Skip to content

On Race and Violence

I had a classmate in graduate school, a young black minister. After the class read Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree, he reluctantly related to us the conversation that every black father has with their son. “You will be pulled over more than your white friends. And you had better be polite or you are going to get hurt.” It was the first time in my life that I realized I was privileged. I would never need to have a conversation like that with my sons. My black classmate felt betrayed by his own country and culture, and I needed to hear that.

I had a classmate in high school, a young blonde girl. She was a sweet cheerleader type, and if you had asked me a thousand times, I never would have guessed what she would choose as her career. She became a police officer. She chose a profession that allowed her to give back to her community, living the selfless life we tell young people to live. Today, she and her comrades are being targeted for accusation, hostility, and even violence. My white classmate feels betrayed by her own country and culture, and I need to hear that too.

James, the Lord’s brother, writes,

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, KJV)

We need a lot more hearing and a lot less speaking and wrath today.

To those who want to turn a blind eye to racial injustice in our culture, we ought to remember what the Lord taught his disciples. He told them that a priest and Levite may pass a victim by, but a follower of God shows mercy (Luke 10:29-37) . A Samaritan, ethnic outcast of his own day, taught us that it is more important to be a merciful neighbor than to know who your neighbor is. “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

To those who think that violence is a fitting response to injustice, we ought to remember again what the Lord taught his disciples. He was an innocent man, murdered by the very people who were charged with keeping peace (Luke 23:20-24). Jesus, a victim of history’s greatest travesty, taught us that it is more important to be merciful than to receive mercy. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

To those who fear for what is to come, we ought to remember once more what the Lord taught his disciples. At his death there was a hostile crowd, but behind them was a silent majority who had no part in that day’s injustice. They grieved. Beside the cross itself stood a centurion, the peace officer of his day, who could only watch and declare his disappointment.

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:47-49)

Brethren, be light in these dark days. Speak slowly except in prayer, and hasten to pray.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatred cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)