Response to this Week's Shootings
Sermon, July 10, 2016
So, how do we go about trying to figure this out? How do we figure out how to make sense of what has happened this week? How to do we make sense of it in light of the gospel? Or can we even make sense of it?
And this whole thing is massively complicated because this issue has become so polarized.
See, but the thing is, it never hasn’t been polarized. Ever since we invented race in America, there have been systems of benefits and deficits that mean that some people have economic, social, political incentives to hold certain positions. I mean, some of you may remember the Civil Rights movement. In the 50 years since then, we’ve sanitized it. All of the people who fought hard against that movement somehow just let that part of history slip away. The Civil Rights movement was intensely polarized and good people held tight to the view that the protesters were disruptive of society and should sit down and shut up; and some held that Black life indeed was not of the same worth as White life. It was polarized. And it still is polarized. And Churches were polarized. Only 13% of Black churches support MLK at the time. And that is way lower for White churches. When we’re living in the midst of it, it is polarizing. It is not necessarily as clear-cut as the sanitized history books make it out to be.
But just as we now only remember the churches that actually stood up, we too are then required to take a stand. To actually participate in history as it happens, rather than to pencil in our names into the history books after the fact.
So,… this is a polarizing issue. And I am very strongly rooted on one side of this issue. And to be frank, I think that this side of the issue is what the Gospel demands of us in our concrete, messy lived situation. And I know some of you guys will disagree with me. So, I would just encourage you, whether or not you agree with me, to take me up on the office hours this week to process everything that has been going on.
Let me show you something that I referenced in the Children’s Time. This is a short clip from the movie Selma. In the clip, Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to the family of Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young black man just killed by the police.
This week has sucked in our household. On Wednesday, Madi conveyed the news to be that the police had shot Alton Sterling, a Black man, the day before. They pinned him down and shot him to death. That wiped the both of us out. Both of our minds were stuck on that for the entire of the rest of the day.
And then, I was woken up at 5:42 am on Thursday by a text message. My friend said “Thinking of you this morning… Because I now that with the new this morning about Mr. Castile, on the tail of Mr. Sterling, that the world seems particularly awful today. Sending a tearful hug.” The shooting of Philando Castile had happened overnight. So I went to my computer to see what had happened, to see that he was pulled over while driving, disclosed all of the info like he was supposed to, and was still shot and killed. That was devastating.
You know, one of the most draining parts of this is seeing how much I am exhausted by all of the slaughter of Black bodies—but then looking around and seeing how much more exhausted Black folks are to have to live with this day after day. I have a number of Black friends, and a large number of Black acquaintances. And having to see my friends’ reactions to these shootings was just tough.
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That whole day that Philando Castile was killed, there were tons of protests. Without exception, peaceful. Demanding change. Then, that evening, in Dallas, a sniper rained bullets down on a peaceful protest, killing 5 police officer, 7 officers wounded, and an unknown number of protesters were wounded.
As the news is wont to do, information was misreported as the events were happening. So, let me just briefly mention a few things that are now much clearer about the shooting. There was one sniper, a lone member of a Black extremist group. He was not involved at all with the protests or with Black Lives Matter. He previously had talked about wanting to kill cops and had thoroughly planned out this attack. The police killed him in a standoff, when they sent in a bomb-detonating robot with a bomb to blow him up.
Apparently, the talking heads on TV and the polarized commentators think quite little of us, the American public. They assume that we are incapable of holding the complexity of tragedy, both the sorrow that Black men are at such risk from our police, and of the grief of witnessing a massacre of police officers. But we are. We are complex beings, capable of complex emotions.
As Christians, we are called to be in the world. As we talked about a lot last week, God is seeking to break through into the world, creating God’s peaceable Reign on earth. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer each and every Sunday, “Thy kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We are, as the people of God, called to present an alternative to the violence of the world—both the direct violence presented by killing (and especially by guns in our society), and the violence done to people through the institutions, structures, and organizations that we put into place and maintain.
Peter Storey is a South African Bishop who was very involved in fighting apartheid. He mentioned that American preachers have it harder than South Africans: “We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white, and blue myth. You have to expose and confront the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people; and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the Earth. You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good, but it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all.”
As the people of God, it is our duty to work against the violence of the world. Both the direct, heartwrenching violence that we saw in Dallas, and the violence that we have sluffed off to our institutions. We, as Christians, follow the one who said “Turn the other cheek” and “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” and “Do not resist evil with evil” and “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.”
God’s spirit is at work in the world bringing peace. We as Christians are invited to join in the work that God is doing with or without us. If we don’t join in, God is just as happy to use protestors, for example. And if we are not the ones that are joining in God’s work in the world, that that also means that we aren’t actually the church. We aren’t actually the people of God. To be the church is to align oneself with the mission of Jesus, like we mentioned last week: to relieve the holistic material suffering of the most powerless in the world.
Let me end with this benediction: Black Lives do Matter. May we live as if we actually believed that. And may we restructure our institutions and society so that we may live as if we actually believed that.