Lest I Be Misunderstood

Two days ago (on August 18), I posted a status update to my Facebook page which I described as an observation, not a comment. Here is an edited (for clarity) version of what I said there:

When it appeared the Islamic State was targeting Christians in Iraq, my newsfeed was full of condemnatory posts. When it became clear that the major target was Yazidis, the indignant and accusatory posts all but ceased. And I have read virtually nothing (from my white, evangelical, FB friends) expressing dismay at the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by the police in Ferguson, MO. When that local community subsequently erupted in an emotional demonstration of anger and frustration, the response of the mainly-white police force looked more like a military invasion than the reasonable reaction of “peace officers” whose motto is supposed to be “to protect, and to serve.”

Several of my friends took me to task for that post, suggesting I was encouraging a rush to judgment before all the facts were known. I didn’t mean to suggest anything like that. Still, I was apparently unclear, and so here is a restatement of what I did and did not mean to say in that post.

  1. I did not mean to suggest that the Islamic State had not targeted Christians at all. Best reports indicate that Christians were indeed targeted and suffered severely at the hands of those Muslim extremists. My point, however, is still valid. By silencing their cries of indignation and anger when the threat to Christians seemed to abate, evangelicals gave the impression that their concern for peace and safety was limited to Christians alone and did not extend to non-Christians who were also suffering grievous injustice and physical harm.
  2. In the Ferguson situation, I did not mean to suggest that we should automatically assume the innocence of the black victim and the culpability of the white policeman who shot him. Those facts are unknown at present. Of course we must not rush to judgment. In time, we hope, the facts will be known, the matter can be addressed judiciously, and justice will be served.
  3. In the meantime, even before the facts are clearly established, it is still appropriate for white Christians to show solidarity with their black brothers and sisters who are in pain for the simple reason that, yet again, their community has suffered the death of one of its young men. If a child is killed by an automobile, our first response is not to ask who was at fault. Our first response is to recognize that, irrespective of fault and blame, a family is forced to live with crushing grief. There is a time for fault and blame later. In the immediate aftermath, the crying need is to stand with a family in the midst of their grief and, in whatever way is possible, to help them bear that grief.

White evangelical Christians will need to work hard to recognize that our black brothers and sisters have been through a scenario like this so many times that their emotions are raw. They don’t need our words of “let’s just wait and see how it all plays out.” What they need is assurance that we are trying to understand how a situation like this brings pain on a community that, given its history, has ample reason to fear an unfair and unjust exercise of power on the part of the establishment.

Slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, and the violence associated with the struggle for civil rights and the freedom to vote have made many in the black community skeptical that the principle of “liberty and justice for all” really can be applied equally and fairly in our society. Even if they are mistaken in their fears (and I do not believe they are), we white evangelical Christians should at least understand why they feel as they do. Our first response when the wound is reopened, no matter what the facts may turn out to be later on, should be solidarity with the black community in its pain.

That, I believe, is the kingdom response. And that is all I was trying to say.


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