Counting Sheep

**Content Warning: Some of the articles referenced and videos shared contain depictions of graphic violence. **

 

2015 has been a year of great heartache for those who seek reforms in the United States justice system.  It has been a year marked by a stern reminder that being non-white is still a crime is this nation and such violation of the civil order will be met with lethal force whenever and however deemed necessary.[1]

Just today (12/28/15) it was announced that there would be no indictment for the white police officer he fatally shot Tamir Rice.  At the time of his death Rice was 12 years old and holding a pellet gun.  Video shows that the officer shot and killed Rice within a second of exiting his vehicle.

Likewise, one of the officers involved in the violent death of Freddie Gray, a man seemingly arrested for nothing, was recently released after the jury in his trial could not reach a decision.  Gray died from a broken neck after several officers bound him by his hands and feet, three him in the back of a police can without a seatbelt, then took him for a “rough ride”.

Neither were there any consequences for the wrongful death of Sandra Bland.  Bland was arrested for seemingly no reason during a routine traffic stop.  After she was booked into a county jail, where she was later found hanged in her cell.

An officer in South Carolina was indicted, but only after cell phone video captured by an eyewitness showed the officer had intentionally tried to alter the crime scene after he shot and killed Walter Scott in cold blood in the back.

An officer has also been indicted in Chicago for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, however this only took place after it became evident an independent journalist would win a Freedom of Information lawsuit demanding video of the murder be released.  Video showed that the officer “without lawful justification, intentionally or knowingly shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm”.

Even on Christmas day, it seems persons of color are not safe from such injustice.  Bettie Jones, a 55 mother, grandmother, and organizer of community anti-violence efforts was shot to death by Chicago police in what is being called a “tragic accident” after police opened fire on 19-year-old Quintonio Legrier.  Police called Legrier “combative” when they arrived to his father’s apartment, though such accusations have been contested by family members.

Sadly, murder by police is not been the only form of institutional injustice facing persons of color in our nation.

An Oklahoma City police officer was convicted on 16 charges after it was revealed he had targeted and raped 13 women of color, abusing his position of authority to force them into performing sex acts.  The youngest victim was 17 at the time of assault, the oldest 50.  The officer targeted black women whom he knew to have criminal records specifically because he didn’t believe they would speak up and, if they did, he assumed no one would believe them.

In South Carolina, a black teenager was body slammed by a school police officer for talking on her cellphone in class and refusing to leave the classroom when ordered by a teacher.   The officer can be seen in the video grabbing the girl, still seated at her desk, and slamming her violently to the ground before dragging her from the desk and throwing her to the front of the classroom.

And stories like these are hardly an outlier.  Time and again our news media are filled with stories of systemic injustice and our streets are filled with protesters united under the banner:  Black Lives Matter.

Yet, it is no stretch to say that we, as white American evangelicals, so often refuse to recognize the reality of systemic racism in America. Some of us deny that such a problem even exists.  Others openly defend racist systems.

And it has been pretty common fare to use red herring arguments to redirect blame onto the black community.

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Still others attempt to colonize the movement.  They are willing to grant that “black lives matter”, only inasmuch as “All Lives Matter”, claiming anything else is “reverse racism”.  We use derogatory rhetoric to assassinate the character of protesters – quoting flat decontextualized statistics on police violence against whites[2] while ardently insisting this is a “sin” issue, not a race issue.  We even try to twist the legacy of civil rights heroes in our favor.

In the midst of all the voices crying out “All Lives Matter” I want to challenge my white evangelical brothers and sisters to step back, take a moment to consider our own privilege, and ask,

Is this truly a Christ-centered response?

The problem with positions of privilege is that they, by their very nature, must be asserted as normative.  One group cannot maintain a place of privilege and influence unless they first denigrate an “other” over which this privilege can be exercised.  Thus, for the privileged to embrace the narrative of the “other”, they must first set aside their own story and pursue a new identity built in solidarity.  This is why Black Lives Matters has been so quickly decried as opposed to the overarching beliefs of white American evangelicalism.

For this reason, I assert that, in declaring “All Lives Matter” we have forgotten the words of Paul in Galatians 5

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (vv. 13-14)

In Matthew 18:12-14 Jesus tells the following story:

If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.  So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

In case you missed it, the will of God is that not even one of his sheep be lost.  Jesus tells us that the 99 do not outweigh the one.  That the narrative which drives the 99 cannot, and should not, be used to delegitimize the story of the one.  The heart of God revealed in the story does not forget the majority, but instead ties the narrative of the majority inseparably to the fate of the one.

It is for this reason that Jesus stated in Matthew 25:45:

[W]hatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

Likewise, Paul reminds us that privilege cannot be exercised at the expense of others (1 Cor 11:17-22).  Nor does a false sense of “Christian” piety negate the need to practice love for every person – modeling the love of Christ for all people on the cross (13:1-13).   We are to practice solidarity with all people as this is the example set for use by Christ (Rom 12:15-16; cf Phil 2:1-11).

In considering the biblical witness, it seems to me that All Lives do not matter more than Black Lives!  Yet, in the name of comfort and privilege, we – the self-proclaimed followers of Christ -have chosen to neglect the sheep being lost in our own backyards.  We have proven we do not know the heart of God, nor do we understand his Christ, sent to pursue even the one lost sheep.

When we ignore the pain and suffering of an entire community, when we see the brutal beatings, the blatant murder, the aggressive policing tactics, and the injustice of mass incarceration and do nothing, say nothing, we abandon the crucified Christ.

This Christ humbled himself, emptied himself, and it is his example – his love, his heart, his mind – that all who would claim to follow him must embrace (Phil 2:1-12).  We must remember that on the cross Christ bore all the sufferings and infirmities of humanity, not just those of the privilege elite.  In fact, in remembering the crucified Christ we must also be reminded that his death was an act of political corruption and injustice, that our God stands in solidarity with and shares the suffering of the oppressed and abused (Isa 52:13-53:12).

This God, creator of the universe, Yahweh himself, became human.  He was beaten, he was spit upon, he was tortured, and he was murdered by a political system bent on preserving the privilege of a few. He was abandoned by men and God (Matt 27:11-56), cursed by the law (Gal 3:15-29).  In the midst of all brokenness, his death upends the narrative of privilege, undoes the systems of oppression, and uplifts the weak and oppressed (1 Cor 1:18-31).

When we cry All Lives Matter, we reject the crucified Jesus and stand among the scoffers.

We as Christians must practice the love he has shown us – the radical, humble, self-emptying love by which we are empowered to treat all persons with grace and love (1 John 4:7-21).  This love beckons us to seek justice, to subvert hierarchy, and to stand beside the oppressed, the humiliated, the rejected, and the marginalized – to humble ourselves, set aside our privilege, and take up their cause (Matt 20:20-28). 

We must take up our cross (Luke 9:23-26), which reminds us that there is no enemy, only neighbor – that we must not abandon our neighbor in her time of need (Mark 10:38-42; Luke 10:25-37). It as white American evangelicals that we must look upon this man, Jesus the Christ, the crucified God – abandoned and hanging at Golgotha as a reminder of the power of empire and privilege to take life as it sees fit – and declare Black Lives Matter!

 A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (Jer 31:15)[3]

 

 

[1] This post represents a revision and reworking of an original post, “Lost Sheep”, that was posted after the incident as Spring Valley High School.

[2] I fully recognize that Bill O’Reilly is Catholic.  However, his position on the Fox News network makes him a powerful and influential voice among white evangelicals as well.

[3] The inspiration to use this verse came from this tweet by Diana Butler Bass

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5 thoughts on “Counting Sheep

  1. Powerful words. You speak truth. To cry “All Lives Matter” is to stand among the scoffers. To cry “Black Lives Matter” with lament in our hearts for all that has been lost is to recognize the spirit of Jesus. May we search wildly in the wilderness for the one lost sheep, and in doing so, remember who we, Christ-followers, are called to be. We are a people of the one, not of the ninety-nine.

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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