I have wanted to comment on the recent events that have gripped the attention and conscience of our country. And, as is often the case, I struggled to find a way to make sense of what was going on. After some time to think and several conversations I have decided to provide some of my thoughts.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen that our nation has been revved up to a fever pitch by the shootings that took place in Minnesota and Louisiana. The shooting death of two black men is seen as more of the same as there is a feeling among the black community that law enforcement has a different set of rules for them.
These events were followed by the shooting of five police officers and a handful of civilians during a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas. As soon as the news broke, the accusations and conspiracies began to swirl. The 24-hr news cycle was given a sudden jolt and at least a couple of days of something “interesting” to talk about.
The one result of all of this that I found most refreshing is that, at least for me, for the first time in a long time many on every side of this issue/topic/social quagmire took a step back and decided to not jump in head first. The reactivity that had become very pronounced seemed to ebb, if only for a few hours. There have been some truly amazing attempts to try to heal while seeking to articulate the what and why of the various points of view.
As I was getting ready this morning, I was reading and listening to various media sources and social media outlets and I came across the sentiment I shared in the title of this post. The question of “Why can’t we all just get along.” Now, I know that there are many people that want to work toward a more just and peaceful society. I do too. I do not want my children or grandchild to grow up in fear of walking the streets in which we live. I know that is not the case for many families even now in our nation. However, while a reality for many, that percentage has not reached and touched the masses. This kind of experience has been localized, but I would be a fool not to see that it seems to be spreading. Violence has become the language of our times and this language is easy to learn and even easier to experience, even if vicariously.
The concern I have, the reason I am writing is because the answer to the question of why we can’t all just get along may never be answered and the desire it captures may never be achieved if something does not change. And, the reason for this, I am beginning to consider, is that we, as a society, want this to happen without any common ground. We have become a hyper-individualistic and increasingly more secular society.
The effect of these two trends within our culture has cultivated a mindset and an overall worldview that everyone’s opinion and views are equally valid and thereby, inviolable. This cannot be true on a practical level. If I am always right and you are always right,then we have no common ground to work together on. There is nothing that I can do or say that will convince you to do other than what you have decided to do. This can only lead to chaos. Some of which we have seen.
I am a pastor in a church that is predominantly constituted of minorities. Blacks and Hispanics. All of the senior leadership are minorities. Therefore, I am not indifferent to the ills that plague our respective communities. I am not blind to the fact that, particularly in the South, there are hundreds of years of history that have contributed to the ideas and concerns that affect the people that I serve.
However, in light of these realities, I am, before anything else, a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Not the one popularized in the media or annexed by particular groups. I strive, as best I can, to discern the character and desires of my Savior from His words and his actions as I find and read them in the Scriptures.
And this, in the end, is what confounds me. I am not saying that we should not be outraged by injustice. We should. As Christians, we should be the first to stand up against oppression. What I struggle to reconcile is what I see and hear from people who claim be followers of Jesus using language and methods that would not only be foreign to Jesus’ character but a direct and outright contradiction to what he taught and how he lived.
If you are a Christian and you are outraged by what you see happening in your community (whether ethnic or geographic) then, by all means, say something. Do something. Get engaged and involved. But, don’t do it in a way that distorts and denigrates the name of Jesus. We need to spend more time understand what Jesus actually did rather than trying to figure our what he would do. Because if we don’t know the first we will never be able to do the second in a way that is consistent with Jesus’ character.
Here is the bottom line. The reason we cannot get along is because we do not have a common reason to get along. When our motives are selfish, tinged with bitterness and anger, and reactive we will behave in ways that are injurious to our cause. We need a common ground that can help us to navigate our emotions and experiences. The only one that I know strong enough to mitigate our differences is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures continually tell us that in Christ we are no longer what we used to be. We have become new and we have been joined together in fellowship by the Spirit. [cf.,Galatians 2:20, 3:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:17]
25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:25-27 ESV)
I have a nine-year-old. She is amazingly brilliant. However, from time to time she does something that causes harm to her sister. The kind of harm that requires punishment. And what does she say to me when I ask here why she did what she did? She says, “I didn’t mean to.”
That’s all well and good, but your actions DID cause harm regardless of what your intentions were. I have had to explain to her, and on more than one occasion, that she is not being punished because of her intentions. She is being punished and she is in the wrong because of her actions. Her intentions did not harm her sister. As a matter of fact, her intentions did not even protect her sister. Her intentions cannot even be considered in the equation because he actions caused harm and now something must be done.
If we are going to be defenders of the oppressed and marginalized we cannot allow our intentions to trump our actions. We cannot excuse the real harm caused by our deeds because we believe that our words are correct and our hearts are in the right place. There has to be a genuine link between what we say and what we do. Because without this link, we lose the moral standing we need to convince others of the rightness of our views.
Finally, I am not claiming to have some or any answers to how we move forward and through the current social unrest happening in our country. But, I will say this. I want to stand with my friends and neighbors in the black community who want to make sure that justice is truly blind. I want to stand with any and every person who cries out against injustice wherever it rears its perverted head. I will mourn with those who weep in the midst of great loss and tragedy.
I want to be counted among those who stand on the right side of history and remind the world that Black Lives Matter, but I will not do it if I must do it at the expense of the truth. These two realities are not mutually exclusive. And they must not be seen as being so. Therefore, as long as the actions of a few continue to tarnish the good intentions of those who seek justice, I will not be able to join this expression of the movement toward a more just society. In the same way that I must teach my daughter that she must be held accountable for her actions, I implore the leaders of the present movements to do the same.
I will continue to do what I can to achieve reconciliation in my community. The Gospel requires that we not give in to tactics and rhetoric that inflame. Our words and deeds should bring healing to those we encounter. And when they do not, we see the evidence that we have strayed too far from the path that has been set before us as the body of Christ.
As a Christian, my heart breaks for every life that is lost because of violence and injustice. As a pastor, I am concerned that so many who claim the name of Christ have been so quick to judge, quick to accuse, quick to malign. We have taken sides in the church and more and more it seems that it is not the side of truth. If we, as the people of God, desire to see our nation brought back from the precipice of racism and the lawlessness that appears to be running amok in the world, we must first and foremost be anchored to the truth, and that truth is found in the Gospel of Jesus—the only message of reconciliation available to the world. This is the only common ground that can sustain a lasting peace both within us and among us.