I am white.
Until the last decade or so, I didn’t know how much weight that carried. Or that it carried any weight at all. Everywhere I go, I am greeted with eye contact and a smile. I lived in Florissant in college, which was the neighboring community to Ferguson. Yes, that Ferguson. I would frequently walk home from work, oftentimes at night, and not think twice about it. When I am pulled over by the police for speeding or something (and if you’re reading this, sorry Mom), I am immediately rummaging through my car, hands digging around the glove compartment, trying to find that doggone insurance slip—never once considering that I could be in danger or not make it home safely.
They say ignorance is bliss. When Michael Brown was shot by police in Ferguson in 2014, I remember saying out loud, “None of that sounds like the interaction I’ve had with St. Louis Police. Are we sure those details are right?” Thousands of black voices began to speak out in unison, describing how their everyday experiences sounded nothing like mine at all. Nearly everywhere they go, they aren’t greeted with a smile or eye contact, but with avoidance and suspicion. It’s just…different than me.
This tension did not begin in Ferguson in 2014. It did not begin with the LA Riots of 1992, or the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, or the Jim Crow laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or the Civil War before that, or the transatlantic slave trade before that, or the colonization and enslavement of Native Americans before that, or even in the Americas to begin with. This evil is thousands of years old. And while the Church has historically been a realm of healing in this regard, it has also been the cause of strife just as often.
This is pain that Jesus knows. He felt it from Rome and the religious elite. He felt it growing up, He felt it as He delivered the gospel, and He felt it on the cross. But then He established the Church to put a stop to it. He established the Kingdom to get rid of it, to provide the hurting and marginalized of society a place of acceptance, peace, and equality. The Church MUST be the catalyst for change.
It’s time for the Church to listen. When our black brothers and sisters are expressing their suffering, we cannot turn a blind eye anymore. This suffering is real. It’s not a contrivance for attention. It’s not something that is made up just to garner sympathy. But for generations, that suffering has been ignored—or worse yet, disbelieved—and it’s a cause for frustration, anger, and desperation. You want to know why there is rioting in the streets? It’s because we aren’t listening. We aren’t acting. We aren’t expressing the empathy and love and grace of Jesus Christ to men and women, boys and girls created in His image. We. Aren’t. Listening.
Jesus isn’t called Mighty Counselor for nothing. And we should be emulating this very discipline right now, more than ever. So I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to use whatever platform that you have been afforded not to spread hate, or ignorance, or simply to look the other way. Look carefully at what is happening to the children of God. They are hurting. Listen to them. And really, honestly, SEE them. This is what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Pray for healing. Pray for wisdom on what to say. Pray that the violence comes to an end, and that real progress can be made in racial reconciliation. We are all the image-bearers of a loving, gracious God. Yes, we come from different cultures. Yes, we see life from different perspectives. But the Kingdom does not discriminate on that. And neither should we. Let’s be the Body of Christ we were meant to exemplify and be the agent of healing Jesus intended us to be.
Now is not the time for political rebuttal. Now is not the time to try and rationalize the behavior of “your side.” Now is the time to listen to the marginalized. Now is the time to be Jesus. Join me in really seeing the afflictions of our brothers and sisters. This is what we were made to do.