Race, Police, Church

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-01-45-pmAn African American man was shot and killed by police in El Cajon on Tuesday. There was a tasering death in Pasadena. A couple of weeks ago there were protests in North Carolina and uproar in Oklahoma. The story isn’t new, but it’s always heartbreaking.

I want to talk about this a little bit the way I think Jesus would talk about it. And I want us all to be able to talk about this in ways that Jesus would talk about it. And sometimes that means not saying what first comes to mind. In fact, most of the time. Most of the time it involves thinking before we speak.

I want to talk about how we love each other in a politicized, polarized, racially divided country.

 

I’m in an interracial marriage. Watching my kids explore the idea of race was strange. Earlier this year, my 9 year old son asked my wife, “Are we Democrats or Republicans?”

And my wife very cleverly answered, “You can be whatever you want to be.”

And he replied, quite seriously, “I think I’m going to be Asian.”10014983_10152432371003623_4737934191991154142_o.jpg

When he was younger, he had to think it through. At one point he said that we, he and I, were White, and Mom was Chinese. And I said, “No, I’m White, Mom’s Chinese, and you’re half,” or, we used the Hawaiian term, “hapa.” But in terms of identity, he has to figure that out.

It never occurred to me that he would have to figure that out.

 

A Black person once asked me, “What’s the experience of being white in America?” And I answered, “What do you mean?” And that was the answer. Growing up Black in America, you have to think about the fact that you’re Black. Growing up White, you don’t have to think about it.

The experience of being White in America is comfortable apathy.

 

I’m tutoring an African-American high school student as she prepares for the SAT and her college applications. And she’s writing an essay about what it was like to be Black in an all white neighborhood. She told me that she would be sent to the principal when she hadn’t done anything, and the principal would explain to her, “Well, you’re intimidating to the other kids.”

She told me, “They would call me articulate, and it didn’t feel like a compliment.”

 

I’m thankful that the demographics of my neighborhood is changing. I don’t want to live in an all-White neighborhood. I don’t want to my kids in an all-White school. I don’t want Real Life to be an all-White church. Know what the most common last name in the Real Life database is? Lopez. My guess is that in about 15 years, Glendora and the surrounding cities will be less than half White. That’s fine with me. I’m learning Korean right now. After that I think I’ll learn Chinese or brush up on my Spanish. Quando in Roma….

 

I have friends at church who are police officers. And I’m thankful for them. And I have a sense for what they’ve risked. One of them I met at Starbucks for the first time a few years ago, and he told me, “If you have to do my funeral, I just want you to know who I was.” Imagine having to think that way.

And I’m so thankful for the police officers who serve and protect us. I presided at a wedding for one of our officers today.

And when a police officer abuses power, I hate

the fact that all police officers are branded with the same image. They do that to pastors too. A pastor in the news has an affair and all of a sudden I can’t tell people what I do for a living for a few months.

They’re like, “What do you do?”

And I’m like, “Fire insurance.”

“Er…no. I work for an international cradle-to-grave non-profit organization that is the world’s leader in child care, elder care, education, hospitals, and grief care.”

“What’s it called?”

“Um…er…church. Are we still cool?”

Most police officers are good people trying to do right, just like you and me, and they suffer stress under pressure all the time, unlike some of us, and very rarely does anyone say thank you.

 

What the world needs from followers of Jesus is thoughtful, loving responses to a tense society.

Please please please don’t be a Christian that puts up flippant, vitriolic posts on Facebook. That is so unhelpful.

I met a guy a few years ago when I presided at his wife’s funeral. He didn’t have a church and he didn’t have a pastor. I was a friend of a friend. We really connected. We liked each other. He actually swung by my office to see me a couple of times. But when I invited him to church, he said, “Nope. I see what these Christians post on Facebook, and they’re the most unloving things I’ve ever seen.”

So listen people. Stop posting on Facebook like you think Jesus can’t read. And stop posting on Facebook like you think your primary audience are people you want to insult or people who already agree with you. Your words should be crafted for people who don’t know Jesus, who probably disagree with you on a lot of things, and who need you to love them anyway.

And just so you’re not worried – I don’t have any one post or person in mind when I say this, in case you’re sitting there going, “I think he means me…I posted yesterday.” If you’re thinking that, I wasn’t considering you specifically when I wrote this…but Jesus might have been.

 

I want to love and respect those who are brought up having to think about their identity because they are not in the majority. I don’t want to be dismissive of experiences I’ve never had. I want to make society safer for people who have never felt safe.

And I don’t want to disrespect police officers. There are corrupt police officers and broken socio-political systems. That’s the consequence of a broken, sinful humanity. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and that includes broken, sinful people of every profession, race, and social circle. But there are also police officers who are decent people trying to do what’s right while being hated for it.

It’s really just not mine to judge. It’s my place to love the way Jesus loved. That’s about it.

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6 thoughts on “Race, Police, Church

  1. Pastor Jim,

    Your post and race and loving our enemies takes me back to the murders in the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina last year. The murderer is white; his victims were nine black members of the church.

    After the shooting, and after the perpetrator was apprehended, the congregation was overtly forgiving the killer. After more than a year, his still strikes me as an extraordinary example of living one’s faith and staying true to the words of Jesus. I wonder if my faith is strong enough to do the same in similar circumstances.

    As for race in America, it has become hyper-politicized by the fear-mongers and dividers of the nattering political class. As H. L. Mencken once said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    The question of our experiences in relation to our color should be irrelevant. It is because of our separation from God that we fall victim to the siren call of the race-baiters and haters.

    I grew up in a mostly white community. However, my father was a truck driver for a company where the majority of the drivers were either black or Hispanic. We ate, drank, and prayed together. We were all colorblind.

    I agree. Jesus reads, and that we all need to be more circumspect in our posting and in our speech. However, I also believe that Jesus, at least in terms of race, is colorblind.

    The motto of the United States is e pluribus Unum, out of many, one. We are all God’s children and we all bleed red. We must do as we have been commanded: love each other, friend, or foe, irrespective of their race.

  2. Pastor Jim, Thank you for your sermon last Sunday. I shared your sermon with my sister and how Real Life LA is for all people who want to know Jesus. I am so excited that she said she would like to come and visit our church.

  3. A courageous and timely `tour de force:’ especially your caution about Facebook comments. Not only does “Jesus read,” but a whole lot of folks that the Facebook post person never dreamed would be reading their words: words that can circle back to do irreparable damage not only to the name and work of Christ but family and friend relationships.

    CS

  4. Pastor James, I thank you. Inspiring, but mostly made me think–about me and my casual disregard for others who DO have to think about what they do and how they might be perceived during their workaday week.
    My comfortable apathy stinks. Holy Spirit change me. But first make me want to change.

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