“I CAN’T BREATHE”: A WHITE PASTOR’S RESPONSE TO RACISM
by Trevor DeVage
These are why Jesus came. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16.) God loves the world. Not one group or ethnicity or skin color in the world, but the whole world.
“By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Healed of our past. Healed of our failures. Healed of our hatred. Any effort to heal apart from the blood of Christ ultimately fails.
Jesus said he came to give abundant life (John 10:10). We’ll fully realize what he meant when we bow at his feet for eternity. But don’t we believe we’re supposed to experience that life here and now? And can’t we agree that Jesus wants that life for every man, woman, and child on earth today?
Many have asked me to make a statement about the racial unrest in our country sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Here’s my statement: The gospel of Jesus is characterized by love, healing, and life. And I believe our mission is to be ambassadors of that gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20): agents of love, healing, and life in our communities and in our world. My challenge—the church’s challenge—is to find ways to do that.
Jesus is our example. He spent time with the Samaritan woman, even though the Jews of his day viewed Samaritans as half-breed dogs. He healed lepers, even though the people of his day were afraid to get within ten feet of them. Now is the time for the church to make sure it’s not hiding its head in the sand, ignoring a world desperate for the love, health, and life that only Jesus will bring.
A PROBLEM, NOT A PERCEPTION
Someone told me last week, “I don’t think racism is a problem. I think this whole issue is contrived.” The kindest term I can use for such a position is ignorance. If we will just talk with a black (or Hispanic or Indian or Asian or African) member of our community, we will hear story after story to prove otherwise. There’s not space here to tell how every African American father must talk with his son about how to behave when pulled over by the police. Every African American man (and many a woman, too) has been stopped by the police on flimsy or false pretexts. Every African American has been followed through a store by a clerk or security guard, watched with a suspicion that I’ve never experienced. And this says nothing about the scores of unjust imprisonments, subtle hiring and housing discrimination, pervasive insults, and persistent fear experienced by people of color in a world where white people maintain power. If we don’t know this, why not? Are we afraid to know? Are we unwilling to listen?
A PERSON, NOT A PROFILE
I have a black friend who took his dog for a short walk outside his suburban apartment building last week, and the whole time he was watched by a policeman in a car sitting across the parking lot. He learned later that another African American was being sought for a parole violation. If that criminal were white, would a white man walking his dog have felt the officer’s stare that evening? You decide, but I know I can go outside any time of day or night with no fear of being followed by the police. But my black friend, for whom this was not the first such experience, cannot say that.
My friend is a person, not a profile. I’ve come to know him, to see him with the same passions I see in myself; he’s seeking the same possibilities I want for my family. Some feel helpless doing anything about the racial divide they’re coming to realize. One solution is simply to build relationships with people who are different. There are plenty of folks in our neighborhoods with different skin colors and diverse backgrounds. Will we make at least some of them our friends? I firmly believe little things done with intentionality can slowly change culture. In Jesus’ name, will we be willing to stifle our hesitation and take at least a few first steps?
A PATTERN, MORE THAN A PANDEMIC
Some have called the racial unrest we’re seeing today a pandemic, and the comparison is appropriate. Except for this: the problem has not developed in just the last few months. It has been with us for centuries, and as much as so many have talked about it, racism in America has not gone away. People rise up and protest, but nothing changes.
If Christians continue to ignore all this, or worse, to say it isn’t true, the situation will never change. The church’s response must be the response of Jesus, to love and bring healing and nurture life. The Enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). We must see the killing and destruction rampant in our country today as the work of the devil. We must root out the centuries of complicated causes and seek to bring love, healing, and life to societies where Satan’s way is winning.