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Two years ago I was pregnant with my son Isaac and I had a “bump book” to document those 9 months. The book had a place for baby bump photos, sections to record my food cravings and food aversions, dates to remember when I first felt the baby move, and other fun milestones.
One section of the book was devoted to the top news stories from my pregnancy. I still remember coming to that page, because I didn’t want to write down the top news story. It didn’t fit with the rest of my book. Everything else in there was happy and exciting. But this particular story was tragic and controversial. So, I wrote down the second biggest news story at the time: The 2012 Summer Olympics.
That seemed fitting.
However my conscience had already been pricked. I knew it was important to remember that other news story, so right beside “2012 Summer Olympics” I wrote this:
The Trayvon Martin Case.
It’s been two years since then, and I am pregnant again. Two years isn’t long, but my pregnancies feel like historical mile markers by which to gauge our nation’s growth. Since my last child was born, has the world changed at all?
Judging by today’s headlines, it doesn’t seem like it.
Last week, an unarmed, black teen named Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. Although many of the details are still emerging, this event was like a spark on dry kindling. Long simmering rage and fear exploded into a loud cry for justice as American citizens flooded the streets of Ferguson in protest.
Because two years later, not much has changed.
When Trayvon Martin was killed, I remember the stark contrast on my Facebook feed between my black friends’ and my white friends’ responses. My black friends were devastated and angry. They wrote about the challenges of being black and male in this country. They grieved. They called for change.
My white friends were mostly silent. Trayvon Martin wasn’t even on some people’s radar. The few who did say something about it often defended George Zimmerman, or criticized the angry response to the case.
Then there was the response of our churches. I have a number of black friends who are pastors and they all preached about Trayvon Martin in their churches, especially after George Zimmerman’s acquittal. It would have been unimaginable to hold worship without helping church members navigate questions like, “How do we persevere in hope when racial injustice tempts us to grow bitter or despair?”
White churches, on the other hand, mostly stuck to their already scheduled preaching calendars. I never heard it mentioned in church the entire duration of the case.
Two years later, not much has changed.
I haven’t written anything about Ferguson until now because I wasn’t really sure what to say. Back when George Zimmerman was acquitted, I wrote this post challenging white Christians to listen to our black brothers and sisters. But I didn’t know what to add to it, or how to say it differently.
Even so, this is one of those moments when silence feels like a sin. If I believe the Body of Christ is, in fact, a body–that we are all connected, that what affects one of us affects all of us, and that we only serve in power when we serve in unity–then we need to pay attention to our brothers and sisters of color who are crying out to be heard.
For days I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think: For all the young, stay-at-home moms who feel like Ferguson is a million miles away, to all the white Christians who care about Ferguson and detest racism, but are so busy with kids, cleaning the house, running errands, and just getting through the day that they haven’t been able to give it much thought, what do I want to say to them?
Well I finally figured it out. This is what I want to say:
You are a part of this. And not in some abstract “you’re a human, they’re a human” kind of way. If you live in a mostly white neighborhood, then it’s very likely that young, black men feel unsafe walking down your street. Unsafe in your neighborhood. Isn’t that interesting? White people get scared walking through black neighborhoods, but the reverse can also be true.
That’s because every time a kid like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown is killed, and your black friends cry out, “That could have been me!” they’re not exaggerating. We live in a country where black parents must teach their sons how to behave in white neighborhoods and around police, because being at the wrong place at the wrong time can literally get you killed if your skin is the wrong color.
That means the next time you invite your son’s classmate to your house, if he is a person of color, his parents might sit him down and remind him how to avoid looking suspicious, how to avoid putting the neighbors on edge. How to stay safe around people who are frightened when they see a black man in front of their house.
So no, Ferguson is not a far away issue. The same environment that gave rise to Michael Brown’s death is present everywhere in the United States. White Americans, everyone of us, participate in an atmosphere that is challenging at best and deadly at worst for our black brothers and sisters.
What then, do we do, so that two years from now we aren’t faced with the same, horrible tragedy?
Again, I find myself a bit tongue-tied. Racism in our country is complicated and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But here are a few suggestions:
Listen. Pay attention to what your black friends are saying. Ask them what they think about Ferguson. Ask them what it’s like to be black in this country. Ask them what they think it would take for our country to change. Then, listen. Don’t push back, don’t offer your opinion, just listen.
Pray. Pray for peace and reconciliation in our country. But also pray for yourself. Pray that God would search your heart and your life, and reveal any part of yourself that perpetuates the division in our country and in our churches.
Do something. Now, I don’t know what this will look like in your life. For me, it means using my platform as a writer to bring awareness. For some of you, it simply means educating yourself and getting up to speed on what’s happening. For others, it means forming friendships with people who look different from you: Get to know the parents of your children’s classmates. Schedule play dates with families of a different race. Invite your neighbors or co-workers over for a cookout.
The important thing is that you do something that puts you in a position to hear and learn, because change begins with you. We are all equal members of the Body of Christ, which means that you are just as responsible for mending this wound as your church leaders. That’s why, when I think about the intersection of race and the church in America, I can’t help but remember the sobering indictment that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:16). This is a “rubber meets the road” kind of issue for American Christians.
So listen, pray, and do something. But don’t be silent. Jesus spoke out for the poor, the sick, the marginalized. He spoke out for you. Now, go and do likewise.