To the mothers, the fathers, and the sons
To the mothers who are always afraid, who never stop worrying until their boy gets home, the hoodie has been hung, and the deadbolt has been thrown:I am afraid with you.
To the fathers who notice the double take, the surprised look, the condescending nod of approval, as if your mere presence in the life of your child is a sign you have transcended your race: I shake my head in disgust with you.
To the sons who are just trying to get by, who just want to get a bag of chips or impress a girl or drive a car too fast sometimes, who make the same dumb mistakes that all of us make when we’re 15, whose hormones already cause you to scream and shout and lash out, but who know that for you any of these normal movements of adolescence could get you accosted, accused, assaulted, or shot down in a street: I weep for you, I am terrified for you, and I pray you make it through.
To my ministry colleagues pastoring non-Anglo churches, who will have to step into the pulpit on Sunday and try yet again to make sense of an evil so deep and insidious that it causes you to question your own faith even as you try to salvage it in your congregations: I stand with you in lament and lift you up in prayer.
To those outside the church who see this evil and wonder how anyone could believe in God when the world is such a mess: know that we believers often wonder the same thing—and that some of us are realizing that the problem lies with us. I hear and affirm your doubt.
To people who love and support law enforcement officers because (like me) you are a child or spouse of someone who has had to put their lives on the line and make impossible decisions every single day: I am afraid with you, too.
But to the explainers who try to excuse these heinous acts of violence, these murders, these lynchings by digging up criminal records, posting the worst possible photos, or reminding us that the deceased was recently engaged in nefarious behavior, I call this what it is: bullshit.
Michael Brown did not die as so many of his defenders supposed. And still the questions behind the questions are never asked. Should assaulting an officer of the state be a capital offense, rendered without trial, with the officer as judge and executioner? Is that what we wish civilization to be?
And to the people on Twitter who insist #AllLivesMatter: you are not listening. Perhaps if the movement had named itself #BlackLivesDoNotMatter, you would have gotten the point. You are notlistening. Listen. No—stop talking. Stop typing. I said listen.
And to the white parents, the white sons, and the white students—to all those of us who could skate by on privilege and pretend there isn’t a problem: our silence is our complicity. Wake up. Stay woke.
And to the churches where life and liturgy will proceed as normal this Sunday and all this summer and all next year, just as it did two weeks ago and two summers ago and ever since some nice white people built a nice white church in a nice white neighborhood with some nice white money they got from a nice white bank: read the Bible and ask yourselves some tough questions.
Does God stand and fight with Egypt, with Babylon, with Rome—with the powerful majority? Or does God stand and fight with the weak, the displaced, the enslaved, the oppressed—the marginalized minority?
Does Jesus side with the violent nation state, or is he the one who is lynched by it, literally “taking on the sin of the world”? (Deepen your understanding of that phrase.)
Can you really read these stories in the Bible and the newspaper and think that our cozy American life matches up with the story of the oppressed and not of the oppressor?
White Christians, we need to listen, and then after that, we can’t stay silent. Living out the gospel—which after all is supposed to be the good news of Jesus—has to be so much more than a confession of faith and hope for the hereafter. If we are not embodying the gospel, if we are not taking it into our bones and living it out with our flesh and blood, if we are not taking up the instrument of our own execution, then we are not really following Jesus. We are neither living by the Spirit nor bearing its fruit.
Wake up. Stay woke.
Or in Bible-speak, if you insist: “Do not conform to the patterns of this world. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”