved by God and loved by so many people in life – sow dark seeds in the hearts of those who witness and are made aware of these incidents, extremely more so for those who knew the person who died. Seeds of hatred, bitterness, resentment, rage, distrust. Hatred toward the racial group that the killer belongs to. Hatred begets hate, and it is poison to the human heart. It is poison to the human soul. No, I am not saying that the loved ones of murdered people have no right to mourn and feel righteous anger – absolutely, they do. But as Christians, we must seek to cut off at the source the festering of evil, sinful elements in the human heart caused by incidents such as these. I believe we do this by ministering to the hurting and the grieving, letting them know about the way of Jesus, and – very importantly – seeking justice for everyone involved.
So what do we do as Christians? This is the most important part. We keep our eyes and ears open. We pay attention and listen to these traumas when they occur, and when they do, we don’t ignore them. We grieve with those who grieve, even if we never meet them, and we pray to God that we’ll feel the righteous anger He feels over such incidents. And we pray for justice and for the grieving and for those filled with rage at such injustices. And we try to make a difference in our communities and our social circles, so that people know that these sorts of things should not be happening now. LZ Granderson in his piece said he’s tired of people not being tired like he is. Let’s be tired of it. Let’s get so tired of all these things happening over, and over, and over again.
So, there’s the pain. The question is “What’s the solution to this?”. The answer is simple. Jesus. God. The gospel. God is there in the midst of pain, of trauma. He is there in the midst of injustice. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have an ultimate hope that one day everything will be put right, that God will wipe every tear from our eye, and that before the Judgment Seat of Christ, all injustices will quickly dissolve away in the face of holy, divine justice.
Let’s share that hope with others. Let’s, in light of that hope, be there for those affected by incidents such as these. Let’s call our society out on its sins and work to better our societies so they can move past them. And let’s be the lights of the world in our communities, helping to heal the scars and wounds caused by acts of darkness so that our God in heaven may be glorified and known by all.
That’s it. Grace and peace.
EDIT: Edited to trim down excess wordage.