To Whom It May Concern:
In the beginning, God created man in His image. As the book of Genesis states, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” Without getting too deep into the theology of this statement, we can safely assume that the very breath and hands of God created the human race. Think about that for a moment, God himself, created mankind; therefore, each human from that moment forward, is born with the image of God etched into his/her DNA, also known as Imago Dei. Though this theology may seem simple, it is here that we run into so many problems. We run into problems because human often devalue the lives of other humans. If you don’t believe this statement to be true, look at social media, and you will see the depth in which people value one another.
Before Jesus left His disciples, He gave them a mandate, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Without a doubt, this mandate has touched the hearts of many throughout the years to preach the gospel; resulting in lost sheep returning to the pasture. Please, don’t get me wrong, mission trips are good and needed, but where are these missionaries when there’s civil unrest within their own nation? Where are the buses, the memes, the constant status updates, etc., when the people whom live in their country are mistreated?
As a black man, who is a Christian, I am often told to let it go. I’ve been told (by a white Christian) that he can’t take anything I say seriously anymore. I’ve been told to stop making things about race. I’ve attempted to enlighten, all to have the husband post a sarcastic meme about “stirring the pot.” Was this due to my heresy? No. Was this due to my publicly denying Jesus? No. Was this because my life (morally) was not lining up with the scriptures? No. These responses were because I chose to speak out against injustice, specifically against people of color. These responses were because I agreed with Colin Kapernick’s decision to take a knee and believe that he wasn’t being signed due to his political stance. My skin has become thick throughout the years, so I’m not being overly sensitive, but it does sting knowing that this is what (some) of my white brothers and sisters in the faith think of myself, my opinions, as well as my struggles. The group of people whom I should be able to confide in, are (often) the group of people whom I feel so unloved by. To tell black people to get over and ignore racism is equivalent to telling someone who was abused to “get over it, it’s been what…40 years.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.”- Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s gradually become more and more difficult to hear and see people get excited to go overseas and risk death to spread the gospel, yet some of those same people remain silent as it relates to preaching the gospel to the people in charge of making laws that are rooted in discrimination. It’s difficult to understand how the Holy Spirit can lead them to other countries, but not to city hall to demand change. Why isn’t the Holy Spirit leading them to lead the charge for immigration reform or police reform or causing them to speak out against gentrification? Why can’t the Holy Spirit instill some empathy for a lost life (regardless of the reason)? How can the Holy Spirit convict us to pray for communities who are victims of terrorism, but not pray for communities of color who are negatively affected by society? Does the Holy Spirit not care about the people who are unfairly targeted and shipped back to their country without any regard for the damage being done? Once again, this is not an indictment against mission trips, this is to serve as means to bring pause and reflect upon how much empathy we truly emit. All the aforementioned situations exist because of sin; the specific sin of discrimination. And if we are called to call out sin, then that sin must be (publicly) called out as well.
“You’re either coaching it, or you’re allowing it to happen.” - Various
In my opinion, sports is the greatest teacher of all things: dealing with loss, dedication, focus, sacrifice, teamwork, etc. That quote is often used in sports, but can also be used in every business, church and/or school. This quote speaks directly speaks to the dangers of silence. Though I am vehemently opposed to infidelity, if I remain silent while my friends are unfaithful to their spouses, then I am just as guilty as coaching them through their infidelity. Many Christians may truly not be prejudice or racist; however, while many may not coach discrimination to their friends, they allow it when they fail to correct those friends who go on rants that are non-empathetic and unloving. Whenever a law that is unjust is not challenged (by Christians) then the lawmakers who create the laws, think there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing. They believe that they’re not in sin because fellow Christians are silent. So, while unjust laws are not being coached, unjust laws are certainly being allowed.
“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” ― Malcolm X
Throughout this letter, I’ve been very intentional about my usage of the word empathy. According to the English Oxford Living Dictionary, empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” In other words, empathy causes you to stop thinking about yourself and to begin thinking about others. Empathy allows you to listen to another’s perspective and still love them despite their perspective. Empathy evokes a compassion that creates a desire to relieve the pain of another. Does this sound familiar, it should; empathy is why Jesus was able to sacrifice Himself for mankind. In 1 Peter 2:25, we are described as sheep who are lost. In the classic hymn Amazing Grace, it states the following: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” Jesus, the son of God, humbled Himself because He did, can, and will empathize with the pain of being lost and blind. Empathy is what makes love so profound. Empathy, in my opinion, is attached to love and you can’t have one without the other.
In the gospel of John, a situation is recalled in which a woman was caught in the act of adultery and was brought before Jesus. According to the law, she was wrong (didn’t comply, undocumented, etc.) and should, by law, be stoned (beaten, imprisoned, shot to death, sent back to own country etc.). The Scribes and Pharisees pointed out to Jesus her sins, her faults, and what she did wrong. Both parties were very adamant that she deserved to suffer the consequences of such actions (looking like a bad dude, non-compliance, resisting, etc.). In fact, they were so concerned with the law (political affiliation) and trapping Jesus (blindly mimicking their political affiliation), they failed to show grace, they failed to care about why, they failed to show empathy. In verse 7, Jesus flipped the script though. His statement to them shined light onto their sins; which must have been intense as they all left. In a sense, Jesus embedded empathy into their hearts. It was at this moment, they too, realized they were with sin, and in need of grace. They put themselves in her position, they began to share her feelings, and when they did, they were not as quick to request that the penalty (imprisoned, shot to death, kicked out of the country, etc.) of her actions be carried out. Jesus’ empathy literally saved this woman’s life. Notice, not once did He condone her actions; He simply empathized, loved, and forgave. Jesus even went a step further, he instructed her to not put herself in that position again; He helped her. We see from this example that a lack of empathy can lead to not caring if another human being dies (regardless of the reason); and that type of behavior is unacceptable for a Christian. What we also see is that empathy leads one to intervene, to save the life of someone who -you feel- doesn’t deserve saving (grace). Not only that, empathy will cause you to go the extra mile to ensure that person will never be in that situation again.
As Christians, we are called to be empathetic as evangelism is rooted in empathy (aside from it being mandated). We remember what it felt like to be lost and bound. We remember what it felt like to be ensnared in sin. We remember what it felt like to be empty and desperately searching for answers. It is because of this we go on mission trips. It is because of this, we feed those who are without homes. It is because of this, that we take people into our homes. It is because of empathy that we engage with those who could not care less about our God nor our Jesus. We empathize, because we see others as human beings and they too, no matter their background, need grace, love and mercy.
Empathy is not dismissive. Think about if Jesus would have dismissed us because He didn’t agree with something we did or said. Therefore, even if you don’t agree with “Black Lives Matter,” empathy will drive you to understanding why that phrase even exists. Even if you agree with police killing (mostly) unarmed black men, empathy will drive you to understand why black people are enraged. Empathy should drive you to try and understand why some enter this country without documentation. More importantly, empathy should drive you to mourn the loss of a life. Empathy will make you try and understand the why. It is not until the why is valued, that we will begin to care about other people; even if you don’t agree with their opinions.
To my white brothers and sisters in the faith, we need your public empathy. We need your voices and your solidarity. The same voice you give to stopping abortion or same sex marriage, is the same voice we need for discriminatory laws. The same voice you give to other countries, is the same voice we need here in America. The same thoughtful memes and posts about terrorism, are the same types of memes and posts we need for people of color who are mistreated here in America. As stated earlier, it’s difficult to see your empathy for mission trips, but not your empathy when a race of people are angry and mourning here in America.
Side note: Black lives do matter to black people. Black people are not proud nor happy when we see acts of violence being committed in our communities. Many of the black people that I know that say black lives matter are actively trying to improve the lives of blacks daily.
The fact that I must inject that should say a lot about the things I’ve heard “Christians” say about black people.
We are a family, and I pray that this letter has been able to inspire. Not all white Christians are prejudice and some really do care about the plights of people of color, but it would help if black people could see your solidarity publicly. As blacks, we can only reach those within our sphere of influence; which is why it is so important for my white brothers and sisters in the faith to be just as outspoken. We need you to talk to your congregation, congressmen/women, police captains, people in power, etc. and convince them to change laws that are unjust. We need you to help bring awareness to immigration reform, police reform, human rights, etc. We need you to let them know that black people were also created in God’s image as we too, are fearfully and wonderfully designed. We need your help to shed light on white privilege. We need you to help bring awareness to unjust laws and let the public know that every black person killed by police didn’t deserve to die. And even if they were wrong and the killing was justified, the loss of a life is always something to mourn; especially if that life is lost outside of Christ. People need the gospel and the gospel is the answer; however, not everyone will answer the call. It is because of this, we need to make sure that people are treating others as fairly as possible.
And yes, discrimination is a sin issue. As Jackie Hill-Perry puts it, “it’s an Imago Dei” issue. Failing to see one another as being made in the image of God breeds discrimination and prejudice. Jesus, on more than one occasion, corrected His disciples, as well as religious leaders, because they dismissed people due to their lineage or what they looked like or did. On these occasions, Jesus corrected them; He addressed their sin. He didn’t coach it, neither did He allow it; He dealt with it so His disciples, as well as the religious leaders, would understand that that type of behavior is unacceptable. It was unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now. If the Holy Spirit is truly working in our lives, then empathy should not be as invisible as it is. Even if you disagree with another’s perspective, as a Christian, your empathy should cause you to care about that person, regardless of his/her perspective.
“It’s a sad day when Christians would gladly lose their life for Jesus,
but not their reputation.” -Adam
Your Black Brother-in-Christ