“Mourn with Those Who Mourn”

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

I have spent the past couple of weeks or so (actually, much longer, but more intensely as of late) praying, thinking, grieving, and lamenting about the state of affairs in our culture in regards to race. Two questions gnawed at me from the beginning. The first was “Should I respond to this publicly?” The second was, “If so, how should I respond?” The answer to the first was an emphatic, “Yes I should,” and more emphatically, “Yes, I must.” The second question was harder to answer. I wanted to respond in a way that contributed in some way to the needed discussion, and more so, that contributed to an answer to what is quite obviously (and has been for a long time) a problem.

I considered recording a video, but didn’t feel it would come across in the right way, or that emotions would keep me from conveying my thoughts clearly. I considered a long Facebook or Instagram post, but honestly that medium does not lend itself to respectful discussion and gets out of hand really quickly. I settled on writing a blog post for two main reasons: First, I’ve always expressed myself best and most clearly in my writing. I’m usually able to display my emotions without my physical emotions hindering the delivery of the message. Secondly, I figured someone clicking on a link to a blog post rather than a long Facebook post would be more likely to read it all the way through and with the intent to actually hear what I’m trying to express. Social media has become little more than a place for people to spout their own opinions and control the opinions of others (You know, helpful stuff like “If you don’t agree with me, then don’t even think about responding, because I will delete it!)

This post is my perspective, that I have worked hard to present from (what I hope) is a mature, wise, and reasonable place. My goal is not for anyone to read it and simply agree or disagree. My honest goal is to persuade anyone that would read it, whether you agree or disagree, to think about the issue itself without turning it into something else that it is not. This discussion needs to happen and it needs to spur all of us into action. “Thoughts and prayers” are not enough.

Before I get into the issue and my perspective, I feel I have to start by declaring what this post is NOT. This post is NOT an attack – on police; on any political perspective; on a particular race; on one’s faith, lack thereof, or particular brand of faith – but an observation as a pastor, student, parent, husband, and most importantly, a follower of Jesus. I know people who are amazing law enforcement officers; Democrats AND Republicans that love Jesus and love others; Christians AND atheists that are full of compassion and love. My hope is to look at the situation through the eyes of Christ, the one I have committed to following, emulating His love, mercy, grace, justice, forgiveness, etc. If you don’t share my perspective on who Jesus is and how He calls His followers to live, you will likely have issues with what I say. Please understand that going in. To understand my intent and perspective, I’m asking you to lay down any allegiances you have as you read. I welcome any respectful feedback you have. This is a conversation that needs to be had, but it must be had from the proper perspective.

To have this conversation in the manner in which it needs addressing, we must first put down our weapons. This isn’t an “us” vs. “them” issue. Or at least it shouldn’t be. We can’t approach it guarded and with our defenses up, ready to strike at the first opening. We all need to come to the table with the commitment to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) We must be willing to listen, hear a different perspective, respectfully engage in dialogue, and ultimately commit to moving together toward a solution to a problem that plainly exists.

Here is the problem: racism exists, and it is a systemic (institutional) problem. And just to be clear, when I mention racism, I mean racism against people of color. It is not a problem that can be fixed with thoughts and prayers, with apologies on our social media accounts, and certainly not by denying it even exists in the first place. Why we can believe there is global conspiracy involving Bill Gates, 5G towers, China, big Pharma, and whoever else, but NOT acknowledge that racism is an issue, is beyond me. If we deny it, it is simply out of willful ignorance. Racism is a problem, and something needs to be done. I am not a race “expert,” so I won’t pretend to be, but there is great research out there and available, if only we are willing to learn from those that do have something to say. I will be glad to point you in the direction of some good resources if you want them (and isn’t this really the problem?)

It as this point that some people will inevitably pick up the weapons they laid down (if they ever laid them down) and start to get defensive. Racism goes both ways! All lives matter! It’s just a few bad eggs, but most people are good! I’m not like that! This is all invented by the media! And so on. All of these responses are the direct result of an “us” vs. “them” mindset. We choose to look at culture through our political, cultural, nationalistic, religious, gender-driven (and more) lenses. Yes, all lives matter. Yes, racism can and does go both ways. But when one house is on fire and another is not, the house that is on fire is the one that needs the attention. POC are not saying ONLY black lives matter, but black lives matter TOO. Because that phrase has become synonymous with a particular political agenda, however, anyone that is not of that political persuasion discounts it. 

In the past two weeks, we’ve heard the stories of an unarmed black man gunned down by two white civilians trying to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected him of robbery (Ahmaud Arbery), a female EMT (Breonna Taylor) who was killed by police officers when they shot into her apartment more than 20 times (she was not a suspect in the investigation, was unarmed, had no criminal record, and her boyfriend was later cleared of charges and it was learned the suspect they sought did not live in this apartment and had already been arrested hours earlier), and of a black man (George Floyd) killed by a Minneapolis police officer, who while detaining the man, drove his knee into his neck. The man said multiple times that he could not breathe and pleaded with the officer to remove his knee. The man died. Arbery and Floyd’s death were caught on camera, which brought the stories national attention. In another story, but thankfully one that did not result in death, or even injury, a white woman was caught on camera calling police on a black man that had simply asked her to put a leash on her dog, which was required, in a park. The woman accosted the man, called the police and pretended that her life was in danger from “an African American man.”

Again, those of us who like to carry our weapons around and pounce when we feel attacked will try to steer the conversation in other directions. They should have just complied! Being a police officer is a dangerous job! They thought he was a criminal! There is more to the story! This is all a media-driven hoax! Friends and acquaintances may begin accusing me of being a “raging liberal,” because these tend to be seen as political agendas by left-leaning folks. But friends and acquaintances on the other side might think me to be a “right wing fool” because of my stance on life (even though other “pro-life” friends accuse me of being liberal when I question some of the questionable methods pro-lifers sometimes use to spread their message). I have no political “home,” and believe me when I say I feel it. People assume I’m one thing because I’m a pastor, and others assume I’m another because I worked for a newspaper the past three years. I’m neither. I’m homeless politically, but my home isn’t here anyway.

The truth is, racism of all kinds is a systemic problem. Many POC have experienced things I would never even dream of having to face, simply because of the color of their skin. Asian Americans have had to endure increased racism since the coronavirus pandemic began, and there are many other incidents that would take too much time and space to mention. Instead of listening to our brothers and sisters of color, and their fears and pains, their stories are quickly turned into political fodder by both sides. This is America, we don’t do that! I’ve sometimes heard. But yes, we do that, and we did do that very openly for many decades. Yes, there has been progress, and yes, we aren’t what we were before, but that doesn’t mean the work is done.

Imagine you are in a race and your opponent is given a ten lap head start before you are even allowed to begin running. That’s not very fair. Someone eventually realizes this is not fair, and makes everyone stop. After declaring it was not fair, the official allows you to begin running. The problem is you are still 10 laps behind. You may be given the same opportunity to run, but you are still at a disadvantage. This is less unfair, but it is still unfair. The truly fair thing to do is to start the race over from the beginning and everyone begins at the same spot, on the same course, with the same conditions. Unfortunately, for POC and women especially, progress has been made, but there is still a lot of inequality. Those of us who are in the majority group (white Americans and men especially) may not have done anything wrong by simply taking advantage of the opportunities we were given, but it doesn’t mean it is fair to the others. The proper response, then, is to willingly put ourselves on equal ground with everyone else. Until we do, inequality in many forms will continue to exist.

That is why this is a systemic issue. Inequality in general – racial, gender, economic, etc. – must be dealt with from the top down. Parents must engage this issues with their children. Pastors must engage these issues with their congregations. CEOs must engage these issues with their employees. Sports owners must engage in these issues with their players. Government leaders must engage in these issues with the American people. I think you get the point. The problem is that when these positions of “leadership” – parents, pastors, CEOs, owners, government – are the ones furthering the wrong ideas, it will never change. It is a systemic problem that can only be eradicated by a system that willingly puts itself on the same ground as everyone else.

A professor of mine, J.P. Dorsey, recently compared the issue of race to a person’s struggle with pornography. In response to those who would say, “we’re not like that anymore,” or “we’ve come so far,” J.P. offered this perspective (put in my words): imagine, he said, a husband that has struggled with pornography and his wife found out. She would be hurt, and trust in the relationship would be broken. She may feel like she wasn’t enough for her husband, that she did not matter as much as these other women. Now, maybe the husband agrees to get help, to be better. That’s good. Maybe the husband goes six months, nine months, or even a year without giving in to this temptation. That’s good. But if he falls again, even after a year, all of that hurt and all of those questions will likely come racing back to the wife’s mind.

In the same way, issues like the ones mentioned above, of POC being wrongly targeted because of the color of their skin, or losing their lives disproportionately in situations where others do not lose their lives, breaks trust all over again. POC that have been told, “hey, I’m doing better, I haven’t treated your community wrong in (X amount of) months, years, etc.” face all the same questions and trust issues when it does happen again. When it happens seemingly week after week, it is not unreasonable that their community would be slow to trust that others really cared about them, the same way the wife may be slow to trust that her husband truly cares about her and her feelings.

This is really where the perspective of Jesus comes in. The story of the Bible shows humanity becoming self-centered, self-focused, and walking away from its dependence upon God. Instead, much of life, religion, etc. becomes about individual rights and freedoms, exclusivity from other nations, and the desire to “be like God” (Adam and Eve’s temptation; tower of Babel – Genesis 11). Giving into sin led to inequality – man’s desire to rule over his wife (not God’s design); patriarchal societies; rich and poor; racism/bigotry; nation against nation; division within singular nations. God’s answer to humanity’s fallenness was to come to us and become one of us, so that He could then start us over, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. God had every right to demand humanity to be better and to rise up to His “level,” but instead He came to us and became like us, to restore and renew us. Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself NOTHING by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

As a follower of Jesus, I have been called, and have committed to, living like Him; to have the same mindset. I have been called to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above (my)self, not looking to (my) own interests but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough. They’ve never been enough. The conversation needs to be had and things need to change. That includes not tolerating “jokes,” “innuendos,” and stereotypes, all of which I have participated in, to my shame and embarrassment.

Honestly, I don’t know what I can do, or where to start, but I’m determined to find out how I can be a part of the solution. By remaining silent, or by perpetuating “us” and “them” mindset, I’m only contributing to the problem. Unfortunately, I’ve been a part of the problem for too long, and it’s time to change. Sometimes I get to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but now it’s time to “mourn with those who mourn (or weep with those who weep),” and come back to the starting line with my brothers and sisters. After all, that’s where Jesus is, and that’s where I want to be.

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