I watched the video of Philando Castile being shot. I have no words.
How can anyone justify what happened? How can anyone run to the defense of Officer Yanez? How does the smell of marijuana make someone fear for their life enough to shoot and kill someone else? Looking at Philando Castile’s record of traffic stops, how can you not conclude the police had an unhealthy prejudice in their actions toward him?
As a citizen of the US, I am appalled that this happened and am reminded of the existence of stereotypes, prejudice, and unwarranted police violence. As a Christian, I see the Imago Dei in Philando Castile and am broken because I know God’s heart is broken at these types of atrocities. As a pastor of a multicultural church plant, this incident makes me more passionate than ever for Gospel realities to penetrate the dark and twisted systems of American government and American white “Elitism” through the local church. I want our people to be the carriers of Ephesians 2:11-19 into a dark and messed up world.
The white community has remained suspicious for a while now, especially in “Bible Belt” evangelicalism. Does racism really exist? Is cultural supremacy a reality or a theory? Have we really not fully recovered from the history of racism? Is our country systematically prejudice against African Americans? I think this horrific incident alongside Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and many others answers all of those questions with a loud “YES!”
I am appalled. But I am not surprised. The effects of sin have always led to the dehumanization of certain people groups. Look at the enslavement of the Israelites in the book of Exodus; or look at the hatred that Joseph felt from his brothers. The deeper one gets into the biblical storyline, the clearer it becomes that humanity hates true human flourishment because of their true hatred of God. And unfortunately, the African American population has felt the effects of prejudice a lot more than any other ethnicity in America. For 300 years, they have been enslaved, persecuted, threatened, killed, economically oppressed, on the wrong side of segregation, and criticized for speaking up about any of it.
If I am going to be honest, It has been hard for me and every other white person to relate to their daily struggle because of how removed most white cultures are from the racial issues that plague the American people. I don’t know what it is like to be black in America. I don’t know what it feels like for a black man or woman to see a middle class that is predominantly white and a lower class that is predominantly minorities. I grew up in a great home that went to church, my parents raised me in the Christian faith, but our culture is so void of discussions on “Gospel and race” that I cannot sympathize as much as I should. Neither can most who live in the south.
However, we can walk in unity with our brothers and sisters of color. If they forgive and are patient with us, as they have been for years, we can repent and embrace another way of life - Jesus' way of life. We can experience what it means in Phillipians 1:27-30 when Paul says that we should walk hand-in-hand, side-by-side, in partnership in the Gospel. And I pray that we will, by God's grace.
One of the best things I can do is acknowledge my bias, and do the best I can to set up practical ways to eliminate that bias. Here is a list of things I can do that would be helpful for anybody who finds themselves in a similar position:
- Pray that God would show you how you are not enabling human flourishing in all ethnicities and repent of your bias to those you have wronged.
- Bathe yourself in the Gospel through the Word of God. Turn to Colossians 2 where you see there is no distinction for those who are in Christ; or Ephesians 2 where we see the Gospel breaks down the dividing walls of hostility between us all; or Galatians where you are reminded over and over again that faith in Christ gives everyone a seat at the table.
- Examine your life. Where do you spend most of your time? Is it predominantly with others that have the same skin color as you? If so, think of strategic ways that you can have more exposure to different cultures and ethnicities. This simple change in your life will be instrumental for showing you how to celebrate diversity in culture. It will also serve as a practical way of understanding and sympathizing with others that have a different perspective than you.
- Develop friends of different races, and start healthy dialogue with them about these issues.
- Stay off of social media until you are informed and have spent considerable amount of time in prayer, Scripture, and conversation with others who do not agree with you. Until you do this, your status updates on social media will probably be more harmful to others than edifying. However, social media can be leveraged in a way that educates and enlightens. Follow noteable African American voices that are speaking light into these issues and just listen for a while before you place a foot in the conversation.
- Join a church that is diverse and multicultural. When you open your life to others that are different than you, it reveals your supremacy, privilege, and racial tendencies that you do not even know exist in your heart. Sola City Church in Gainesville is seeking to engage the topic of racial reconciliation to bring unity through Gospel power to our city.
- Read books about the history of race over the past 50 years whether you agree with the book’s perspective or not. Check out documentaries such as "I Am Not Your Negro" or the Netflix original "13." Watch historical dramas such as "Birth of a Nation."
- Be sympathetic and encouraging with others who are experiencing injustice. But mainly, just be present in their lives. Don’t run to the hills when the “race card” comes out. Regardless of how you disagree or feel about the subject, respect others in their feelings and perspective.
- See how you can share the Gospel through these conversations.
- Realize your perspective on things is, to a certain extent, informed by your past experience. Your opinion is not inerrant. You are a fallen human being and you need grace as much as anybody.
I am seeking to instill these points into my life. It is going to be hard, but I welcome the challenge. Join with me and lets see what Jesus might do in our community, churches, and lives.
Lead Pastor and Planter
Sola City Church