For the past few weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with everyone’s opinions on the Ferguson case. And since Wednesday’s non-indictment of the police officer who was caught on video using a banned tactic to bring down Eric Garner, a black man who died from the encounter, there are even more posts, more inflamed feelings and more extreme statements.
All of this has caused me to think a lot about how we interact with one another when we have strong feelings and opinions. I do not know much about the details of the Ferguson case, so I won’t be commenting on them. The Eric Garner case seems like a much clearer injustice, but that is not what I’m here to talk about either. Basically, I’m here to comment on everything except laws, legal details, police standards or the justice system.
Here’s what I would like to talk about:
I don’t think I can be called out as a person who plays the race card. In fact, most of my friends probably forget that I’m black. Identifying as black or white — especially since I’m an equal mix of both — has never been my thing. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’d rather be known for a million things other than my “race” (e.g., loving Jesus, being awesome, liking BBQ chips, knowing the lyrics to every dc talk song that has ever existed, etc.). I have never been treated poorly because of my skin color, and I am grateful for that.
So it is probably partly because I don’t think of race often that I feel such a sadness, disappointment and heartache when situations like this arise. I open my Facebook and see my friends lumping entire groups of people together. I read an article on the Internet and peruse the comments (horrible idea, I know) and see truly evil things being said about black people — things akin to what Nazis said about Jews. I see my friends post opinions that blame everyone but their group — be it black or white, conservative or liberal. I see acquaintances mixing their political beliefs with their faith in a way I’m not convinced Jesus would appreciate.
I see irony galore. Black friends who often call for blacks to be strong, outstanding citizens somehow find a way to condone looting, violence and threats against whites. Conservative friends who consistently post about police militarization and how, if Obama pushes the boundaries any further, they have their rifles loaded and ready to use against the state (police), are suddenly eager to defend police in Ferguson or New York. Or people respond with apathy, annoyed that their reality shows are interrupted with the latest news because they simply don’t care.
And what floors me is that people don’t seem to care what the actual truth is. They claim that they do, but they don’t. I think it is telling that whenever something like this comes up, whether it’s Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman, Mike Brown/Darren Wilson or Eric Garner/Daniel Pantaleo, I know who will be posting what opinion before I ever open Facebook. I know which people will be defending the white person, no matter what. And I know which people will be defending the black person, no matter what. I know who will be blaming “those conservatives” or “those liberals.” I know who will be posting stats about black criminals or white privilege. I know who will be blaming Bush and who will be blaming Obama. I know who will be defending violent looting, and I know who will be denying that racism is ever a problem in America. The fact that I can predict people’s opinions on any situation, before there’s even any evidence, shows me that people have already decided what is true — on both sides. Their opinions — no matter the details of a situation — have already been formed. But here’s the thing — that’s not how truth works.
But what makes me the saddest is Christians. Christians who get into “screaming matches” on their comment threads. Christians who fan the flame by posting subtle race jokes or promote the “us against them” mentality.
The other night as I scrolled through my Facebook feed (the majority of which is filled with Christian friends), I could only think of Paul’s plea for the church in Ephesus:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
That verse got lost somewhere in all the opinions and vitriol. In fact, all of Ephesians 4 should probably be on our minds so that we do our best to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger and malice, and replace them with kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, patience and love.
I don’t know why these recent situations have made me feel so uneasy, and I am probably just adding to the noise by writing this post. (Switchfoot would not approve. I am really dating myself with my music references in this post.) But this situation has just been a reminder in my own life that I often do very little to try to understand where others are coming from. I think I know everything. And what I should do is, through the power of the Holy Spirit, attempt to imitate the attitude of Christ — the one who humbled himself for our sake.
Now I am not pushing for a kumbaya campfire sing. I know that there are harsh realities out there of violence, crime, police corruption, pride, injustice — the harsh realities of sin. But what I am calling myself to do is, as a believer, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (And honestly, I don’t want to make every effort. People often annoy me and make me want to make less effort. But, unfortunately for Denise’s Bad Attitudes, Christ has called me to something more.)
Reading through Facebook has made me ache for the finished restoration of all things. I wanted us to quit worrying about our “rights” and instead join with every tribe, tongue and nation in the worship of the One who is making all things new. I wanted us to recognize that the example we have from our God is one of mercy and justice — displayed profoundly through the death of His Son for our sins. For our riots. For our racism. For our apathy. For our hatred, piety and judgment.
It is only through the mercy of God that we can receive true justice. It is only through the power of His Spirit that we can live out Ephesians 4. And it is only through the grace of Jesus that those from every people and nation who were purchased through His blood will worship together in unity.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.