It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has proven to be an emotionally-draining year if you have been following the news cycle. In the span of less than six months, we have seen an impeachment trial, the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, a historical economic collapse, a historic tornado outbreak on Easter, and the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Now, over this past weekend, we have seen numerous peaceful protests with violent rioting and looting in major cities (including our own town of Charleston).
Because of our 24/7 media cycle, it has been difficult to sit down and to process the meaning and implications of each event. For the past several weeks, I’ve been somewhat silent regarding many of the public events that have happened in my society. However, the images of the recent killing of George Floyd (along with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor), along with the burning and vandalism of our cities has produced a sense of shock and awe for all of us. Without having the time to deliberately and to carefully process these events, our media cycle has already provided us with an interpretation of the events, such as “Riots are the language of the unheard”. Some have attributed the violence to “outside agitators” (which has led to the theory that ANITFA and/or white supremacists are co-opting peaceful protests). However, other sources have indicated that outsiders are playing a rather small role in the rioting and looting (which would mean that the riots are being instigated from within our communities).
I’ve had a number of private conversations from my white Christian brothers and sisters (including some pastors) in which it is demanded that they must respond to these national events. Furthermore, many of you have heard the following chants from the protesters and their allies:
“The voices of protest are voices filled with pain. It’s time for you to listen to us.”
“These stories prove that we must have a national conversation on race and police brutality.”
“You should be more outraged over an innocent man’s death than stolen property.”
“Silence is consent. Silence is complicity. Silence is betrayal.”
“We [America] are all responsible for what’s going on in the country.”
“America is experiencing a ‘double pandemic’: COVID-19 and racism.”
I want to address these matters frankly and bluntly.
First, we all need to acknowledge that the national media (such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc.) lie to us and mislead us on a regular basis when it comes to these stories. They have deliberately distorted the truth, and they deliberately frame these stories in such a way so as to provoke controversy. Our national media has deliberately abandoned the historical use of journalism (i.e. the actual gathering and reporting of facts) with pure opinion-based journalism. This is largely done because the traditional gatekeepers of journalism are being replaced by independent journalists and social media. Hence, we must remember that the livelihood of the mainstream media depends upon their ability to provoke you to outrage. This is why you know the names of unarmed African-Americans who were shot and killed by the police, but you likely have never heard of the unarmed white Americans who were shot and killed by the police. We know the names of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, but it’s probably not likely that you know Daniel Shaver, Jeremy Mardis, or Randall Goodale. For this reason, we all should ask ourselves if we are being manipulated and deceived by the national media.
Second, Americans in general (and Christians in specific) need to recover their common moral sense. In any other situation, we would condemn police brutality whenever it happens, and anyone who attempts to justify it should be ignored. Police brutality affects all Americans (not just African-Americans), and thus, we should all be concerned about it. The reality is that there are some places in this country where the police presence feels more like a military occupation than a peacekeeping force. There are many proposed solutions to address these concerns such as the following
However, in all of our proposed solutions, we are called to remember that prudence is exceedingly necessary in doing good. The social media age has convinced us that we must respond immediately to a situation without taking time to consider and ponder. Consider the words of Richard Baxter:
Zeal without judgment hath not only entangled souls in many heinous sins, but hath ruined churches and kingdoms, and under pretence of exceeding others in doing good, it makes men the greatest instruments of evil. There is scarce a sin so great and odious, but ignorant zeal will make men do it as a good work.
Part of our prudence is to consider the sphere that God has placed us. Richard Baxter continues:
Keep in the way of your place and calling, and take not other men’s works upon you without a call under any pretence of doing good… not one man step into another’s place, and take his work out of his hand, and say, I can do it better: for if you should do it better, the disorder will do more harm than you did good by bettering his work.
This is why the common mantra “silence is complicity” is, at best, a half-truth, and at worst, extremely dangerous. Some situations (such as widespread burning and looting) demand silence so as to consider the situation. We need the time to think and to process the meaning of these events so that appropriate action can be done. Thus, there’s a difference between waiting for fuller evidence to appear [remember: our national media tends to distort the truth] and blindly defending police actions. Anyone who demands an immediate response to a story without any context is taking the posture of a fool (cf. Proverbs 12:16; 14:33; 29:11), and he should be treated as such.
Third, in any other situation, we would condemn the destruction of private property, full stop. However, in the current situation, one group of people will affirm this unequivocally, while another group of people will give you a speech such as “riots are the language of the unheard, and we should try to understand people participating in them even if we disapprove.” Or “looting is bad, but what do you expect? These are people seeking justice!” Or “the riots wouldn’t happen if we dealt with police brutality”. Or “why are you more outraged over vandalized businesses than the lost of a human life.” To be honest, this enrages me, and I know that it enrages many of you who are reading this blog, particularly since some evangelicals are embracing this.
Let me be clear: protesting is happening because people feel unheard. Rioting and looting is happening because our society has a sizable population of anti-social barbarians that have no sense of respect for others. This is not a matter of indifference; there are looters and rioters within our communities who are using the current crisis to destroy our communities. It has been aptly stated that “civilization is a thin crust, covering a volcano”. Stable and orderly communities do not happen by accident. Rather, they are an achievement that needs to be defended from enemies. Our common moral sense should respond viscerally to this. We do not use the verse “Weep with those who weep” to turn our eyes away from the real damage that is happening to our neighbors in their communities.
I saw this with my own eyes during the protests in downtown Charleston. During the early afternoon, hundreds of protesters (with whole families and children) stood to support their Black neighbors in Charleston, demonstrating clearly that we are all united in our opposition to police brutality. During this time, the Charleston PD praised the protesters for their civility. However, during the evening, another group of people arrived. Here were a sizeable population of local and outside individuals who expressed hatred towards all things Americans. This was not merely white ANTIFA or white supremacists; rather, these were young Black men and women, yelling racist epithets. This entire group deliberately targeted stores, smashed windows, and destroyed businesses. I was shocked at this behavior because this behavior did not even occur during the Emanuel Nine shooting nor the Walter Scott case. Unfortunately, worse behavior was observed in other cities around the country (such as New York City, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Dallas) in which business owners who attempted to defend their property were violently assaulted.
To tell business owners that they should be more outraged by police brutality is morally repugnant. By the 8th commandment, we are commanded “to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own”. The reality is that our nearest neighbor are the ones in our communities, and we ought to unashamedly openly advocate and defend our communities based upon our love for our neighbors. Just as in the Emanuel Nine cases, our local community (black and white) volunteered our time, our money, and effort to clean up the damage caused by the looters and rioters. This is not unique to Charleston, but our neighborly love for one another is being demonstrated around the entire country. There are numerous GoFund me pages for small business owners for this reason.
This leads me to my final point: do we really have a “virus of racism” in our country? While it is certainly true that there exists prejudiced and bigoted individuals in every ethnic group in this country, by every measure, explicit, noticeable, and damaging episodes of racism and prejudice have been shrinking in the country since the late 1960s. The clearest evidence of how much white opinion had shifted is in the peaceful protests themselves that have occurred around the country surrounding these recent cases. We have had a national conversation on race since I’ve been alive (it also should be noted that we are told to have these conversations usually during an election year).
This is the most pernicious charge against White Americans (which is usually pushed from politicians and strangers on social media) because it serves to sever the genuine bond of love that exist among us. We are not hopelessly divided, and there is no need for anyone to confess our ancestral guilt to anyone or for minorities to manipulate and condemn White Americans into a life of perpetual penance because of the history of this country. The opinion of the national media does not represent the opinion of your neighbors. Moreover, the opinion of random strangers on social media does not represent the public. There is not a “White America” and “Black America” as the media depict us; rather, we are neighbors who work together, live together, and worship together. Although we disagree on a number of issues (such as how to address matters of injustice), we are not enemies with one another.
We are NOT all responsible for what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other Black lives that have died in the hands of the police. Rather, the American public has clearly stood with one another; the evidence is directly in front of us. What we need to remember that the national media that attempts to capitalize on our disagreements does not represent us. The violent rioters and looters who rejoiced in the destruction of private property does not represent us. The social media activists who demand that we immediately verbalize all of our outrage do not represent us. The collection of wicked police officers do not represent us. Finally, the politicians who virtue-signal for political gain do not represent us. We are not called to demonstrate our love for our neighbors by recording our good works on social media (which is in direct violation of Christ’s words on the Sermon on the Mount – see Matthew 6:1). Rather, we are called, as Christians, to demonstrate our love for our neighbors by our lives in everyday relationships.
The public hysteria tempts us to live in suspicion of our neighbors, even fellow believers. For this reason, we must reaffirm our love for Chris and His people. Even in our disagreements, we must remain fiercely loyal to your local church. Do not hold your brothers and sisters in Christ in suspicion. Love them, and cling to them in light of the difficult days ahead. Speaking personally, my own life has been indelibly affected by the bond of love between brothers and sisters in Christ. When I was becoming disillusioned with the local church, it was Christian love from my white brothers and sisters in Colorado and Missouri that gave me a love for the church. They were also the ones who labored for my wife and I so that we can have an affordable wedding, and they were the ones who gave us a vision for our home life. When we moved to Louisiana as a poor married couple, it was the kindness of our predominately white church who supported us, and encouraged us during the process. In South Carolina, it was our church family who prayed for us and supported us when our youngest daughter almost died through a kidney infection.
None of the love that my family have received will appear in a headline in any major article. In all of these relationships, we have prayed together, grieved together, and loved each other through our difficulties. This is the real America in which I live – where there is genuine, mutual love between brothers and sisters in Christ and with our neighbor. This is something that we know intuitively and experientially whenever there is a tragedy (such as COVID-19 or a tornado super outbreak) and during our daily lives. Therefore, let us endeavor to live a Christ-honoring, non-reactionary, unpretentious life of justice and neighborly love before the Lord.