“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”Psalm 51:17
The headline in the New York Times news brief in my email stated, “Protests against police escalate.” That was certainly an understatement as I scrolled through photos of rioters storming the abandoned police precinct in Minneapolis setting it on fire. My phone screen was illuminated by all the burning buildings in Minneapolis over the night. Looting, vandalizing, and shouts of protest overwhelmed the city turning it into a war zone. Chaos, anger and outrage.
I was sitting comfortably safe in my home drinking my coffee, and yet internally I was wrestling with the Minneapolis community’s response to the killing of George Floyd by a white cop. I am sure you were like me, horrified and sick as I watched the video. We watched a man die right before our eyes at the hands, or should I say the knee, of a white police officer, whose job is to “protect and serve”.
Everyone is in agreement that this was a murder, and the police officer should be arrested, and charged accordingly. I do not want to lump all police officers into the same category as the ones involved in this death. They have a hard job with little pay, but in this case there was a blue wall where bad police officers were protected and allowed to take a life.
The riots began right before our eyes on the television. My husband and I shook our heads knowing this was going to get ugly. The riots then took a turn into something different. It went from protesting into a coordinated agenda to bring destruction at the hands of anarchists.
Last week I had a conversation with my husband, and stated pridefully confident, “Martin Luther King, Jr. would not approve of all this rioting.” No sooner had I spoken those words, I went to my phone to see what was happening on Twitter, and the face staring at me in my feed was of MLK himself. The quote used was, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I stopped and listened to a short video of an interview he had given back in 1966 (see below).
Martin Luther King, Jr. unequivocally believed in nonviolent protests. He saw that violence only made things worse, in his words, it is “self-defeating and socially destructive.” However, he understood the “why” behind the violence. When asked how long the protests would continue, he responded that it would depend largely upon the federal government, city halls, and white America. It’s sad to see that not much progress has been made since 1966. It is not just sad, but unacceptable.
I was torn between my respect of the law, the obvious injustice, and my white sensibilities. I was unsettled by the confusion. I turned to the Lord with my questions and heartbreak over this crisis. Let me just pause quickly to say, I’m not one of those that just flips open her Bible to get her verse for the day. I am a big believer in a systematic, orderly way of reading and studying God’s Word. God had other plans, however, His Spirit was moving, and I was listening.
As I opened my Bible, by divine Providence Isaiah 66:2 jumped off the page, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” The key words here are “humble and contrite in spirit.” To be contrite is feeling or showing remorse for a sin or shortcoming. Jesus perfectly illustrates this in Luke 18:9-14 in His parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. He compares and contrasts two different heart conditions.
I believe what God was saying to me, He is saying to all Christians, most especially during this time of social upheaval. I keep asking Him, “when is this going to stop, Lord?!” That question comes back on all of us in the white community. I’m sure our black brothers and sisters have been asking this for a lot longer than I have, and they have been waiting for our response.
How do we respond? Jesus is clear in His parable. We begin first by recognizing that it begins with me. Racial reconciliation begins with me. When will racial injustice be reconciled? It is only going to stop when we bring the sacrifice of our broken hearts and contrite spirits. It is only going to stop when we put away the judgment and start listening. Do we really want to understand or do we only want to have our tranquil lives and status quo? Are we more concerned that they are destroying a Target store? “A riot is the language of the unheard,” are they getting our attention yet? The book of James teaches, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (1:19).
When we honestly look at the parable of Jesus in Luke 18:9-14, we have to understand that we are the Pharisee in this story. We must desire to be like the tax collector. Before we can even begin to make progress on the inequality and injustices in our country, we must confront the sin issue of our hearts.
Jesus shows us that the Pharisees trusted in themselves and looked down on everyone who wasn’t like them. They exalted themselves even above God. They believed that they were right and good based on their actions.
The Pharisee’s posture reveals his pride, “The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself,” (v. 11). The opposite of pride is humility. Contrast the posture of the Pharisee with that of the tax collector, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest,” (v. 13).
Pride is a human condition. It affects all, white, brown, black, or whatever the color. We all on some level think of ourselves more highly than we ought. We’ve all had these thoughts, ” God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get,” (v. 11b-12).
How Does Change Begin?
We recognize the problem. In relation to our current context, we pray for God to give us an awareness of our pride and confess it, own up to it. As we watch the news, what words are coming out of our mouths? They can be very revealing. When we are online, what are we posting, agreeing with, or retweeting?
Take what the Holy Spirit lovingly reveals, and take it a step further to repentance with a contrite spirit, like the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” (v. 13b). Repent. Repent. Repent!
It’s not enough to pray if we get up off our knees and nothing changes. We must submit to God, and take action to make lasting changes to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is not enough to just protest. We protest against injustice, and then we do something about it to work towards change. This may mean inviting a person of color over for dinner or out to lunch. Getting to know them, understand their view of the world. When someone says, “Black live matter!” don’t respond by saying “All lives matter!” Come alongside them and say, “yes, black lives do matter.”
We must also put down the finger pointing of judgment, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).
We must tame the tongue. Look at your tweets or posts with God’s eyes. Are you promoting peace or just stirring the pot? “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be,” (James 3:9-10).
Maybe it’s the opposite. You are silent. Some may find it easier to speak out passionately against abortion, but find it much more difficult to confront racism. Both issues are pro-life issues. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We must ask God for wisdom, compassion, and empathy. Do you know what it is like to be a minority? Do you know what it is like to be looked at suspiciously because of the color of your skin? I don’t. We must learn to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Empathy precedes compassion. Add to this wisdom which helps us to know what to do and how to move forward in love. Fredrick Buechner said, “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
What is Racial Reconciliation?
Let’s also understand what Biblical racial reconciliation means. Dr. Tony Evans defines it as “addressing the sin that caused the divide for the purpose of bonding together across racial lines based on a shared commitment to Jesus Christ with the goal of service to others.” It is going to take work, long-term work. It took hundreds of years to get to this point. Change will not happen overnight, and it won’t happen if we continue to do the same. Racial reconciliation must begin and it must begin with me.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,”Matthew 5:9
Pray with me, Father God, I am lamenting for the family and friends of George Floyd, and to the many others who have found themselves in the same shoes. I mourn and weep with them. May they be comforted in their loss. I pray for the officers involved that they will stand up and do the right thing. I pray for the city leaders and attorneys that they will seek after justice. I pray for all those whose voices are not heard, and so they are reacting in the only way they know how, and that our nation will hear them. Father, forgive me for pointing fingers, stirring the pot, resisting your Spirit, and sinning against you and my fellow man. I pray for wisdom from above that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere,” (James 3:17). Show me the way forward to make lasting change, to extend the hand of healing to my neighbor, in my community and this nation. I can only change by the power of the Holy Spirit, so pour out Your Spirit into my heart filling me with peace toward reconciliation. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A side note: As I was writing this post for my blog, things changed rapidly. Many other cities began to burn with the outright unlawful actions of individuals who were enlisted from outside sources to bring about chaos and lawlessness. Our society has completely broken down. My prayer continues to cry out for God to have mercy. Let’s continue to be on our knees for our nation. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 6:12).