For the last three months I’ve been in a personal, intense health battle as all of my focus and resources were directed towards beating the cancer in my body. I can say with joy that I’ve exited that war and am on the upswing of merging back into what it feels like to be human again. For the last ten days, I have noticed incremental strength and ability from the Lord returning to my body – and I am so grateful.
But I don’t want to write about the cancer war. Instead, I want to take just a moment to say something about the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.
I do not think that I have anything original to share, and nothing that I myself have not said at other times in many other places before now. As a pastor, however, and even more so as a Jesus-follower, I do not think remaining silent right now is a valid option. By the time I post this, our nation has had nearly a full week of expressing outrage at Mr. Floyd’s murder in both legitimate and illegitimate means. I was horrified when I first saw the video, some three days after the actual event. I’m unsure I have ever seen anything quite so sinister, as it seemed to be perpetrated with a quiet, self-gratifying pleasure by Derek Chauvin. He was told repeatedly by the bystanders that he was killing a man. He seemed to become more resolved in his actions the longer the scene played out. Later after the death of Mr. Floyd became public, the usual cries emerged of, “Let’s wait until the full story comes out before we pass judgment.” Sometimes, that is exactly what needs to happen. But not on this occasion. To rational minds, it does not matter what played out prior to what we all saw. There is no context whatsoever that could ever justify to way George Floyd was treated. I need not describe it in detail because we have all seen it but, in summary, a bound man was subdued by the police, was not resisting arrest at the point of the video being shot and was knelt upon in the pavement of a city street in broad daylight as he pleaded for his life. He soon went silent and still. He is then rolled over onto his back, likely already dead. Murder.
Who has words that are sufficient on any level? If this former police officer is not convicted of the 3rd degree murder charges against him, then I am unsure of who could ever be convicted of such a crime. My hope is that justice will be clear and swift. Yet, even if it is, the problem does not go away and the cultural disease will not be therein cured.
I am white. I have been white for just about fifty years. I have only been racially discriminated against once in my life, and it occurred when I was fourteen years old and one of only two Caucasians at a weeklong baseball camp. It crushed me. It fueled both hurt and anger in me for seven days. It left me feeling helpless, shamed and fearful. More than anything else, what grieved me was the constant awareness that there was nothing I could do about it. When my parents picked me up from that camp on the seventh day, as we walked to the car, the other boys continued to mock me and hurl racially biased comments my way in front of my parents. When we pulled out of the camp, I laid down in the backseat and cried hot tears of shame and pain. It was just seven painful days experiencing what it was to be a temporarily persecuted minority. Seven days was it.
That was the only time I have ever been racially targeted. It was over and done with in a week and I do not believe I have ever again been discriminated against for being white. I carried on with my life and now remember it with little more than a sense of it being a footnote in my personal history. It went away for me. I had a whole world to enter into in order to escape it and avoid it. Think about it with me: I have not bumped up against it again in thirty-six years.
Compare my experience with that of black Americans who have four-hundred years and 10,000 times the historical intensity in their own personal experiences as a people when it comes to the reality of racism. It’s not imaginary. There is no comparing what African Americans have gone through as a people from the time of slavery and even up to the present day. I will not pretend that I am able to feel what any African American feels. It is not possible for white people to feel what you feel if you are black. For any white person to look into the eyes of a black person and say to them, “I understand.” might be a sincere gesture but it is a practical impossibility. Whites cannot fully feel what blacks feel.
But it is possible for us to feel you feeling it.
This is the essence of compassion.
That is where I am. So many white people truly want to be a part of the eventual solution, and I have been proactive for years in doing this on a one-on-one level. Additionally, I use my platform as a pastor with media exposure to address the issue. Curiously, the first day I started feeling human again after the side effects of radiation and chemo were loosening their grip on my body, the Holy Spirit led me to ask my technical producer for Transforming Truth to broadcast on television a message I preached last summer on the need for generational repentance by whites on behalf of our ancestral sins against blacks. This particular message cost me much when I originally preached it because it casts a spotlight on the need for whites to consider the biblical precedent to repent for ancestral sins. It made people very uncomfortable. Some even got angry, but I knew the Lord wanted it to be broadcast, so we scheduled it to go on television.
Do you know when it aired?
Last Sunday, May 24th, a little more than 24 hours before George Floyd’s murder.
You see, we do not need to wait for yet another tragedy to occur before we speak to these things. We cannot remain a perpetually reactionary, hashtagging group of people who continue to ride the swells and crests of these racial waves that keep crashing upon the national shores. The only hope is the Gospel of Jesus…but our nation clearly does not want to embrace that hope. So, we (as a nation) continue to fall back into the patterns of white indifference which fuels black outrage. These cycles will continue to grow in intensity if there is not some significant, sweeping change. We all know that.
But none of us have any clue what it will take for that change to occur. We do not know what to say. We do not know what to do. We have the Gospel innoculation to cure the disease but none of of us can find the right syringe to get it into our culture and combat the tumor of systemic racism and injustice.
So, in case you were wondering what this white Christian has done/does/will be doing when it comes to facilitating change, I’m open to letting you know that I’m still going after the one heart.
That one white heart that just does not/will not get it.
That one black heart that is convinced that whites do not care or care enough.
I have a pulpit and social media accounts and I will use them accordingly…but neither your social media posts nor mine are making much of a difference. I am not the voice who will make the national impact, but when the African American delivery driver dropped off my package this morning at my house, I spoke compassionately and plainly with him, expressing my heartbreak, frustration and longing on behalf of the black community. I wanted him to know that he was not invisible to me. I wanted him to know that I saw his blackness and knew that the world treated him differently than it did me as he saw my whiteness. I wanted him to know that I know and that I care. He paused for a moment, extended me a fist bump and said in a shocked voice that he had never, ever heard anything like that from a white man. There we stood: he, black. I, white. Our life experiences completely different, and neither of us with any definitive solutions. We were both powerless to change what needs to be changed on a national scale. But we were two human beings made in the image of God who shared an honest moment and did not allow the big picture problems destroy the ground-level opportunity to dialogue. He had to get back to his route, so he said goodbye. I grieved even more when, before he got back on his truck, he said, “Thank you, sir. You’re the first. You’re the first white person to ever say anything like that to me.”
He and I did not change the national landscape as we stood in my driveway this morning. George Floyd is still gone. Our nation is in chaos. We see the depravity of injustice and the responding depravity of rage, riot and ruin in our burning cities.
I do not know what to say. I just wanted to say this. I likely won’t know what to say next time. Maybe God will raise up the right voice that will change a nation. I cannot wait for that to happen. I just want to say to all those image bearers of God with black and brown skin that I love you and I will continue to weep with you, speak out when I know what to say, and listen to you when you have something to say to me.