5 days after #AltonSterling was wrestled to the ground with a gun to his head, told "I will kill you b____," and shot point blank, my friends shot me point blank. Not before they asked my 12 y/o son to put his innocent hands over my eyes, representative of a hope against all odds that he could some how shield me from the inevitable truth, and cover up my suspicious face. Since then he's learned that though he could wipe away my tears, the suspicion flows from my face beneath his fingernails, down to his elbows and across his fearfully and wonderfully made image of God too.
Tonight Jamie and I get to sit down with he and his siblings and answer their questions as to why "prosecuting experts were troubled by some of the tactics the officers used in confronting Sterling, including the threats and profanity Officer Salamoni used throughout the encounter. But they deemed the shooting justified." I'll try to keep it together as we reopen the wound, in the context of a week where another hashtag for #StephonClark means our people have been scarred again -this time closer to home in CA where a man carrying God's image, my name, and an iPhone like mine, was killed in his granny's yard, the yard he played dodge ball in, but was unable to duck and sidestep a heart-stopping 20 bullets.
Quinyetta McMillan, the woman who bore Cameron, the oldest of Alton Sterling's five children and shielded him from the media today, spoke boldly when she said "the justice system has failed us again." With raw emotion and prophetic prowess she decried “we are all out of tears!” For blacks in America this verdict comes at no surprise. There is no justice for Alton Sterling because there is no justice for Walter Scott, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Freddie Gray and the countless others -most of whom have remained nameless since they were publicly killed for alleged offenses without legal (or human) right. That’s called lynching. It’s unjust. And it continues today -in broad daylight and on camera for millions to see, but is somehow missed by the American Judicial System time and time again.
Cameron’s mother is absolutely right in saying “we all knew what it was, just like y’all knew [there would be no justice].”
In the wake of another judicial failure, Mrs. McMillan has another message for us. This message is one of triumph, of hope in a certain future; one of justice and of peace. “One thing [we know] about [the] God that we serve... is we might not get justice today... but when God comes.. we all gonna know [the truth]!” With precision McMillan summarized II Peter 2 & 3 into 2-3 sentences and preached a powerful message.
For many, justice has been lost to political dogma and a secular agenda. I want to remind us that justice belongs to God. It is the God of the Bible that “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow.. giving him food and clothing (Duet 10:18); who “inclines His ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:18).” It was God who gave us the message by the prophet Isaiah to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression..” (Is 1:16-17). When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for ignoring the important issues pertaining to His Kingdom it was to their neglect of “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Justice and equity are Christian real estate. The only group positioned with the power to breakdown strongholds of hatred in our nation are the people of God. That power is the blood of Jesus Christ.
Three days from Good Friday 2018, five from Easter, I’m reminded of the justice served at Calvary, and the power shown and peace gained through the resurrection. I’m comforted knowing that King Jesus who lived virtuously, was crucified voluntarily, died vicariously, and was raised victoriously, WILL RETURN VISIBLY! I was quickened by a woman all fed up today and reminded that when Christ comes on the clouds, to pay each one according to His deeds, every wrong will be made right. I was also reminded that, that means I’m to act on such faith today; and to call others to do the same.
Because systemic racial injustice permeates just about every American structure and institution –including the church of Jesus Christ in places; Christians, especially White American Christians who represent and benefit from majority culture must walk in accordance with Gal 6:2 and bear one another’s burdens. Russell Moore in leading others by example and exhortation said it best “those in majority cultures must listen to our brothers and sisters who are directly in harm’s way. Structures and institutions are changed only by people. And people are only awakened to act when their consciences are enlivened to the moral stakes involved. That means that we [White Christians] can work for justice in the public arena as we learn to love one another in the personal arena. The path ahead will be difficult, but it will require the Body of Christ—the whole Body of Christ—to call one another to moral awareness and action. That starts with acknowledging that we have a problem. When the videos are no longer viral, our witness must still be Christian.”
We know laws don't change hearts -just like MLK told us hatred cannot drive out hate, only love [& the gospel] can do that. That does not negate the fact that American systems of oppression and injustice can, and will, be cha[lle]nged when people take it upon themselves to promote justice and protect their fellow men (& women). We have and will continue to shed blood sweat and tears trying; Blacks in America cannot bring about the change necessary on our own though. The Civil Rights movement was a fight for human dignity and equality which was led by Bible believing, gospel proclaiming, preachers who had the support of their white counterparts.
The Church: A Call to Unity and a Place for Action
Today I write to call brothers and sisters across every culture and ethnicity to act. Stand up and be light. Illuminate culture; push back not only our dark past, but the darkness that presently casts it’s shadow over our society. The gospel demands we be one people, united together in Christ, ready to demonstrate and declare the barrier breaking power of God’s love.
Ephesians chapter 2 makes plain that Jesus shed His blood that “he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, AND.. reconcile us to God in one body through the cross!” My great burden stems from the fact that the church Jesus died for and sent out into the world to be a display of the mystery of Christ and God’s manifold wisdom, is failing to bear witness to this good news. Rather than reflecting the reality that “[all of us] are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” we mirror the world in division, detachment, and disunion. Even as I type this I’m torn personally, tempted to disassociate and to give up. Having already loosened ties to evangelical institutions, denominations, and theological labels, I represent a growing number of Black Christians limping on our last leg and begging God to bring revival to His Church before too late.
Jesus both commanded that we love one another as He has loved us and instructed us that the world will know that we are His disciples, if we (visibly, actively, and sacrificially) love one another. In His high priestly prayer He called on the Father, beseeching Him for our God-like unity saying “I ask for all –across every age and generation, who will believe in me to be ONE, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our unity and love gives an evangelistic appeal to a lost and dying world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent into the world to save!
Herein lies our motivation. Love and unity across, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic and even God given gender roles, is far from a non-issue. It is a just gospel issue! And if we are to see change in our community, our nation, and in structures like that of our judicial system, it’s got to begin at home. It’s time for judgment, and justice, to begin at the house of God. If we are going to be a viable resource in the community for the equal footing of every man, woman, boy, and girl created in the image of God, we are first going to have to work hard to be a visible and victorious witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.