People I Love,
As you know, our country has experienced a lot over the past few weeks and a few of you have reached out to ask questions, process your emotions and just have a conversation about what has happened, where we are and how we move forward. Here are some thoughts I have been processing. This is a long email and not for the faint of heart so read, reflect, and ask any questions it stirs in you.
First, what happened to George Floyd was a crime and those found guilty should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. There is no excuse or explanation for what happened so words beyond that feel clunky and verbose. A man put his knee on the neck of another man who was handcuffed and putting up no sign of resistance, and he kept it there for almost nine minutes. The offender was white and the victim was black which taps into centuries of unjust treatment of African-Americans in this country. I have no way of understanding what that must be like so I resist saying stupid things like, “I know how you feel” because I don’t. I can say, “I am sorry this has happened yet again” because I am. I do not feel any need to objectify the African-American community to assuage my white guilt because I do not have any. By “objectify” I am referring to the common practice of people from all races who, all of a sudden, are running out and “standing in solidarity with the black community” when the truth is, that until this happened most of them rarely encountered anyone from the African-American community. It’s just another pathetic example of people using another race to feel better about their own. Unless we take this conversation into a bigger context then it will stay stuck in the cul de sac of activism, accusation, and assumption which yields no real change. Al Sharpton will have a job and what we will see in the years to come is little more than different races taking their turn at the podium lecturing everyone else. As Winston Churchill once said, “The first task of faithfulness lies in understanding reality.” This is where the Gospel comes in.
Because I see myself first and foremost as a Christian, God and Gospel are preeminent over what I think or feel. Therefore, I ask myself, “How does the Gospel inform and what does the Gospel allow in all of this?” Here are some of the things the Gospel has stirred in me over the past few weeks.
James 1:19-21, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Too often when injustice like this occurs we use the wrong verbs to respond. We talk about “starting” this and “establishing” that when we should be saying “continue” or “as is my custom.” For the Believer the Gospel is the air we breathe not the fire extinguisher we access only to address a crisis. Yes, anger is a righteous response to injustice but destruction is not. How can you be protesting for racial equality by burning and looting a Target, the Apple store, Nike or a black owned business? What should we believe about your “protests” now? I am not saying don’t protest but I am saying that when your protest turns into a riot then your mic gets turned off and we can no longer hear you because you become increasingly harder to believe. This self-inflicted wound of self-defined “justice” keeps you from actually getting justice. Without the calibrating reality of the Gospel our anger easily turns into rampant wickedness.
Galatians 3:25-29, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” There is a glaring difference in what the world calls us to and what the Gospel provides. The world chants unity while the Gospel provides oneness, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Because of the oneness that is afforded us in the Gospel we are able to weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice as we live out the realities of Christ over culture. Last week I was pumping gas and an older African-American gentlemen was doing the same from the other side of the pump. During the process we looked at each other and shook our heads and smiled. He said, “Can you believe all this? Folks have gone crazy.” That led to a brief conversation which ended with me saying, “I am sorry this is happening” to which he responded, “Sir, you haven’t done anything to me so you don’t owe me an apology. We are going to get through this. You handle your business and I’ll handle mine. I am responsible for my life and you are responsible for yours. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” It was so refreshing that I wanted to hug him but instead we shook hands and laughed. Is racism real? Yes. Is it a sin and do we condemn it? Yes. Are all races capable of racism? Yes. In the Gospel are we given the capacity as well as the responsibility to live differently? Absolutely.
Second, you do not want to live in a world governed by revenge instead of justice. Revenge blurs the big picture and blinds us to the path forward. We are hearing a lot of talk about defunding the police but someone with a clear head needs to pump the brakes before you invite either martial law or a mob mentality. Think about that last sentence while I define those two options. Martial law is “the imposition of military control over normal civil functions or suspension of civil law by a government, especially in response to a temporary emergency where civil forces are overwhelmed.” Yes, there are bad cops out there and there is also rampant corruption and we need police reform but that doesn’t mean we do away with authority and leave ourselves at the mercy of human nature. Do you really want to live in that world? The mob mentality means that whoever has the biggest gathering gets to be in charge. Just imagine what the looters did to that Target store in Minneapolis and then ask yourself this question, “If there is no authoritative presence (i.e. police) then what keeps them from coming to your neighborhood, your house, and doing the same?” In our haste for reform we need to be careful that we do not heighten everyone’s take on the Second Amendment and institute an arms race.
Third, we need to be mindful of our assumptive language that puts everybody in the same category. Broad generalizations of people groups tend to distort the truth and lead to misplaced passion. For example, right now it is easy to paint all police with the same broad brush. However, the fact remains that there are good, decent and consequential men and women in uniform who serve their communities well and deserve our respect. If we are not careful we will create a stigma around law enforcement which will lead to a catastrophic decline in candidates for this essential role in our society. Another example of assumptive language is the person who recently asked why young African-American men destroy their communities in the name of protesting. As shocking as that statement is, once you get over the shock and look closely what you will see is male, female, white, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific Islander and multiracial people looting stores because greedy entitlement is about the human heart not the color of your skin. Beyond that we need to see that there are different groups and different agendas at work in these protests. There are protestors who are peaceful people wanting to stand up for a just cause and be heard. There are looters who are common thieves who will take free stuff and believe it is their right to do so. As one women shrieked as she ran out of a store with an armful of merchandise, “I got stuff! I got stuff!” Yes, George Floyd lost his life and you got stuff. Injustice abounds. Then there is the presence of the terrorist organization Antifa who is there to tip the scale from protest to riots. While they march under the banner of anti-fascism, what they really are is a bunch of rich, white, trust fund babies whose parents gave them stuff but never spent time with them developing their character, whipping their butts when necessary and telling them, no, so they have lived their whole lives as a conflicted ball of self-hate, self-love and internal uncertainty. What they want is mommy and daddy’s attention. Having given up on that ever happening they are wasting their lives trying to get ours. Void of purpose, consequence or character they are now obligated to travel the country like a tick seeking nourishment from whatever civil unrest is manifesting at the moment. If these people were so bravely committed to reforming culture they would take off their masks and state their name and the demands of their cause. Better yet, run for political office where you have to spell out your platform so all the world can see that you are against everything and for nothing. They are not reformers of anything, instead they are a sad reminder that the price of bad parenting lingers long after the kids leave the house. Peaceful protestors who are seeking reform are drowned out by the shrill shenanigans of spoiled brats whose economic worldview is unsustainable. It’s not the world’s fault that your parents left you too much money that you are now plagued by insufferable guilt and are seeking to work out your forgiveness through activism. The world would be better served if you started a non-profit and used that money to fuel actual transformation instead of trying to maintain the facade of phony rage. Can anything be more pathetic than rich white kids glamming onto the suffering of the black community to promote their cause?
Fourth, there is the four foot view, the forty foot view, and the four thousand foot view and it’s necessary that we scale between each perspective in our thoughts and speech. Much of what I’ve written so far is the four or forty foot view so I will close with some observations from the clouds. Almost fifty years ago a German intellectual named Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde came up with what is known as the Bockenforde Dilemma which asks, “Does the free, secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee?” While we may not say it that way, this is the key question for our culture. Because we have done away with a Christian worldview we have no basis for the sanctity of human life, human rights, or any objective system of right and wrong. If there is no objective, unchanging, eternal standard by which all of life is evaluated then how can we know what is right? We can’t, we are just left with the small, insufficient residue of what is preferred as everyone does what is right in their own eyes. However, as a Christian who believes the Gospel I believe in the sanctity of human life. And because of that I believe that George Floyd’s life mattered, had meaning and value when he was conceived. He continued to matter as he grew in his mothers womb. He mattered supremely when he arrived on October 14, 1973. Therefore, it mattered that his life was taken from him on May 25, 2020. It is short-sided hypocrisy to insist that life matters only at death and not until. Perhaps if we, as a country, would acknowledge the sanctity of human life from the beginning it would inform and affect how we treat all people along the way.
Finally, the answer to Mr. Bockendorfe’s question is, “No, a secularized culture cannot exist on such a shaky foundation.” Therefore we need not just reformation but repentance; a turning back to the certain reality that we abandoned long ago. Until then we will live in a culture that is ruled by appetites instead of guided by understanding and in so doing we will obligate ourselves to our new ideas instead of God’s old ones.
Thinking in hope,