I am a Pastor. A spiritual leader. I’m supposed to have the right words to say in situations like this. For now, however, I choose to listen. A preacher once said, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Right now, for me, it’s time to listen. To open my ears to the cries of the hurting. To find some empathy. To seek understanding.
I’ve turned to the voices of trusted leaders within the African-American community to hear what they are saying. To silently sit at their feet, quiet my thoughts, and listen. What have I been hearing?
The killing of George Floyd by police brutality in Minneapolis is not the underlying cause of the anger we are seeing on the streets of our nation. White people like me can explain away a tragedy like this. We can excuse ourselves. “Well, that was one bad cop, who acted improperly. He should be charged and punished. Case closed. Problem solved.”
But if you will take the time to listen to the voices of the protesters, you’ll know that the killing of George Floyd is not the main issue. It’s a symptom of a much deeper problem. I’ve known people who have gone to the doctor with a persistent cough and walked out with a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer. A cough drop won’t begin to address the problem. Likewise, the arrest of one police officer doesn’t cure this deep-seated, social cancer.
What is the underlying problem, here? If you have to ask, you haven’t been listening. We could use the word racism, or we could get even more specific and use the words racial injustice. But, again, it’s too easy for white people like me to excuse ourselves from the blame of those categories. “I’m not a racist. I would never harm a person of color.” Living in a 90% white county, I can easily dismiss the problem. It’s a news story, not a personal crisis. It’s a problem “those people” need to deal with. Not me.
The more I listen, though, the more I hear the word systemic added to racism and injustice. That changes the conversation. I’m forced to ask additional questions. Do I unknowingly contribute to a system that is racially unjust? Do I comfortably and unquestioningly participate in a system that holds people back and oppresses them because of the color of their skin? Wait. Don’t answer that question too quickly. Take some time to listen.
Listen to Dr. Tony Evans, Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and President of The Urban Alternative… “What this situation has manifested is the brokenness of our nation on a lot of levels. Yes, we have individual decisions being made, but we also have a culture in crisis, based upon a history that has gone largely unaddressed, as it needs to be addressed fully, in our personal lives and in the systems that operate in the culture. But at the core of all of this is a spiritual problem, and that’s why the church has got to be the leader in fixing it. In fact, it is the church to a large degree that caused it. Our failure to be the comprehensive people of God with righteousness and justice has opened the door for many of the things we’ve not been able to resolve and for much of the hopelessness that comes from it. God is waiting on the church, because if he could ever fix the church-house he could do something about the White House and the House of Congress and the Governor’s House and all the other houses of society and culture that need healing and help.”
Listen to Dr. William J. Barber, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina and President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach… “Deadly racism is always with us, and not only through police brutality. In the midst of the current pandemic we are painfully aware that our families bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths. In some cities where racial data are available, we know that Black people are six times as likely to die from the virus as their white counterparts. Even before COVID, large numbers of Black Americans died because of the racial disparities in healthcare, which are systemic and not unintentional. African Americans are three times more likely to die from particulate air pollution than our fellow Americans. The percentage of black children suffering from asthma is nearly double that of white people, and the death rate is 10 times higher. This is but a reflection of the fissures of inequality that run through every institution in our public life, where the black wealth gap, education gap, and healthcare gap have persisted despite the civil rights movement, legal desegregation, and symbolic affirmative action.”
Are you listening? Don’t react, yet. Don’t rise to defend yourself or make a counterpoint. Fight back the knee-jerk reaction to excuse yourself. Take some time to hear the hurt and anger from which these protests rise. Don’t equate the protests with the looting and rioting, either. Spiritual leaders condemn the senselessness of those crimes. Don’t let the loud lawlessness drown out the heartfelt voices of the peaceful protesters. We really need to listen. To feel the weight of their burden so we can share it.
Listening leads to learning. Learning leads to repentance. Repentance leads to action. But first, let’s commit to listening, carefully and tenderly, with the ears of God.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)