Friday, July 19, 2013

How Would You Feel If This Always Happened To You?

This last June I was at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.  I was there with the Reverends, the divines, the pastors, those who wear the collar, the clergy.  I prolong this so you will get the point that these are men of the cloth who, believe it or not, are usually pretty good men.
The overwhelming majority of these men will not go to jail, will stay married to one wife, will be moral pillars of their communities, and most of their children will grow up to respect and honor them.  Do the research, check the statistics, it is real.  These men are educated, they are hard working (for the most part), and they actually do earn the respect to which their office might entitle them.
    Even as I write that I amazed that such a group still exists.  However, that is not what this blog is about.  It is about the fact that one of those men, another good man who earns respect everyday in how he lives and treats people, is a black man.  Not the only black man in their midst, but his color is relevant to my discussion here, and he is my friend.  Being my friend he shared with me what happened to him on the way to General Assembly in South Carolina.
    This, my African American pastor friend, had for many years been an over the road truck driver. I think for about fifteen years.   He knows how to drive, knows how to stay within the law.  He is also fairly large and strong looking.  I imagine if he was angry he would be pretty intimidating.  My friend rented a car, it turned out to be bright red, to make the trip down South from his home five states up.  As he went through one of the Carolinas he was pulled over by a police officer.  The officer asked to see his driver's license and my friend asked the officer, "why did you pull me over?"  "You were speeding, " was the reply.  My friend assured me he was not speeding.  "Where are you going" the officer asked.  When told he was on a way to gathering of pastors he was asked what he did for a living.  Things changed at this point as the officer asked my pastor friend to come back to his car where he asked him about how you could know if you are called to the ministry, since he was struggling with the idea.
    The officer warned my friend to be careful because about an hour down the road there was a speed trap.  Sure enough in an hour or so my friend was pulled over again, while driving within the speed limit which he was watching closely.  Again the questions were asked, and seeing a Bible on my friends front seat the conversation shifted.  In neither case did my friend receive a ticket.
    My friend is a Christian, in fact is one of the most positive, loving, and personally engaging people I know.  Those officers had put my friend and themselves in a dangerous situation, as all traffic stops can be due to traffic and due to the potential misunderstanding and possible conflict arising from such interactions.  My only conclusion is that they stopped him because he is a black man, driving a nice bright car.  This is called profiling.   There was no probable cause, this was not a road block random check point.  My friend was black, and the white officers thought they might in fact find something wrong.  Instead they found a good man, but they had still created a circumstance that might not have come to a good ending.  What if my friend had finally be irritated enough to say something antagonistic?  What if the officer(s) wanted to prove something that day, or reacted with fear?
    My friend was indeed irritated, but he knows how to forgive, he has the power of Jesus to love, and he was wise enough to be polite and respectful to authority figures without losing his self respect.  Not everyone has those strengths.  Every time authority figures profile a  person of color and put them in a position where they feel threatened, afraid, and demeaned it creates the potential for conflict, violence, and certainly anger.      We are a nation of laws, we believe in authority, we usually give the benefit of the doubt to those who wear a badge.  We expect them to be trained, wise and judicious in how they handle the use of force to control, arrest, or of if necessary, kill people.  Unfortunately we have had examples where this power invested in them has been unwisely used, or used in direct contradiction to their training and purpose.  The more confrontations the more opportunities for things to go down wrong.  One incident is too many of course, especially if someone ends up dead or needlessly in prison, and the racial reverberations set us back as as a nation, again.
    Race is a factor in these interactions.  Even good men have bad days, and this is as true for police officers as it is for pastors.  What we prejudge others to be can certainly color the way we treat them.  Certainly not everyone stopped is a good person, certainly some we suspect of wrong doing are actually up to no good, there is evil in the world.  What we don''t need is to bring any more to it by assuming authority we don't have, putting people in a situation where they feel threatened and demeaned, being surprised when they react with anger, and using deadly force when we haven't been sufficiently trained in its use.

Friday, July 5, 2013


   Some folks have asked that I make some practical suggestions of how to respond to the recent Supreme Court decisions.  I will offer some ideas, and I hope others will put their minds and energy to this so that we can make some positive impact on our nation.   Obviously I am a Christian, and though like all Christians I am a compromised individual (in that I have my own sins and struggle with them constantly).  I also have a moral framework arising from my commitment to the Scriptures (the Bible) as the revelation of God's will.
     For those who have accepted a non-supernatural presupposition, and therefore cannot accept miracles as a historical fact, you will find such a stand to be non-intellectual and one that might sound crazy.  This is obviously an objection that believers have heard for a couple of thousand years and we understand it, and when you come to faith then it won't be a problem for you anymore if you are in that "unbelieving" category at present. It is interesting how many have been there before you, and when God chose to reveal his son in them, how radically did their views change.  We submit this is not an intellectual issue, Christians have no shortage of smart and educated folks in their ranks, and we listen and think through legitimate intellectual questions.  It is just that we have a presupposition of belief, and that changes everything.
    So, if God has spoken we have no choice but to believe and obey, and build our social-moral fabric from his Truth.  For the Bible believing adherent the issue of homosexuality is a moral one, not a justice issue.  There is an issue of justice in the sense of protecting even sinful folks from the loss of inherent dignity, and protection from attack and abuse.  This is not the same as a recognition of a new identity, such a race or ethnicity, based on sexual orientation.  A moral objection to homosexuality as a practice prevents us from thinking of it a legitimate form of loving.  Not that homosexual lovers don't experience intimate love and friendship with their partners, and of course that complicates the dilemma.  Such love is not the same from God's perspective (again from one who accepts the Bible as Truth and that which should determine our ethics and morality) of a moral love or commitment for marriage.  Love is an emotion in many immoral relationships, and because it is love in the wrong place it creates lots of wrong thinking.
    Some might object that I want Christian morals to be law in our country.  Of course I do, and why shouldn't I want the best for our nation?  Separation of Church and State has nothing to do with my freedom to want the best morality, the best system of ethics and laws to guide our nation.  When Justice Kennedy was examined prior to being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice he said he would never allow his religion to have a role in making his decisions.  I didn't understand at the time why one would have a religion that didn't inform his understanding of truth, morality, or justice.  His inadequate self-understanding has now hurt our nation.
   I want to help create a consensus of Americans that understands that our Constitution is built on a moral framework. Without that understanding and commitment by us as a nation the document is not worth very much, because it won't be long until it is changed radically.  The only reason it was positively changed in regard to slavery and voting rights was to due to a moral consensus in this nation that was built on a Biblical idea of human worth, equality, and dignity.  The changes that are being introduced now are not by way of consensus, and nor are they derived from any set of absolutes.  This is dangerous territory and those who are simply celebrating individual choices in love making as harmless have no idea what they have set loose.
    My previous article was really to Christians, and especially to those who abdicate any responsibility they have as citizens by assuming they can just love their neighbors, preach the Gospel, and live for the eternal kingdom to come.  We are criticized harshly by unbelievers for daring to "impose"  our beliefs upon them, but this is exactly what they have done to us in the face of every previous culture of mankind through the ages, and they wish to shut our mouths.  I certainly believe in preaching the Gospel and loving my neighbor, I can only hope those believers who will say and do nothing over our present moral challenge will be very effective evangelists, and not assume their gentle silence will be taken as anything but acquiescence.
1.  Speak with your children, and I mean get into some deep discussions, about the understanding of how freedom to make individual choices is not the sum total of freedom for ones life or country.  Start when they are pre-teens.  This current generation of high school and college students have hardly any ability to think critically to determine a difference between the liberty for self-indulgence and that which truly preserves liberty.
2.  Vote against and vote for in the area of gay rights and homosexual marriage.  Financially support those state legislators who hold to a moral agenda as this is the area to which the gay rights folks have invested millions of dollars.
3.  Push for an amendment to the constitution that defines that marriage is between a man and woman.  (I think the whole idea that we are now reduced to this is annoying beyond belief).
4.  Read about this issue, write about it, start getting angry (without rancor or personal attack) about this issue.  If you are able, learn to discuss it with some intelligence.  Start writing those letters to your government representatives.
5.  Love our opponents but make sure they know we are opponents.  Stay away from any mean spirited or personal attacks on anybody.
6.  Don't attempt to compromise your congregation by making it a political entity or movement, this should be a sweeping movement of the people.  Let the church as an organization do what it is supposed to do, preach the Gospel, and to love, minister, and heal people in their need.  Find those political organizations that will carry the banner for this fight and support them.
7.  Don't panic and don't believe every hysterical article or Facebook post that you read, and don't readily repeat them.  Don't fail to show respect to those in political office, no matter how you despise their stand and their decisions.  Fight ideas, not people.
8. Pray, and then pray some more.
9.  Don't lose hope, even it feels like we are losing.  If necessary use the courts if your rights are infringed, but put your trust only in God who will certainly vindicate his own justice.