A few years ago, my family witnessed a man abusing his child in public. A quick shriek from the boy and then silence. Total stillness. Complete fear. It was one of those moments when everyone in the room stops mid-sentence and stares, trying to decide what to do next. Whispers began to circulate. Did that really just happen? Did you see it too? What should we do now?
My mother was fearless. She stared the man down and when she caught his eye, she said with unashamed confidence, "I saw it. I saw what you did." The police were called and the child was protected. I don't know if I have ever been as proud or inspired by her courage as I was that night.
. . . . . . .
It's a new morning and there is another headline. Another mother lost her son without reason. Another child will grow up without a father. Today is another day of ripping apart a wound that millions say doesn't actually exist.
Frederick Douglass said the "conscience cannot stand much violence." We either look away or we stand up to do something about it.
As a nation, we are really good at public outrage, particularly in the church. Gender neutral bathrooms at Target signaled protests from every corner of the Bible belt. Conservatives across the internet are lamenting a "broken system" that keeps Hillary Clinton from indictment, but when police did not face indictment after killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice, much of the evangelical church was silent. At a recent meeting with church leaders, to great applause, Donald Trump promised that America would once again be a place where we said "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," as if that is the epitome of oppression. Meanwhile, when Philando Castile is shot dead in front of a child, while trying to give police officers his drivers license, as instructed, there is shocking silence from the flag bearers of "morality" and "freedom".
I spent an hour yesterday reading about the 560 people who have died in 2016 in altercations with police. Today that number is 561. As you would expect, there were many instances where honorable, courageous police were shooting back as they were attacked by weapon wielding individuals. There were also plenty of cases of unarmed men and women who were hastily shot dead in their cars or on the street.
I picked up my phone this morning to check email, but instead read about Philando Castile. I was angry and heartbroken and overwhelmed by such immense brokenness. When I thought about speaking though, here is the honest to God thought that came to my mind next: "Maybe I shouldn't say anything yet. It's too painful. Maybe I should pray first and then speak if I feel led to." In other words, maybe I should retreat into my safe, quiet home with my hot cup of coffee and reflect on the darkness that is out there somewhere.
WHAT IS THAT? Seriously. How many of us are thinking something along those lines today? Jesus was extremely clear when it came to standing in the gap to defend the oppressed. How quickly we become the religious pious who skirt around a beaten man because it's too messy, too complicated...something someone else will take care of.
There's a lot of noise "out there". Especially right now. Election years have a way of bringing out the ugly in each of us. So yes, filtering what we choose to be publicly outraged by is incredibly important. If we post an opinion on every issue that floats by, no one will listen to us.
Yes, there are plenty of gray areas in this world. This isn't one of them. It is literally black and white. There's nothing gray about a man being shot in the chest multiple times while he is pinned to the ground. There is nothing gray about a man being shot dead after being pulled over for a broken taillight.
I could not possibly be more grateful for our law enforcement. They are courageous and strong and honorable. I could never do what they do everyday. I also believe that we can support and stand behind the hundreds of thousands of good, brave police officers while vehemently condemning the actions and unjustified violence of those who must be held accountable. And we can recognize that these instances are far too common and are a part of a larger system of injustice.
Evangelical conservatives have a historically shameful track record when it comes to racial injustice (read more here). I'm not much of a conservative, but I am a charismatic evangelical Christian. There is no question of if I should speak about injustice. It is my conviction in Jesus and my belief that he is radically opposed to oppression that compels me to speak against violence and systemic racism.
What is happening out there is an issue right here.
When we don't know what to say, we must become like my mom standing in front of an abusive parent. We must say, "I saw it."
If the church is known as a group of people who only speak about the defense of their own personal rights (and the condemnation of what they esteem to be immorality in others), we have lost our vision of the calling for which Christ died. In the face of injustice, silence is endorsement.
For those of us who are struggling with what to say, questioning if our few words can make even the smallest dent in combating a monstrous and historical disease, may we remember that change begins when we honestly admit that change is needed.
When you don't know what to say, say that you see it.
Please, for the love of God and His creation, say that you see it. Where you are, with what you have, speak. I saw it. With love and compassion and holy indignation, speak. I see it. I see what is happening. If we speak publicly about anything, let it be this.
Pray for healing. Listen to the stories of the oppressed. Speak on behalf of the abused. Stand in the gap and demand that this will not continue on our watch.