Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Racial Divide
I am at my computer on Saturday evening, July 13th – staring unsettled at the content I have prepared for a teaching on racism tomorrow. I was certain that something in my message needed to shift, but unsure exactly how – until I logged onto Facebook.
News of the George Zimmerman “not guilty” verdict flooded my newsfeed – and I knew immediately that the disconcerted weight in my heart was for a reason.
In the wake of polarizing comments declaring rage, delight, and/or complacency, I found myself wrestling through a sea of arduous thoughts and questions – many revolving around the issue of racial discord and ethnic prejudice. Perhaps you know the feeling.
Though I honestly find myself with more questions than answers, I feel compelled to offer just a few suggestions during this volatile and highly charged time. While these suggestions can certainly apply to anyone, they are aimed predominately at those who find themselves in the majority culture – wherever your context may be.
We need to know and show that racism and prejudice are not simply issues that only minorities are concerned about. Jesus didn’t shy away from issue of race, and neither should we. We need to preach on it, read about it, write about it, and discuss it. But most importantly – we need to listen. We need to hear the stories. Until we hold the hands of the scarred, smell the tears of the oppressed, and feel the heartbeat of the marginalized – this will always remain a peripheral issue for us.
When we put our desire to be heard on hold in order to simply hear – we are beginning to build the types of bridges that bring true and lasting restoration.
One of the most difficult things for us to embrace amidst our own schedules, problems, and interests– is empathy. It is one thing to hear a story; it’s another thing entirely to begin to see ourselves in those stories. This is the beginning of empathy.
Paul hints to this in Romans 12:5 when he instructs, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
There is an important distinction between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is the capacity to feel deeply for someone because you do, in fact, share the experience. Empathy is the capacity to feel deeply for someone despite the fact you do not share the same experience.
As Pastor Greg Boyd wrote:
“The only way we can expand our horizon — and the only way we can begin to bridge the racial divide between whites and blacks in our country and in the church — is for white people to humbly acknowledge that our experience is a myopic, privileged experience and to listen and learn from the experiences of people who in many respects continue to live in quite a different world from our own.”
This is the call of the incarnation – to enter into the alleyways of suffering and set up a cot among those who suffer. It is declaring that, while I may not know exactly what you are feeling – the fact that you are feeling it at all is significant. Why? Because God tells us it is.
You have taken note of my journey through life, caught each of my tears in Your bottle. But God, are they not also blots on Your book? – Psalm 56:8
We must move beyond mere discussion and observation, as helpful as those are. If we (as Christians) are truly dead to sin and alive in Christ – we must be alive to the things he was and is. This means challenging injustice when an image bearer of the Creator is abused and belittled. Christ is all and in all – and we are to be agents of his scandalous love wherever we are.
This means confronting even our own insensitivities as well. We have to deal honestly with the reality that much of what we say and subsequently brush off, has the power to destroy and degrade. Confrontation means first taking a brutally honest look at our own prejudices. Some of us need to conduct serious plank surgery on our own eyes before we do anything else.
It is time for Christ followers to move beyond opinionated tweets and into the realm of solidarity. It is no exaggeration to say that cross-cultural advocacy is absolutely central to the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-8) and this simply cannot be fully achieved from a distance.
While there are indeed signs of hope all around us – we must be willing to admit that, for most of us, Sunday morning from eleven to noon is still the most segregated hour of the week.
We all have blind spots – which is exactly why we need each other. I don’t believe that the metaphor of the “Body of Christ” was a mistake in any way, for in it we find renewed instruction. Befriended the “other” in your life sometimes takes a painful recognition of our humble, mutual, interdependence.
Those redeemed, set free, restored and alive to Christ seek out, stand with, and advocate for the other – even if their situation is unlike anything they’ve experienced themselves. Those who are sons and daughters swim upstream, opposing the inducement to react as the world reacts. They jump hurdles, build bridges, and tear down the walls that would otherwise divide in order to understand the brokenness of the unfamiliar heart – and ultimately to speak the same words of redemption that we now know to be true.
May we be such a people.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.