Monday, December 22, 2014
WHO IS ON THE LORD'S SIDE?
It doesn't matter what anyone else says, it is Jesus who has the last word. It doesn't matter how much power anyone or any institution has, it is the word of Jesus that counts and must be obeyed. It doesn't matter how much anger anyone expresses, or even how much pain or hurt anyone says they have. No matter our empathy or sympathy, no matter the intimidation of their emotions, our response to them must be according to the word of Jesus, and his word is what must be spoken and obeyed.
I bring this up in the context of the present American drama of the anger and hurt of African Americans about the injustice of over-policing, over-sentencing, profiling, the failure of government agencies to grasp the inequity of police application and the feelings of oppression that it generates.
Bitterness over governmental oppression is what created the American Revolution. The sensitivity to that reality, or perceived reality, all Americans must come to grips with it if we are going to move beyond our current crisis. White Americans tend to fear and be bitter about the power of the Federal government to oppress, while African Americans tend to fear and be bitter about a more personal application of onerous municipal policing.
It is a crisis, because camps are taking sides, and people are saying and doing some fairly stupid things. Police unions who chastise those who publicly protest police practice, or call for reform, are revealing a disturbing “bunker” mentality. Their comments are confirming what many of the public already believe about police attitudes; that the police are not there to serve us but that they are against us. People are calling for revenge killings, people are inciting violence on the internet, and now someone has done an evil thing in killing two police officers.
There are those who would like to divorce the killer’s actions from the current protests and anger and simply say he was crazy. He may well have been, but his own comments reflect a motive and a self-justification. Of course it was wrong, but it certainly was in his mind. And he is not the only one who has thought it, considered it, and called for it as social media can attest.
I sincerely believe Jesus is against oppression, of any kind. I believe he is against thugs who mug people. My mother and sister were mugged one Christmas morning in the projects by two young African American men. We called the cops and their expressions of sympathy for my mom took the form of racist comments about black people. I believe Jesus is against racism just as much as he is against street violence.
One of the great problems of continued racism, class ism, and prejudice in general is to take individual actions and make them stereotypical of a race, class, or institution. Though that thinking is illogical continued patterns and examples of egregious behaviors reinforce our opinions. Are all police officers like the one who took a club and smashed the teeth of one of my sister’s friends? Are all police officers like the ones who told me one night in St. Louis, when they came to investigate a call, that they hoped it was a “buck.” They would love to shoot a “buck,” they said. Their comments were sickening, bad enough in those particular instances, but I will not believe it universal about policemen.
Are there thugs in the city, black young men who are gangsters and show no mercy to their neighbors? Oh yes, far too many of them, and it is reflection and consequence of many things; broken families and the absence of caring fathers, failing schools, inadequate employment opportunities, the avoidance of Evangelical churches from poor communities, a broken criminal justice system, and their own wickedness for which at the end of the day each individual must be held responsible.
Demanding just and righteous policing doesn't mean we are denying the facts on the ground about evil. The word of Jesus means we must speak against evil, but it also means we must preach the Gospel to evil people. We must preach good news to bad people so that their hearts and lives can be changed, because their lives do matter. Just as there are young men and women doing evil things, especially in inner city neighborhoods, there are corrupt police officers and mismanaged and poorly led police departments. There are unjust laws and unfair courts, even while conducted by some fine outstanding church folks.
In all of this it is important for the Christian to remember, if you are tempted to take sides, there is only one ultimate safe side to be on, and that is the side of Christ the Lord. God alone is the final judge, the absolute ruler over all mankind and their destinies, the only righteous arbiter, the one who knows all things, and the revealer of the true motives of the hearts of men; the one who can and will deliver perfect and eternal justice.
We must speak truth to power, and truth to the powerless. Both sides don’t seem to like to hear the truth, especially when it doesn't reinforce their preconceived stereotypes. Yet truth is what they need, as well as someone having the determined love to speak it. Murder is murder and there is no justification for it. Revenge is no license, anger is no license, and such violence must be repudiated.
If it is any comfort these kinds of dynamics in America are not new. During the sixties and seventies there were quite a few people who went to prison because they decided they would like to kill policemen, and did. There have always been brutal and unjust authorities, the prisons have held some of them as well. Have some gotten away with murder? If you don’t believe in God then you would have to say, “yes.”
But we do believe in God, and so we continue to warn men and women there will be a reckoning. “Knowing the fear of God we persuade men…” the Apostle teaches us. We seek to persuade them that love and justice is better than hate and the power of the gun. Christian, don’t despair, there are never only two sides to conflicts among men. There is always only one truly safe side, and that is the side of Jesus; where justice shines, and love forgives, and the cross delivers from the bondage of hate.
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His Gospel is peace. O Holy Night.