Friday, July 8, 2016

Responding to the public battle between those in authority and those under authority

Not long after I woke up yesterday, I stumbled upon a video, which began circulating the day before, of Alton Sterling being shot while laying on the ground under the restraint of two police officers in Louisiana. It wasn't long before a second video emerged of Philando Castile dying after having been shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. While public awareness of these two videos grew, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in Washington D.C. for over four hours, with much of his testimony consisting of responses to the accusations that there is a double standard of justice for political elites. Then, just before going to bed last night, news emerged that at least 12 police officers were shot, with at least 5 of them killed, during a protest in Texas. We saw the evil of injustice yesterday, and we saw the evil of vengeance yesterday.

As I began writing this article today, I wrestled with whether to include the Comey interview in the same context as the other three stories that involved people who lost their lives. They were all major headlines in the news yesterday, but that one is obviously a different kind of story that perhaps doesn't deserve to be mentioned alongside the others. But even though the content and weightiness of the Comey investigation differs greatly from the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, they reveal a similar problem in our culture. Yesterday painted a cogent picture of the battle between those in authority and those under that authority, and I think it's significant to recognize that the same kinds of problems can be manifested in very different ways. Yesterday was a day filled with public confusion, public injustice, public outrage, and public tragedy.



Some have begun speaking about the need for legislation to accomplish justice in the places they've seen injustice. Some have talked about gun reform. Some have talked about reform within law enforcement. Some have talked about the need to reduce the rates of crime within black communities. Some have talked about those that appear to be above the law, and some have talked about those who appear to be targeted by those who enforce the law.

Political speech will continue today, but today is not a day for politics.

Some have begun talking about the legal backgrounds of the two black men who were killed. They've begun talking about what they could've done differently to avoid being shot. Some have criticized police officers. Some have defended them. Some have defended Comey's conclusion, and some have expressed outrage over it.  Many have talked about what certain people should have done differently to avoid what happened. If there's one thing I've learned while working in violence prevention, it is that, regardless of the facts in any case, blaming a victim or analyzing their mistakes never really justifies or solves anything.

Speculation will continue today, but today is not a day for speculation.

There may be a time to discuss the political and practical implications of what filled the news yesterday, but I don't think this is that time, especially not for Christians.

For Christians, today is a day for prayer. It's a day for recognizing that people are hurting and that suffering and injustice is not unfamiliar to our Lord. Christ bore the weight of suffering and injustice, and he understands every wound. Today is a day for recognizing that, when our black neighbors weep, all of us weep with them. Their lives matter. Today is a day for recognizing that, when police officers weep, all of us weep with them. Their lives matter.

For Christians, today is a day for the gospel. It's a day for recognizing that God is a sovereign God of justice who will right every wrong. It's a day for recognizing that there is a great divide in our nation between those in authority and those under authority and that our God is a God of reconciliation. It's a day for recognizing that sin complicates everything but that there is a simple solution for sin. Sin divides. Sin kills. Sin destroys. But Christ reconciles. Christ gives life. Christ restores.

Make no mistake, it is the sinful flesh that is in all of us that led to all of the tragedies and injustices that we saw in the news yesterday. And while the church needs to be the place that stands firmest against sin, it also needs to be the place where every kind of sinner can find peace and unity in Christ, as well as peace and unity in the body of Christ. There is no room for division in Christ, yet there is a call for every person on every side of every division to come to Christ.

What was made more clear than ever yesterday is that there is a battle in our nation between those in power and those vulnerable to the abuses of that power. Among our black neighbors, there is clearly a fear of police brutality and racial injustice, and we cannot silently ignore their fears. Among our police officers, there is clearly a fear that they have lost the respect necessary to safely do their jobs, and we cannot silently ignore their fears. There will be a temptation for many to let yesterday's events act as a hammer to drive the nails of division even deeper, a temptation for the black community to have an even greater fear of police abuse and for police to have an even greater fear for their safety on the job. No one would blame them for those fears, but, as Christians, we are not a people called to operate based on the fears of this world. In the midst of fear, we are called to be the church. So let us be a people who recognize the real impact of sin that breeds both prejudice and corruption. And let us be a people who proclaim Christ who conquered all sin on the cross. If these events were caused by sin, and they were, then Christians are the people who can make a lasting difference.

Don't fall into the trap of believing that prayer is not effective. You can do far more by praying for everyone connected these tragedies than any political or practical efforts ever will. And don't fall into the trap of believing that these situations need solutions bigger than the gospel. When we are faithful to proclaim gospel truths, the Holy Spirit moves in power. While the presence of sin and Satan guarantees that issues like these will never be fully resolved on this side of eternity, the power of the Spirit guarantees that these divides can and will be reconciled in individual hearts and lives and in communities across the nation when we are faithful to preach the gospel that brings people together in Christ. Every person who sheds a tear in any tragedy deserves the prayers of those who have been redeemed by the One who will wipe away every tear.

Yesterday was a day of tragedy and injustice. Today is a day for us to be the Church. Let us be Christ to everyone who needs Him in this time.