I wanted to write immediately in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy. But I decided against it because many of us—most of us—don’t think as clearly while we are in the midst of emotion. That’s true for me, too. Placing a little time and distance from the event allows us to get a view from 30,000 feet. Some perspective is a good thing.
Looking back on it now, it’s easier to see this moment in the context of a larger story that has been unfolding in our country for a few years, now. I may not personally appreciate the reactions of President Trump and his tweets to this event, but the overall story didn’t begin with him. Events like Charlottesville only serve to further expose some deep wounds in the fabric of our country.
Many of us thought racism was a thing of the past. A relic from a less-informed day and one that we had gleefully left behind. And I happen to believe that we truly have made progress in race relations in this nation. But the obvious truth is, we are far from having eradicated racism among us. There are more official “hate groups” registered today than in any other time in our history.
Now, we can take a step back and see the trajectory of a number of incidents in which black men were shot and killed by white officers. It seemed like such an event was occurring once a week somewhere, even though that wasn’t the case—we just heard about them over and over and over until they all appeared to bleed together (poor choice of words). Were all of those line-of-duty shootings unjustified? Who can know? This led to a movement called “Black Lives Matter”. One would have to be completely tone deaf to deny that the anger within the black community is understandable. The justice system in our country is skewed. This is not an attractive truth about our nation, but it is a matter of public record and we must begin to acknowledge it.
But this issue is multilayered, too. I did a “ride along” last week with an officer with the West Precinct of Metro Police. This officer was a veteran of some 20 years and an African American. He was completely professional and over-the-top friendly. He and I had several hours together and we talked about the Black Lives Matter movement. His perspective—as an active police officer patrolling the city of Nashville on a daily basis and seeing a lot of stuff you and I don’t want to see—was that until the black community fully addresses “black on black” crime, of which he says there is much, then he has little respect for the movement. His way of saying, “we need to put our own house in order before we go throwing rocks at someone else’s.”
I deeply appreciated his candor and honesty and found myself thinking that if we could all step back and share his honesty about ourselves, we could avoid moments like Charlottesville.
In the end, a crazy, white supremacist turned a car into a weapon and drove it into a crowd he disagreed with for the express purpose of doing harm. One young woman was killed and dozens were injured. What do you say to that? She deserved it?
The latest “event” took place in Boston this past week. A “free speech” rally was planned by a group that many felt was a cover for more hate. Thousands upon thousands of citizens in Boston came out to protest the gathering. So overwhelming were their numbers that the original free speech group decided not to proceed.
I’m sure the protesters felt this was a victory. Maybe it was. But I found myself wondering how easily that rally could also have turned ugly and deadly. Imagine just one person in a rage behind the wheel of a car. These kinds of gatherings seem to serve only as fuses, while we all pray no one lights a match. Because one is all it takes.
Finally, we followers of Jesus have a mandate to live our lives in love and peace with our neighbors. When we ask a question like “what would Jesus do?” it forces us to really consider how he might respond to these kinds of events.
So, what do you think? What WOULD Jesus say and do among us today?
(We are anticipating creating a new Sunday School class this Fall that will focus on the important social issues of our day. This will be a safe place to discuss difficult topics.)