Our Neighbor’s Cries: They Keep on Passin’ Us By

silenceI walk into the dimly-lit Downtown Fresno restaurant and immediately sense the sorrow. The grieving. Another black man shot and killed at the hands of a police officer (R.I.P. #terencecrutcher).

I listen intently to the owners, two friendly and intelligent Black-businessmen, expressing their pain and anger towards a justice system that seemingly doesn’t care.

“They won’t even see a court room—watch. They’ll reward them with paid administrative leave” (note: Officer Betty Shelby has, at the time of writing, been placed on paid administrative leave).

The next day I drive ten miles North of Downtown Fresno, stopping at a local Starbucks in River Park, overhearing various conversations concerning everything from the latest iPhone 7 release, to how the landscaping company didn’t “get it right the first time.”

Scattered among those conversations were socio-political rhetoric concerning Kaepernick, and how the San Francisco 49ers franchise should be boycotted altogether. How, what Kaepernick was doing (read more here), was a slap in the face to American freedom, and those who fought and died for it (a statement which, in and of itself, is self-defeating to the very ideology of “freedom”).

As I’m leaving Starbucks, I find myself acutely aware that no one in the northernmost parts of Fresno seemed to know what was happening in Tulsa. Let alone care.

In fact, I hung out around white evangelicals all day, and not a word of the atrocity that happened in Tulsa was spoken.

Not a whisper.

While the cries of pain from our Black brothers and sisters grows louder, and clearer, the silence of our people grows quieter.

Not that we  are quiet. By no means. We’re just selective as to what we speak up about.

When it comes to battling against the legality of abortion, we speak up.

When it comes to denouncing same-sex marriages, we speak up.

When it comes to exposing and correcting false doctrine, we speak up.

When it comes to nationalistic fervor, and decrying the actions of Kaepernick, and others, we speak up.

But when it comes to the acts of injustices against men and women of color: we remain silent.

Hip-hop artist LeCrae Moore captures the essence of the issue when he boldly exclaims:

            Take a knee… people riot.

            Take a bullet… people quiet.

In Luke 10, Jesus answers the hostile questioning of a lawyer, who was attempting to trap Jesus into some sort of permissible loophole within the law of love that requires that you “love your neighbor as yourself.”

“And who is my neighbor,” the lawyer asks.

Jesus answers the lawyer’s question, despite the apparent insincerity of the man, by telling a parable.

A man gets robbed and left for dead along a road to Jericho.

Two men. A priest, and a Levite (helped police the Temple) see the man, bleeding and almost breathless, and they do not stop, and they do not ask if he is alright or in need of help.

What do they do, you ask?

They pass by.

And that’s the problem.

That’s the problem of the religious leaders that Jesus begins to address: they just pass by.

They’ll get in an uproar over a healing on the Sabbath, or they’ll uphold the letter of the Law over the spirit of the Law.

They’ll pay their tithes, and they’ll roll to the synagogue daily to “worship” God, while “[neglecting] justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).

But true love requires more. It doesn’t just “pass by.”

True love is willing to heal on the Sabbath. True love is willing to risk being thought of as “unclean,” in order to serve the needs of someone else.

True love requires that we quit passing by the injustices of our day, and begin to stop and listen to the cries and the concerns of those around us. Our neighbors.

Love pushes us to go beyond what we perceive or presuppose, and empowers us to lay aside our preferences and our biases for the sake of others. Our neighbors.

And right now the black community is grieving. Right now, our neighbors are grieving.

Will we pass by, going about the busyness of our lives, while ignoring the burdens of others?

Or will we stop, listen, lend a hand, and learn to love beyond our own self-centeredness?

 

NOTE: I realize that there are some white evangelicals who are speaking to these issues, and who are leveraging their resources against the injustices of our day. However, as a white man, I’ve found, at least in the city of Fresno, that white-evangelicalism is still, by and large, very much silent.

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It’s Not About Social Justice

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My wife and I are like any other married couple; we’ve got issues. Those issues, if not taken care of, hinder us from growing in our relationship with one another. When my wife confronts me about my anger or my pride, her motivation stems from a desire to grow closer to me, not necessarily just for the sake of me repenting so we can go about our own peaceful, separate ways.

She wants to be reconciled, but my behavior keeps reconciliation and growth from happening.

Similarly, God has also been motivated by His love and desire to reconcile us to Himself. After all, “for God so loved the world, that He sent His Son” to bear the burden of punishment for our sin against Him. Yes, God’s justice demanded that we (or Somebody) pay for such a cosmic rebellion; however, God’s love provided for us a way out of eternal damnation, and a way back to the Garden, and into the presence of God. Indeed, this was God’s motivation: to reconcile the world to Himself, so that He would be our God, and we would be His people, and he would dwell with us (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12 Jeremiah 30:22, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21). He did so, because He loves us.

When God gave His covenant community Israel the Ten Commandments, as recorded in Deuteronomy 5:7-21, He began in verse 6 by declaring that “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God establishes His relationship with His covenant people as a motivation for obedience. He did so because disobedience disrupts our relationship with God. Likewise, our disobedience and sinfulness towards one another disrupts our ability to reconcile, as called through the Gospel of Christ, and outlined in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation. God calls us to be motivated by His own example of love for us, despite our flaws and failings, to love others also, irrespective of any wrongdoings.

After all, God pursued each and every one of us, prior to our own acknowledgment of indwelling sinfulness, and even the recognition of our own need for reconciliation to God.

If our motivation for confronting the sins of others ends at others ceasing from sinning against us, then we’ve stopped short of what the Gospel is all about—that is, reconciliation.

With all of the talks addressing social injustices, I can’t help but wonder what our real motivation is. Do we desire to combat societal ills for the sake of maintaining our own peaceful little exclusive communities, or, do we, like God, desire to be reconciled to one another and view issues such as classism and racism as impediments to Gospel-centered reconciliation?

Are we seeking to raise our voices and stake our claims in the battle against injustice, as if we can some how earn our way into the Do-Gooders Hall of Fame?

It’s not about social justice. Social justice is merely a means towards reconciliation, similar to how our reconciliation with God would not have been possible, had not justice been satisfied through Christ becoming the propitiation for our sins. But justice is not the end-all. The motivating factor behind it all, at least between God and us, is love and a desire to be reconciled. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:

Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

 

When Gospel-centered reconciliation through love is not at the heart of our motivations, then we remain an irreconcilable people, filled with hatred and bitterness towards one another, masked in the form of “social justice.” Churches rise up against churches, cultures against cultures, overcome by pride and self-seeking agendas. Neither parties willing to set aside self for the sake of listening to one another, forgiving one another, and moving towards the beauty of inclusive community.

If reconciliation is not our end-goal, then we are not reflecting the image of our Maker (Col. 3:11-15).

If we, as the church, truly desire to see the end of social injustice, we must first, and foremost, understand that our eschatological hope must remain in Christ, without whom such an achievement would be impossible.

Secondly, we must be motivated by the same selfless, sacrificial, take-a-loogie-to-the-face sort of love that Christ loved us with—and died for us for.

Such a love will be willing to listen, to understand that it is not always about being understood, and that cultural intelligence and empathy needs to go both ways.

Sure, we want people to understand us, and what we are going through, but are we taking the time to understand them?

We must acknowledge the existence and sensitivity of issues such as systemic racism, and be willing to admit, like Andy Mineo, “my own people, owned people, but they won’t own that” (from the song Uncomfortable).

At the same time, we must also, from all sides of the spectrum, agree that the grace of God is greater than even the sin of racism, and therefore forgiveness for one another for the sake of reconciliation must not be out of range.

Recently, I was deeply convicted by my bitterness toward “conservative evangelicals.” Though somewhat theologically aligned, I constantly felt as if I did not fit in, and that they did not understand where I came from, nor even cared.

I was an “other.”

But it goes both ways, as I was just as guilty in judging them as I perceived them to be judging me.

It took a willingness on my part, and the love of Christ, to allow me to press in, and learn to humble myself through setting aside my cultural presuppositions in order to genuinely pursue relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, despite our differences.

I’m glad I did.

In doing so, not only have my relationships with believers and unbelievers alike, improved across the board, but also I’ve learned a lot about my own identity, and have found great security and solace in Christ.

My prayer, for us all, is that we would be compelled by the love of God to love others, and so much as it depends upon us, seek in every way possible to understand and be reconciled to one another.

In the end, love alleviates injustice.