A Letter to White Evangelicals
The post below was written in November 2014, immediately following the
announcement that no police officers would be charged with Michael Brown’s
murder. With the recent killings of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile I
thought it might be appropriate to repost it here with a couple slight
Thankfully, the overall response within the white evangelical community (of
which I am a member) has been different from that of 2014. There have been
many more voices of empathy speaking loudly and publicly. However, within
the white evangelical community we still hear many of the same things we
heard in 2014:
We have to wait for all the facts.
He should not have been resisting.
People who obey the law don’t have to fear the police.
It had nothing to do with race.
You need to respect law enforcement.
Why aren’t we talking about black-on-black crime?
You’re dividing our country by making this about race.
Because things like this are still being said, both publicly and privately,
I wanted to remind us of the conversation we had two years ago.
Dear White Evangelicals,
I love you.
I’m one of you.
Your theology is my theology. I’ve preached in your pulpits. I’ve worshiped in your churches. I’ve attended your seminaries. I’ve read your books. I’ve subscribed to your blogs. I consider myself blessed to be a member of your community and am grateful for the many ways I’ve grown because of your influence in my life.
Yet today I am embarrassed to be called a white evangelical.
Because I’ve seen your facebook posts and tweets from the past week. I’ve watched your comments, your likes, your shares and your retweets. With each of these I have seen you go out of your way to communicate two things: 1) that the feelings being expressed this week by many People of Color are invalid and 2) that the perceived injustices experienced by many People of Color in America are their own fault.
My fellow white evangelicals, I’m embarrassed by your response. Those are hard words to write. I don’t want to use a word so harsh toward my brothers and sisters, my family. I do not want to offend the people I love and who love me. But I also cannot remain silent when I see the approach of many in my own camp is miles out of step with the gospel you and I believe.
What is it you are hoping to accomplish by telling People of Color that their feelings are invalid?
What is it you are hoping to accomplish by telling People of Color that they are to blame for this or that perceived injustice?
What are you hoping to accomplish by claiming that Michael Brown was “no angel” and calling attention to his parents’ imperfections?
What are you hoping to accomplish by pointing to the immorality of the looters who by no means represent even a negligible percentage of those who are troubled by this issue?
What are you hoping to accomplish by claiming the feelings being experienced by many People of Color are the creation of “the media” or of “black political leaders” and not reality?
In all of this, where is the gospel you and I hold so dearly? Where is the gospel that tells us our God laid aside his divine perspective and entered into our human perspective so He could “empathize with us” (Hebrews 4:15)? Has He not empowered you to display that same empathy?
Where is the gospel that tells us Jesus laid aside the privileges of divinity and willfully made himself our servant, valuing our good above his own (Philippians 2:1-11)? Has he not empowered you to display that same humility?
There was a time in my life as a white evangelical when I lacked that same empathy and humility. I was blinded by my own limited experience and could only recognize as truth the things I could see from my perspective. But everything changed when I began to listen to the brothers and sisters in my church. Would you accept my invitation to come to Portland and sit down with me to hear them too?
Your black brother will tell you of the time he was a victim of a violent crime and when the police came to “help” him they accused him of being a criminal and treated him as such. Your black sister will tell you of the time the police threatened her teenage sons with billy clubs as they stood on their own porch after Bible study. Your black brother will tell you of the uncontrollable tears he cries as he recognizes his utter powerlessness to protect his son from the pain and threat of racism in all of its forms. Your black sister will tell you of the paralyzing fear she feels every time her husband leaves the house because she doesn’t know if he’ll be pulled over and potentially harmed for being black. Your black brother will tell you how inhuman he feels when white co-workers and church members tell him, “you’re not black-black” as an intended compliment because they feel unthreatened by him. Your black sister will tell you how outcast she feels when she is forced to empty her purse in front of an entire store because a customer “suspected her of stealing.” Your black brother will tell you how powerless he feels every time a police officer yanks him out of his car, throws him to the concrete, and holds him at gunpoint though he has not even committed the slightest traffic infraction. Your black sister will tell you how absolutely hopeless she feels when her Master’s Degree from an Ivy League school, her six figure salary, her high-end clothes, and eloquent speech cannot stop her from experiencing racism in a variety of ways every single day.
These are the stories our brothers and sisters are telling. But you’re not listening. All I’ve seen you do is blame and explain their words away…
If you’re hoping to show that the perceived racial divide doesn’t really exist… please understand, you’re actually making the existing divide wider with each and every post. You widen it all the more by doing it in the name of Christ.
If you are hoping to help People of Color see that in this case they are not the victims of racism many believe them to be… please understand, you’re actually victimizing many them all over again by invalidating their voice and their experience. You victimize them all the more by doing it in the name of Christ.
If you are hoping to simply be faithful to “the truth” for Jesus’ sake… please understand, you’re actually denying the truth by exalting your experience as the arbiter of truth and refusing to listen to the experience of millions upon millions of People of Color who experience the world differently than you. You distort the truth even more by doing it in the name of Christ.
Until you have listened to your black brothers and sisters tell you dozens upon dozens of stories of their experiences, until you have seen the look of despair in their eyes as they tell them, until you have wept bitter tears over the pain in their voice I beg you not to speak on this situation. It doesn’t even matter if you are right wrong. It matters that you are speaking without the empathy and humility the gospel produces. You are hurting God’s people. You are hurting God’s name.
Reason with me… at the very least, isn’t it possible — just possible — that your brothers and sisters of color see some things that you can’t see? Experience some things that you can’t experience? After all, they live every day of their lives in a skin you have never worn and can never wear. Isn’t it at least reasonable to believe that they might have a more accurate view of what living in that skin is like in America than you do? Humility calls for you to listen to their voices, listen to their experiences, and to care more about their good and their concerns than your own.
I’m embarrassed because my family — who preaches the same gospel as me, and carries the same evangelical label as me — has been living out of step with the gospel badly and publicly on an issue that is immensely and incessantly personal for millions of our brothers and sisters every moment of every day.
You too are my brothers and my sisters. I am blessed to be a member of your community. Because of that, I am praying that you will experience godly sorrow over your attitude over the past week in response to Ferguson. I am praying that your godly sorrow will lead you to repentance for not living in step with the gospel, for lacking the empathy to understand your brothers and sisters, for confusing your truth with the truth by lacking the humility to hear your brothers and sisters. I am praying that your repentance will be even more public than your comments of recent weeks.
If so, I can assure you that you will be forgiven and embraced by your brothers and sisters. Even more importantly, I can assure you that Jesus Christ will be glorified and his gospel seen for the uniting force that it is. I have personally experienced both, as one who myself has had to repent publicly for these same things, and I can assure you that you will not regret it.