Sunday, June 21, 2015

When Christians praise themselves for not rioting . . .

Dear fellow believers in Charleston, South Carolina, who are also black like me:

I thank God that you have praised Him through this trial. The loss of nine sisters and brothers is a tremendous burden for a church and family to bear. The recognition that racial hatred still breeds in your state and this nation is frightening, but as witnessed on national television, you have a strong faith.

From this tragedy Americans have shared the moving experience of grieving family members offering forgiveness to the killer. That obedient response is a testimony to these families' faith and the teaching they have received. Indeed, I think what we’ve witnessed through you in Charleston is an instance of how God may be glorified in suffering. And yet, I must caution you.

In Charleston, I have also observed on television a troubling response. A few black Christians speaking to reporters have patted themselves on the back for “not rioting.” I cannot help but think that they praise themselves in reference to the #BlackLivesMatter protests that have turned violent in the last year in places such as Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. So, it sounds to me that what these black Christians in Charleston want the world to believe is that they are better people than those who have rioted since the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray.

Yes, it’s good that more violence did not the result grief and anger over the massacre at Emmanuel AME Church, but comparing the response of mature Christians to the reaction of young black people in Ferguson and young black people in Baltimore is not fair.

First, the comparison sounds similar to the Pharisee praying “I thank God that I am not like that sinner over there,” not that you are pharisees, but it does seem strange that you would praise yourselves and appear not to understand what has happened in the rest of the country. Second, in terms of protest, your situation in Charleston and what has happened elsewhere are not truly the same.

The shooter in Charleston was not a government representative, such as a police officer, and your police department did not behave as though nothing had happened (as Florida police did following Trayvon Martin’s death). Your police chief and mayor sprang into action to condemn the murders and find the perpetrator.

So, who would you have rioted against, the police department and mayor for doing their jobs? Or is Dylan Roof someone to riot against? Did you pay taxes for Dylan Roof to protect you? The white supremacist culture in general may seem like something to riot against to some people sometimes, but who riots against a wind?

It's understood that peaceful people prefer peaceful protest. Still, even Dr. King understood why oppressed people sometimes riot. Understanding rage and condoning its actions, of course, are not the same thing. Then there's the reality that Christian people who actually believe what Jesus taught tend not to become violent.

The question for you is this, Has your dignified response to these murders and the evil acts against you come by your own grace and power or by God's?

My heart goes out to you and the nation, but I hope none of you, including preachers, will use this tragedy to compare yourselves to other black people in pain in order to condemn them. I hope that you will not stand on the necks of other black people to lift yourselves in America’s eyes.

But I'm sure you will move forward in grace because you have the Humble Servant in your hearts. And nothing will separate us from His love.

Peace and Grace to you,
your sister, Nordette

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