By Pastor Joseph L Green
With the recent occurrences that have taken place in Ferguson MO and now all over the country; I thought it was important to weigh in from an African American perspective; more specifically as an African American Pastor. While Ferguson burns and protests break out all across the nation there seems to be a familiar theme; White cops shoots a young black male and the black community cries out that the system is one of injustice, inequality, and simply does not look out for black people. Didn’t we deal with this in the 1960’s? Is the question that comes to mind. Historically we have seen the images many times and these are the cries that the black community has lifted up since the formation of America. I want to examine this from a Biblical perspective.
In order to properly address the issue I would like to give a little background about myself. I am a middle aged African Pastor who is married and that is the head of a church in the city of Harrisburg, PA. Many would consider me an urban Pastor. I have daughters but most notably, I have a 10 year old son. It is important for me to have this dialogue. The same way I write this is the same way I try to train my son so that he doesn’t fall victim to these problems that we are dealing with.
In my formative years the 2 most influential men in my life were my step-father and my Pop Pop. My Pop Pop was a God fearing man who was born in 1912 and grew up in rural GA. He experienced institutional racism on a much deeper level than I ever have. I learned from my Pop Pop that racism was very real; but he taught me not to allow racism to define me or to change how I felt about myself. He also instilled in me to value individuals based on their character and how they treated me. He showed me that there were good people and bad people of all races. Pop Pop would tell me that he has had some great white friends that helped him and cared for him and there were some black people that had hurt him deeply in his lifetime.
My Stepfather was an aggressive and angry person who was prone to violence at times in his life. In the 60’s he had been a part of the Black Panther movement. He was big on Black History and taught me a lot of “knowledge of self”. He told me stories about racism and talked to me about black people unifying to fight racism and to not back down when confronted with people that wanted to mistreat you and to do harm to you because of the color of your skin. He believed in responding to racism by force, he was closer to Malcolm X than Dr. Martin Luther King in his approach to combating racism.
I give this background as a way of laying the foundation of my “human” reasoning and understanding of racism. In order for both sides of this issue to move from dysfunction to functionality these talks must be had. Not only to we have to understand where the other race is coming from; we have to begin looking at the issue empathetically from both perspectives in order to come to a place of healing and civility. One of the core principles of biblical relationships is to “treat others as you would like to be treated” (Matthew 7:12) the only true way to accomplish this is to put yourself in the shoes of others.
In my time in ministry, I have very rarely come across a broken relationship where one person is 100% wrong and the other is 100% right. Usually both parties share at least a small percentage of the blame in any relationship where hurt, anger, and the root of bitterness prospers.
The civil rights movement was alive and well in the 1960’s; blacks in Selma ALA and in many other cities peacefully protested and even in the midst of violence, police corruption and a legal system that perpetuated institutionalized racism we stood strong and we saw many changes take place. We didn’t do it alone though, many non-blacks had to come along side of the movement and this spirit of unity made the movement successful. We have come a long way since 1960.
By no means am I suggesting that the problem of racism and injustice has been resolved. I for one have experienced both overt and covert racism as well as racial profiling. I have seen some very real examples of racial inequality in the criminal justice system. There are a ton of reasons why this happens and this is by no means the end all in solving these problems; I am simply providing some insight that I believe can help encourage the dialogue between whites and people of color.
The first thing that I had to understand as a Pastor is the fallen state of humanity. Racism, hate, anger, murder, etc. are all by products of sin. Mankind, if left unchecked and without the injection of God’s grace continues on a downward spiral of destruction. Man is not inherently good and the Bible tells us that the heart of the man is above all things “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Racism is one of the many evils that men perpetrate against each other. We start off with bad intentions as a default and no one of faith should ever be surprised when we see sinful humanity act accordingly. It will not be until the Lord’s return that ALL of the wickedness of this world system will be resolved and we are foolish to think otherwise.
From an African American point of view, we have seen the images. We have experienced the oppression, hurt, and pain of racism. I don’t believe there is any person of color of any notable age that has not experienced some form of racism. This evil has touched us all.
From a Biblical perspective the key word that empowers us over all the works of evil is “forgiveness”. Forgiveness is mandatory for all believers. Forgiveness does not mean that the person or persons did not wrong you; it means that you release that person’s offence against you therefore rendering the offence as harmless against you. It releases you from the bondage of anger and animosity. It takes away that person’s power to hurt you any longer. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter a parable about a person that owed a great amount of debt to the king and after begging for forgiveness he turns around and practices unforgiveness towards someone that owed him a small debt. Jesus then says that the person that had unforgiveness was thrown to the jailers where he was tormented until he could pay his debt. From this we can see that when we fail to forgive we are burdened by the offence that has been placed upon us and it actually puts us into emotional bondage. He then tells Peter that you are to forgive 70 times 7…a day. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray; “forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us”. The key word in the prayer is “as we” forgive those who have offended us.
Many of us in the Black community really need to observe forgiveness. Again, not because we have not been wronged but because we will never be able to grow into a healthy community as a whole until we do. Holding on to anger and bitterness for any reason will ultimately consume us. I truly believe that we have literally placed ourselves in emotional bondage due to not forgiving past offences. We have to learn to take people and situations as unique and individual, they are not always connected. Whenever we see riots and public unrest in the community, it usually is not that particular incidence but the collective feeling of disrespect that blacks believe they have experienced over time.
I have witnessed a lot of hypocrisy on both sides of the issue; especially in the black community. Although we want police officers and non-black people to value us based on who we are and not their pre-conceived notions of people of color. We still tend to relate to whites based on our preconceived notions and based on our past experiences. There is always a sense of hatred and distrust against “The Police”. I don’t believe that a person should pay for the crimes and the misdeeds of the people that have come before them. If you look at the current affairs that is exactly what is happening. Protests in MO and NYC and across America are not necessarily due to the singular interaction between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson but we are looking through the lens of “here we go again”; we are remembering Jim Crow and slavery, the oppression that plagued Black America for centuries. We are remembering Emmitt Till, and other stories like his. Even when there are inconsistencies in the story of what happened the only thing many blacks can focus on is “another black man gunned down by the system”.
Every black life does matter but let’s not allow the emotions of the situation to cause us to look at every occurrence through the lens of the past. Justice is based on the preponderance of the evidence of the individual case, not other cases that have no direct connection to the case at hand. I should not be convicted of a misdeed based on someone else’s actions nor can I extend the same injustice to white’s either.
Let’s be honest, statistically a black man in America has an exponentially greater chance of being killed by another black man than a white cop. 90% plus of all homicides perpetrated against black men comes from black men. If we really wanted to turn the tide of African American males dying we would have to address black on black crime first.
Network news stations and other media outlets have undoubtedly sensationalized the issue between white cops and black men. They choose to focus on the more sensational story while ignoring news stories that fail to produce higher ratings. Let’s do the math, in 2012 Chicago had 500 homicides. Of the homicides approximately 76% of the victims Black. That would mean approximately 380 of the murder victims were black. Now take the 90% of them that were perpetrated by other AAs which gives us 342 black murder victims at the hands of other blacks and only 38 blacks were killed by people of other races. I would say most likely of the 38 deaths not all of the perpetrators were white cops. If then we were to prioritize a strategy to save black men, shouldn’t we focus the majority of our time and attention on black on black crime? The problem however, is that black on black crime does not boost ratings nor does it sell subscriptions; racism does. In the year 2012, the Trayvon Martin story completely captured the media’s attention while the 380 black men killed in Chicago went virtually unnoticed. And that was just the deaths in one city, imagine how many black men were killed in 2012 that didn’t get a headline. Shouldn’t that have been a bigger story? Emotions can pervert our perception but numbers do not lie.
One of the issues that we really have to look at as the elephant in the room being the huge disconnect between cultures. White cops simply don’t relate to young black men. Black people are very demonstrative in how they express themselves and they are more aggressive, culturally. These differences help to precipitate the friction between white and black people. Both sides need to spend more time trying to understand the methods of expression and communication exhibited by the different cultures; BOTH SIDES. There also has to be a concerted effort by inner city police forces to aggressively recruit officers of color. Through working together with people from the community we can definitely help to bridge the gap between the races. Inversely, we must have men of color that are interested in becoming police officers so that black people are properly represented in law enforcement.
Law enforcement officers must make an effort to connect with the communities they serve at a deeper level. Once you know their struggles, their pain, their goals and desires it can help you to communicate with them and to better serve them. You will also get a much more positive response through relationships and trust. It is easier to offer correction and guidance to someone that you have a relationship with than someone you don’t really understand.
Biblically we must acknowledge that God equally loves all colors and cultures; the only true difference in us is the hue of this earth suit that we call our skin. Like Dr. King stated, we want to be judged by the content of our character instead of the color of our skin; this valuation of human worth has to work both ways, for the good and the bad. Wrongdoers in our community do not get a pass because of their race just like we do not want to be mistreated simply because our race either. We need to fight against injustice and crime no matter who it originates from. God is a God of justice and fairness; He is a God of righteousness and it is based on what is right and true regardless of the person’s identity. God is no respecter of persons (see Romans 2:5-11).
My charge to Black America: If black people believe that the Justice System is destroying our community and treating us like animals then the worst possible response is to destroy our own community and to act like animals. Rioting and violence is counter-productive and will never solve our problems. We must have an open and honest dialogue not based on anger and emotions. During the civil rights movement there was a focus on family and faith. We sang hymns and prayed for God’s help. We carried ourselves with dignity, we fought for equal opportunity and education and we did not endorse disrespect or bad behavior in our community. We need to employ those same strategies today as we did then.
We must also remember that police officers are human beings as well. We cannot expect them to become emotionless robots and for them to ignore threats, aggressiveness, and criminal behavior. Many of them have families they need to support and goals and dreams that they would like to live long enough to accomplish as well. We cannot burn, loot, and riot, to fight injustice and then expect the powers that be to look at us as innocent victims in the fight for justice. You ultimately will be judged by the content of your character as well.
Romans 12: 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Pastor Joseph Green is the Pastor and co-founder of Antioch Assembly in Harrisburg, Pa. He is a husband, a father, a businessman and an author. He is married to Gwendolyn Green and together they have 3 children. He is a 1985 graduate of Harrisburg High School and attended University of Pittsburgh and Towson University. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications and also spent four years in the United States Navy. Pastor Green is on the board of directors for the Bethesda Mission located in Harrisburg, Pa. and the founder of “The Josiah Project”, a mentoring project for troubled teens in the city of Harrisburg. He is the author of three books; “From Kilos to the kingdom”, an autobiography of a life transformed, “The Power of the original church, the church that will turn the world upside down”, and “Standing on the Rock”, a book that discusses race, religion, and politics. http://www.antiochassembly.com/