Before I say anything, this is just a reminder that this site is my own site. All I say here is from my perspective and not the perspective of any individual or organization with which I am associated. Never feel like you must agree with me.
Now that I’ve clarified this, I feel like I live out my faith by my writing and talking about justice issues. In different places I talk about things in different ways. But at the heart of what I speak of are a couple of scriptures. First of all, we are to love God with all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves. Secondly, like it says in Micah 6:8, we are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. With all I have and all I speak, post, or write, this is the foundation of my theology.
As the granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide Survivor, I see things a bit differently too. Government systems in Turkey were giving directives to kill all Armenians- and that included the members of my family. So when I see the powers that be not working justly, I am called as a child of God, as a member of the clergy, and as a person who tries to love their neighbor to shine a light on injustice.
Secondly, before we get started, I want to clarify that I want our first responders – including police- to be well in body, mind, and spirit. It breaks my heart when one is killed. I’ve seen the effects of death on the loved ones of police. I pray that they stay safe because they are children of God and they are the parents, spouses, children, and siblings of many.
Third, the most important thing for us to do is to build relationships and listen to stories from people who are not like us.
So. Deep breath. Let’s go!
First of all: Black Lives Matter! (Ooh, Michelle is starting out with a very scary one.) I’m not even sure why this is as scary and loaded as it is. In 1944, we might have said Jewish Lives Matter because, as a whole, their lives were at risk and they were being massacred. With internment camps around the same time, we may have said Japanese Lives Matter too. Remember – I’m the granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide survivor. In 1915, I would hope Turkish folks would have said “Armenian Lives Matter” instead of watching them go to their death march.
It’s also like this – and I’ve seen this online quite a bit: the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus leaves the other 99 to find the one. At that moment, that one sheep’s life matters the most. Overall in the history of time or in the eyes of God one group does not matter the most, but right at this period of time, it’s crucial we take care of our neighbors most at risk. You may have seen the illustration of one house of many on fire. At that moment, taking care of that house matters the most. Whose lives are hurting the most and most affected by an unjust system? That’s who we need to focus on. All lives truly do not matter without black lives mattering to our society.
So the next scary term: white privilege. Something been going on in this country for centuries (and still going in), and it’s that white people still get the benefit of the doubt more often. Some of us were born on first base, some on third, and some have to start at home plate. It’s easier for some to score a run. Being a white person means that I’ve probably been born on at least first base. A person of color has to start from home plate, and other people of color – especially in poverty – may not even have a bat in order to play the game.
Example: I am fortunate because people are not suspicious of me walking around my neighborhood or shopping at a department store. I can’t say this about my black neighbors. They are scared driving around predominantly white areas because they get pulled over so much more in many of them – even going the speed limit. I’ve heard the stories of my friends, and I have it easy because I’m white. A black neighbor should not be worried running in his predominantly white neighborhood. This is what it means to have white privilege. If you start to get scared because you see a person of color going into the house next to you, they may actually be going into the house because it’s a member of the family, or a friend, or a contractor. They are allowed to be there. (PS – do not call the police. Things can escalate too quickly.)
If you had feelings bubble up when you saw a strange black person entering the house next to you, it’s something to address. Those are called implicit biases; we all have them. I’m trying to work on mine, and I mess up all of the time! They are the biases that mean we don’t consciously think bad or want anything bad to happen to our black neighbors. It means we usually hate explicit racism – the “n-word,” Confederate flags, KKK, etc. We don’t believe hate crimes should happen like what happened Ahmaud Arbery.
But, down deep in each of us, we have little cells of bias. It could be so little we don’t realize it’s in us. Unfortunately, we make decisions based on these little cells of bias. We don’t include pictures of all races when we are promoting a program to people. We may think of predominantly black regions in our area in certain ways. We want to call the police when we don’t have evidence the person is causing a problem. We may place blame on people of color instead of unjust systems. In any case, these little cells of bias need to be brought to the surface, and we need to see how they can impact not just people unlike us, but our whole communities.
So if we all act out of and make decisions from these little cells of bias living inside of us, it’s going to impact our overall system.
There are healthy people and unhealthy people in every industry. And the ones who act out of their unhealthy nature need to be held accountable. And this includes people who cover things up.
I believe police who act out of biases (implicit or explicit), who join along with mob mentality in a group, or cover things up should be held accountable. It’s like the sexual assault scandal in the Catholic Church and other denominations. It couldn’t go unchecked – including people who cover things up. We as pastors are held to a very high standard. We have our committee on ministry who is part of our check-and-balance system, and it’s because some people misuse their power. All industries should have a check-and-balance system. As the Bible says in Luke 12 “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Those of us in any type of power must evaluate our places and our biases to keep systems healthy.
There needs to be a change to the overall system. As I said – more accountability. Let’s do more psychological testing – I had to go through quite a bit before becoming a pastor! Also, if a law enforcement individual is seen inside or outside of their job saying something explicitly racist, then they need to be suspended or fired. If we all act out of implicit biases to some extent, then explicitly racist people will act out of their undeniable, explicit racism. And it gets ugly! This is where some of the issues of our country have stemmed.
(Reiterating again: Of course, not all police officers are bad. Absolutely not! I know many wonderful law enforcement officials. But because we all have a sense of brokenness in our lives, all of us sometimes act out of the brokenness. Our brokenness may be severe like explicit racists. Or it may be deep down within us, hiding the small cells of bias, and we don’t know it as well and we support unhealthy systems. That’s why we all need to evaluate what we’ve been taught along the way and what biases we’ve held onto. Even healthier people can act out of their deep, unchecked biases. It doesn’t mean they are bad, but that we all have work to do on what we think and what we’ve been taught.)
Unjust systems are bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than just police, and we cannot put all of our focus there. I think many are forgetting to talk about how big all of these problems are. Lots of things are connected – like poverty, racism, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, and more. Biases exist all along the way. So that’s why reforms have to happen. Unfortunately, like we read in The New Jim Crow or you may see in the documentary 13th (I highly recommend both!), some of these laws are biased towards people of color. It may be time to create healthy system of rehabilitation instead of keeping people in prison – especially if they can start a new life in healthy ways. And it may be time for us to understand why some laws were created along the way.
I say all of these things because my black friends’ lives matter. So do black strangers’ lives. From the time I was in seminary, I’ve heard their pain up close and personal, and it’s breaking my heart. I cannot stay silent on all of this because their lives and their well being and their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health matter to me. So that’s why I stand where I do because like in Jeremiah 29:7 in creating the well-being of others we all will find our well-being.
Thanks for hanging in there this long! Ok, so some of you aren’t going to like what I said it parts of what I said. My liberal friends will think I didn’t speak far enough on these issues. My conservative friends will think I spoke too much. I tried to verbalize where I was the best I can to speak to a general audience. I couldn’t stay silent anymore because I had to write something that could help all of us see things from different angles. I kept my faith and advocated that we must do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Thank you Michelle for your honesty. I “like” that!
Oh, I know what I should also say because I think it every time. I have vision problems and I would love it if you would increase the font of your posts. With long pieces it gets a bit head-achy to read it all. If increasing it makes it too long, I will understand!!
Thank you for saying this! I will figure out how to do this! Thanks for your support, Maren!!!
Susan Strouse said:
Thank you for this – as I try to write a sermon finding language that people of differing views will be able to hear. I know my prophetic colleagues will probably think I’m being complicit in white supremacy, while conservative members may dismiss me as a Berkeley liberal. But I believe that finding a way to cut through the politicized language to the heart of the matter is the only way to go. Challenging times indeed. Thanks for your courage.