Terence Crutcher. Just another in a long line of publicized deaths over the past few years that involved a black man and a police officer. Just as every other time, social media has been filled with takes on the issue as the division just grows deeper. But we’ve been called to act differently in such times. It’s the Christian’s job to lead the way with compassion and understanding when the world divides itself among lines of race and ideology. Here are a few ways we can make a difference.
Weep with those who weep.
So much of the back and forth focuses on the terminology differences between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. When a policeman is shot, some in the BLM movement remain unfazed (and some even cheer it), and when another black person is killed, many in the All Lives Matter camp seem callous as they immediately start building a case to justify the death. If we feel compelled to post, tweet, or even march to mourn the death of someone on one side and try to brush aside deaths on the other side, we need to think long and hard about which lives we really think matter.
If we’re going to go around talking about how lives matter, and if we’re people full of Christ-like compassion, we should immediately realize the sadness of each situation and mourn with those who mourn. Even if you don’t agree with people’s view of what happened, we can’t be so dehumanized as to forget that the deceased was often somebody’s father, or son, or brother. We can get so caught up in fighting for a cause that we forget to show people that we care about them and their feelings.
Listen to people.
We all need to be willing to sit down and listen to someone’s case and understand their point of view. How can we tell if we’re good at listening? Pay attention to how you react whenever another case comes out. If you make the exact same argument every time, you’re not open to the other side. Eric Garner is not Mike Brown, who is not Freddie Gray, who is not Tamir Rice, who is not Terrence Crutcher, who is not Philando Castile, who is not Alton Sterling, and so on.
Every case is different, but somehow it seems like a majority of people instantly jump to the same conclusion within minutes every time. No matter who the person is or what the evidence shows, on the one hand you have “He probably deserved it/He should have just submitted/He seemed to have a shady past” and on the other you have “He was innocent/the shooter was racist.” If your conclusion is the same about every single case when the cases vary so greatly, you’re not looking at these situations objectively. That’s when we need to put aside our biases and start listening.
It’s impossible for me to understand someone else’s perspective unless I’ve heard them out. Traffic stops are frustrating for me… but they aren’t frightening. I can’t understand our differences until I listen. Beyond that, read the testimonies, and watch the videos (if available) when these cases happen. No, we’re not going to agree with people on everything, but our desire to show compassion and fight for unity has to lead us to be open to other people and their opinions and realize that it’s virtually impossible for every single case to reach the same conclusion.
Understand how you come across.
As a white person, I must say it’s appalling how tone-deaf some of the arguments made against black protests can be. When a black person is killed, they say #BlackLivesMatter. Others object by saying that ALL lives matter and that it’s wrong to specify a particular life. Then a policeman dies and #BlueLivesMatter pops up everywhere. Do we not understand how that comes across? Of course blue lives matter, and it’s okay to say that. They’ve faced some difficult times lately (like what happened in Dallas and Baton Rouge), and their lives are valuable. But black lives also matter, and they’ve faced difficult times as well and so it’s ok to say that their lives matter.
Or, consider the “they were breaking the law” or “if you don’t break the law, these things don’t happen” argument. In some of the cases, that’s true. But are you really willing to say that they deserved the death penalty? Of course not. Eric Garner, for example, was breaking the law by selling loose cigarettes. There’s no way that anyone can argue that such an offense warranted his death. He deserved a lawyer and a trial by his peers like everyone else. But he didn’t get it.
Or the “black on black crime is worse” argument. Nobody’s saying that it isn’t. But first, nobody is excusing it and pretending that it doesn’t matter or going on Facebook and Twitter to explain why the death was deserved. Second, there’s a reasonable expectation for justice to be served. In the cases we’re discussing here, though, the trials generally have a foregone conclusion, leading to a perception that the justice system will always protect its own rather than truly give out justice.
Or the implication that to take issue with a black person’s death is anti-police. We live in a world of extremes and sometimes have difficulty accepting that two things can be true at the same time. A person can be upset with what one or two officers did without being opposed to all policemen and women everywhere. A person can be pro-police without condoning and supporting every single thing that they do. We’ve let ourselves be dragged into an us vs. them fight, where there are only two sides and if you’re not on one, then you’re on the other. Nothing is going to change until we rise above that false narrative.
As some have accurately pointed out, #BlackLivesMatter (the phrase, not the organization) isn’t something that is said to exclude every other life. It has an implied “too” at the end – black lives matter, too. Those of us on the outside need to realize that we agree with that and work with them from there despite any differences we may have.
Pray for healing.
Prayer should always be our response. We should pray for the families who have lost loved ones. We should pray for the communities where there is so much unrest. We should pray for the safety and wisdom of the police as they carry out such a difficult job. We should pray for ourselves that we would represent Christ and His love to all in a time when so much healing is needed.
Realize that there is a problem.
Notice how much I’ve referenced the “two sides” of the issue. It would be impossible to have a discussion on this issue without acknowledging that there are two sides, but we as Christians should always do our best to avoid division (Romans 12:18). As much as is possible, we need to eliminate “sides” and find common ground. Christians should be the ones doing the uniting, bringing both sides together to have a discussion so we can do the listening that we talked about above.
Part of that effort to unite includes taking a stand and admitting that there is, in fact, a problem. Standing with the oppressed is a concept with strong biblical roots (Isaiah 1:17 is one example), and so we need to be careful to make sure we do so when the opportunity arises (and if you don’t think the opportunity has shown itself in the last few years, see point #2 again). No, every case is not the same… but the sheer number of cases is enough to tell you that something isn’t right and we need to say something about it.
It can be tempting to take the easy way out and just make a blanket statement about unity and agree not to discuss what’s going on. When Israel took that stance, God spoke powerfully through the minor prophets to chastise them for turning a blind eye (see Amos 5 in particular). We have to open our eyes to injustice that we might not want to see, point out that injustice when we see it, and be willing to call for change. I reached out to a black friend and Christian brother from Twitter with whom I’ve discussed these issues to get his perspective, and among the thoughts he shared I thought this one was particularly interesting.
We often talk about not having a “white” or “black” church but our Caucasian brethren’s silence helps widen the gaps between us. We should always show compassion to one another and show that we care about one another (Lev 19:18). We as Christians as a whole far too often are like the priest and the Levite. Too worried about where we are going and getting ourselves dirty (by others opinions) to take time to see where we can help to bandage the wounds & pour on some oil. In the meantime a Samaritan, one who was a disgrace and misfit, comes in and makes the difference. And we wonder why people don’t like us “religious folks.” Far too often we are on the sidelines with our nose in the air and not looking to get in the game.
There’s too much going on here for us to pretend like nothing is happening. We have to address this issue head on with each other.
Though it’s impossible to be perfectly balanced as humans, I certainly try to see both sides. And I’ve tried to address both sides of the issue in this article. But the bulk of the work to do in this area rests on the shoulders of white Christians. I know that just posting this article is going to upset people who think this conversation is unnecessary and that there isn’t any issue. Some will probably unfollow our social media pages, some will comment saying that it’s not an issue. I understand that, but it’s time we started a dialogue that’s less one-sided. Let’s discuss this matter. Let’s be open with each other.
Put yourself in the shoes of your black brethren for a second. They’ve seen men be shot with their hands up, a man be shot while reaching for his license after being racially profiled, a police car pull up onto a park lawn and shoot a child holding an airsoft gun (watch the video). And they’ve seen nearly all of these things happen without any disciplinary measures of any kind being given out in response. Of course they’re afraid and angry.
If we’re going to be so callous as to say that they need to just get over it and stop talking about it, and then isolate ourselves from anyone who tries to bring up the discussion, shame on us.
By Jack Wilkie