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A Letter to My Church about White Lives Matter

A few weeks ago, we started a journey exploring what I believe is God’s good design for human flourishing; “one diverse and unified family.” We explored our role as human beings in rebelling against that good design. We also explored a few pages of American history to see how racism is America’s “original sin.” In my previous two posts, I have invited the church to explore leading in confessing racism, lamenting racism, and repenting from racism.

Last week, we explored confessing racism as a way to examine what is wrong, and admit it. Confessing racism is a way for us to acknowledge that something is broken, recognize that things are not the way they are supposed to be, and apologize for injustice. This week, we planned to move into a time of lament. However, I want to directly address something that occurred in my neighborhood a few days ago.

On August 21st, I received a message from Kyle Brooks, a dear friend of mine who lives in California. In his message, there was a link to an article in the Houston Chronicle. The title simply read, “White Lives Matter group protests outside NAACP in Houston’s Third Ward.” You can read the news article in its entirety here. Kyle knows I live in the Third Ward, and he wanted to make sure I was safe, and he wanted to encourage me.

As I read the news article, I tried hard to parse through the myriad of emotions that took over me. I scrolled through the pictures, I saw a group of people waving Confederate flags and brandishing assault rifles. They claimed the flags were about heritage, not hate, and the assault riffles were about their 2nd Amendment rights to protect themselves from Black Lives Matter supporters, not because they wanted to start any trouble or intimidate others.

Because I am in the south, I know I will see confederate flags more than I did when I lived in Michigan. Yet a truthful survey of history reveals that we cannot divorce the racism and enslavement of African Americans from the Confederacy, or distill hatred and be left with pure feelings of heritage tied to the “stars and bars.” These two things are inextricably linked. While the flag may represent a history, it represents a history that is painful for all Americans, whether they are descendants of slaves, slave owners, or neither.

Living in the south, I have also become more accustomed to seeing guns in places where I do not expect to see them. I respect my friends who use their guns responsibly. However, a white supremacist group flaunting assault riffles in the middle of a majority African American neighborhood epitomizes racial oppression, and is a reckless, rash, and irresponsible use of firearms.

The paradoxes of this particular situation had me perplexed for days. The irony shocked me. I was confused. I was uncomfortable. It made me angry. It made me sad. It made me grieve. In an attempt to allow my emotions move me to truth and not away from it, I decided I would sit with this for a while before saying anything publicly. I prayed. I also went on the White Lives Matter website to learn more about the group, and watched videos from the protest a few more times, listening carefully to the remarks of the White Lives Matter protesters.

White Supremacists hold on to an ideology that tells us that white lives matter most. The phrase “Black Lives Matter,” on the other hand, is the rallying cry for all people to act against injustice done to black people, and to celebrate the shared humanity that black people have with all people, because all lives cannot matter until black lives matter too.

This rallying cry emanates from the real, lived experience of black people in the United States. The voices of those who have been oppressed should be affirmed, not silenced. When self-described White Supremacists say “White Lives Matter,” they ascribe to a sinful ideology and attempt to colonize the language of the oppressed to destroy movements against oppression and injustice.

If you are someone who is unsure about Black Lives Matter, here is my encouragement. White Lives Matter’s hostile takeover of the language of Black Lives Matter is not the way to engage the movement. My appeal to you is to continue to shift your learning to the source. Don’t blindly rely on news clippings to find out what Black Lives Matter is all about. And definitely don’t rely on random tweets or truncated conversation. Do some research. Visit the Black Lives Matter website. Build relationships with members of the movement. Ask good questions. Agree with what you are convicted about. Robustly disagree where you differ. Ask more questions. Maintain relationship.

If you are like me, everything in you wants to demonize the people who came into my neighborhood last week. What I want done to people who are explicitly racist like this is to lock them up, and throw away the key. However, I recently heard Dr. Melissa Maldonado Torres talk on a panel, and her words have haunted me since. She said,

“While it may feel right, on the road of justice, we must give up our right to demonize ‘the other,’ because getting rid of a people who are a part of the problem is not true justice. It is genocide.”

Locking up white supremacists forever isn’t justice. Getting rid of white supremacy is. My battle is not against individuals, but against the destructive ideologies they hold. We believe in grace, because grace believes in us, and always reaches out to rescue our true humanity from any loveless ideology that shackles it. It is hard, but living from this truth humanizes people, instead of demonizing them.

I believe in God’s justice, because God’s justice does not only seek to destroy evil, but also seeks to create flourishing where evil once existed. God’s justice is restorative. Racial justice and reconciliation in the Kingdom of God happen when we destroy systems of oppression and restore people to wholeness. These two things are inextricably linked.

Will I be able to work for this kind of justice on my own? By no means! Yet I think God calls a community of people to link arms to fight racial injustice and seek the transformation of those with hateful ideology. Our society is better together than it is apart. God is calling us to seek a world of abundance, where everybody has what he or she needs, and nobody needs to live in fear.

I love the movie Monsters Inc. In the trajectory of this movie, there is a shift in the way the cities of this animated world are powered. Initially, a scare team uses fear to collect the screams of children. The city thrives on power generated by fear. But towards the end of the movie, the scarers learn that laughter produced by joy and love are infinitely more powerful sources of electricity than screams generated by fear.

I implore us all to see that our collective humanity thrives on love and joy, not fear. True justice thrives on working tirelessly to transform hearts and minds and dismantle hateful ideology, not on the demonization of others. We are better together. I am so grateful to my friend, Kyle Brooks, who by sending a simple message reminded me that we are human together. The love of Christ implores us to lay down our rights in the pursuit of justice. May we not be guided by fear but by love and joy, and a sincere desire to see racial injustice defeated and all people restored to wholeness.

“Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours through Him who loved us.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[Image: Flickr user Tina Leggio, under Creative Commons license]

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