Embrace the Tension
My heart is broken over the division and turmoil in our country. Starting with COVID and now with the death of George Floyd and the swell of protesting and riots. As I have read the news and seen people posting on social media, it is clear that a chord has been struck and that a long, smoldering anger and weariness has come to the surface from the black community from centuries of injustice and oppression. It is not just the death of George Floyd, but the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the birdwatcher in Central Park, the dark stain of slavery and centuries of oppression of African Americans in this country.
As a white man in America, particularly living in a predominantly white area, I recognize that I do not see, and certainly don’t experience the inequality and challenges that people of color face. I have always believed every person is of equal value and worth since they are created in the image of God, but I have my own unconscious biases and stereotypes that I have to fight against and work to be aware of. So, for me, it is easy for this struggle to feel distant and for me not to know how to engage. But, I must engage and I must take action because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. My belief in all of us created equal must be lived out by fighting for equality for all.
One of the great challenges we face is that it feels like in order to participate, in order to engage, it feels like we have to pick sides. People want to be able to label you in one camp or the other. Whether it is along the lines of race, or politics, or policy – you’re either red or blue, black or white, liberal or conservative. The reality is that issues are nuanced, people are complex, and solutions are rarely one-sided. This becomes obvious when we actually sit down and talk with people, or rather, sit down and really listen to one another, not just talk (or shout) at each other.
So, I’ve been trying to listen, really listen. I listened to a friend of mine, who is a person of color, who shared about the fear he feels leaving his house after watching another black man be killed. How he sat his teenage son down and explained to him what to do when he is pulled over by a police officer because of his fear of being profiled. I too will talk to my sons about how to behave and what to do when they are pulled over, but it isn’t because I am afraid for their lives. He lives having to think twice before going for a run or walking through his neighborhood at night.
I have also been talking with a friend of mine who is a cop, who is putting his life on the line to keep us safe and keep the peace. He shared about the distrust and anger he has experienced just because he wears a badge and is trying to do his job. He also told me that over 700 police officers have been injured or killed in the last 2 weeks – I had no idea. The hardest part is that they feel like they are not allowed to talk about it. Not allowed to mourn for their fellow officers or speak out against the violence because then they will be seen as racist.
As I hear these stories, my heart breaks for both and I can’t help but think that they are not in opposition to one another. Both are real people, with real emotions, experiencing real loss and fear. What I believe we need is to be able to hold these things in tension. Not try to resolve the tension, or pick one side or the other, but to really listen and move toward each other. I believe we can simultaneously participate in peaceful protests, and respect and lift up our law enforcement community. I believe we can call for justice reform and break down corrupt systems that have promoted inequality, while also recognizing that the majority of our police force and institutions work tirelessly to protect and serve us.
We have to stop accusing others of guilt by association. Just because someone is participating in a protest advocating for equality and justice where some of the people there are holding hateful or inflammatory signs, that doesn’t mean the others participating in the protest believe those same things. Just because one police officer abuses his or her power doesn’t mean all police officers abuse their power. This does not discount that there are broken and biased systems, groups that are truly espousing hate, or that major reforms are not needed, it just means it is not helpful or right to label every police officer as racist or every protestor as a looter.
We must also stand up for what is right. We must call racism and every form of oppression sin, but we must also not excuse looting, but call it for what it is – stealing and destroying property. We should not stand for the perversion of justice, but call for people in authority to be held accountable. We should not tolerate hatred and harming of our law enforcement, even while calling for change. Our culture does not like the word sin, but sin means something that is wrong, not just because we think it wrong, but because it actually goes against the design of our creator. And the reality is that sin is not just out there, but sin is in each of us. Until we see that we are not better than the bigot, our hands are not cleaner than the looter, until we see that that same penchant for evil lives down in the very root of our heart and that we need redemption just like they do, we will not be able to forgive and find peace.
James 3:17 says “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” We need so desperately right now to be open to reason and willing to sit down across from each other and listen and learn. James 1:19 says “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” The anger that people are feeling is real and much of that anger is rooted in a sense of justice – people of color desiring equality and respect, and law enforcement desiring to feel appreciated and upholding the law and order they are sworn to protect. But we must turn the flame of our anger from a destructive force to a candle that holds vigil and allows us to see the humanity in one another.
There is still much that I have to learn. I may have hurt some of you unintentionally with my words out of ignorance or misunderstanding. Rather than shouting at each other, would you be willing to correct me in love, would you be willing to challenge me in a spirit of hope? Could we begin to assume the best in others and sit across from each other to really listen? I believe if we are willing to do that, we can actually bridge gaps, we can actually gain compassion, we can actually find a way forward.
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