Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation in the United States. Yet another unarmed black man has been killed, in the midst of a pandemic that has laid bare the huge economic and health inequities in our country. As a white man, I have never had to fear police or face any racial discrimination, not even a slight or a slur. I’m not sure I can speak well into this situation.
You may remember that I lost my daughter to a drug overdose nearly three years ago. Following her death, the only people who could speak relevantly into my life were those who had lost a spouse or a child of their own. Others meant well, but they just couldn’t understand what I was going through. And some of the things they said were unhelpful.
Since George Floyd’s death, I’m keenly aware that I really don’t understand what it’s like to be an African American. I could say lots of things and most would probably be unhelpful. So I’m listening, and I’m learning from my African American friends. Slowly, it’s opening my eyes and bringing me much sorrow. Today, I’m going to let them do the talking. First, hear from a black man named Eli.
My concern is that people will be content to brush aside a critical component of what it means to be a black person and a white person in America: that is, how we are perceived and treated as a result of our complexion and features. I am fully convinced that my identity is rooted in Christ Jesus and that all people bear the image and likeness of God, but that conviction comes from faith in what God says, not from what I’ve witnessed or experienced. It is no secret that American history hasn’t done people of color any favors. Black people, specifically, are more easily perceived as dangerous, aggressive, less worthy of mercy or the benefit of the doubt, and far too often treated as guilty until proven innocent.
I’m definitely not advocating that anyone justify riots or looting as proper responses to a murder—because they’re not; those are crimes. What I am advocating for is God’s perspective—the perspective of grace and mercy that would have us praying together and speaking up in conversations when someone we know is too comfortable demeaning victims of police brutality.
I’m frustrated because I fear that people may walk away from their televisions after hearing about the protesting (a good thing) and the riots/looting (criminal behavior) and think to themselves, “Well, if they’re going to act that way, it’s no wonder the police have to be so aggressive with them.” That is not the right perspective to have. That’s not what happened. George Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many more were unjustly murdered by the police officers who interacted with them.
I know our country needs a lot of healing—the world does—and I don’t think we can have conversations about identity, justice, or reconciliation without including Jesus. Our Lord will return when He sees fit, but until then we have to be Christ’s ambassadors, aware that much of the world thinks that the darker someone is, the more inherently dangerous or morally broken they are.
I’m not saying every Christian needs to start picketing (protesting isn’t a requirement and COVID-19 is still a problem), but God’s people have a place in discussions about race—to bring God’s perspective on the dignity of every human being. I look forward to continuing this conversation and pray God’s Spirit blesses us with the patience, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding necessary to speak truth into this situation.
Another young black friend, an equally devout man named Jerel, wrote me:
These are troubling times, but if you find yourself more outraged at protests than at the murders that started them, then you are trying too hard to be comfortable in the midst of tragedy that should make any decent human uneasy. Instead of shielding yourself with empty religious platitudes, and assuring yourself “I’m not racist,” let yourself be uncomfortable.
Let yourself hurt for the people whose lives were cut short due to the color of their skin and for the loved ones they left behind. Let yourself be angry at those who perpetrated these heinous crimes. Feel frustrated by how regularly and callously acts like this occur in what should be the “land of the free.” This should bother you. The worst thing you can do right now is to avoid that tension or excuse away your discomfort.
Let it lead you to empathy. Let it inspire change. But for my sake, and for the sake of people of color on this country, don’t try to be comfortable right now. If nothing else, it’ll give you an idea of how people that look like me feel every day.
As we hear the cries of our black brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us to let him soften our hearts. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus wants to come in and help us to see every person the way he sees them and to love one another as he loves us.
Brothers and sisters, we just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the one who produces real unity. Because of the Holy Spirit, the early Church experienced unity between Jews and gentiles, between Roman citizens and those without the rights of citizenship, between rich and poor. Don’t we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, the very presence of God? This should move us to see every human being as a child of God, created in his image and likeness. And this should make us stand against the racial injustices we see in our country.
We are all one in Christ. St. Paul told the Christians in Galatia to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Jesus is speaking these same words to us today. Let’s bear the burdens of our African American brothers and sisters.
Holy Spirit, help us. Give us courage. Let justice and mercy start with me.
Read about some of our African American brothers and sisters who have blessed the Church.
- St. Josephine Bakhita
- St. Martin de Porres
- Venerable Fr. Augustine Tolton
- Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman
Let’s pray together for healing.
Learn more about overcoming barriers and loving one another.