We Have Not Loved Our Black Neighbors

Perhaps it has not been intentional or malicious, but it has become clear--most white Christians have not loved their black neighbors as themselves.

Too easily we rationalize away the injustices and suffering we see in our headlines: "Tamir Rice had an airgun that looked like a real gun" or "Michael Brown had stolen cigars and was at fault by going toward the officer and trying to take his gun." There is truth in those statements but the stories are much larger. We must not divert our gaze from the sad reality that neither officer administered first-aid to Tamir, a child, while he lay bleeding to death on the ground. We must see clearly that Michael Brown's dead body lay in the street for four hours in the middle of the day; his grieving mother was not allowed to be with him. We must see the children, scarred by the image of a body covered in a sheet lying in the middle of the street all afternoon while officers and paramedics--those entrusted to help--simply stand by.

If basic humanity, care, and decency are not demonstrated for a black child bleeding to death or a dead black man lying in the street, why do we assume that decency and humanity are being demonstrated to black people who are living?

And for white Christians who wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts and make Facebook posts supporting the movement, your actions can easily be self-serving and even exploiting the black community if you are not making substantive changes in your lives and in your churches.

Others want to quiet voices like the Black Lives Matter movement and find fault in their message for it makes us uncomfortable, but the sad fact is, the black church has been making the same cry for justice and equality for centuries and we have ignored them as well.

The black community's call for justice can help white Christians begin to see the historical and enduring systemic injustices occurring within black communities, if we just take time to listen. As Christians, we have a responsibility to learn about the injustices experienced by our black neighbors.

Take time to learn about the "achievement gap" for students from economically depressed communities, then help bring about social progress for these children. How can they break the cycle of poverty if the schools they attend do not meet basic academic standards?

Learn how black men are more likely to be incarcerated than white men who commit the same crimes.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes, "Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates...In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men."

The Black Lives Matter movement and other voices rising up in the black community must not be glibly dismissed by assuming they don't believe that all lives matter; they are just helping us see that black lives have been living under systemic injustices for far too long. That should matter, especially to Christians.

So what first-steps can you take to love your black neighbors and live a life of repentance, reconciliation, and justice?:

1. Repent - Ask God and others to forgive you if you have done nothing about the injustice (or benefited from it!) in and around your community or in neighboring communities. Model repentance for your church and if you are in a position of leadership, call upon those who follow you to repent.

2. Reconciliation - Reconciling with those in the black community or other marginalized groups is more than a conversation or combined worship service. Reconciliation is a challenging journey and a way of life that we must embrace through relationships.

3. Relationships - In a genuine friendship, love and trust are not in question and tough conversations can occur. Interracial friendships take time to build, so begin doing that individually and with your church community.

4. Read - Don't just read white authors and people of your own theological, social, and political persuasion. Learn from other voices that may help you see with a new perspective.

The journey of loving black and other marginalized communities begins with first recognizing and confessing our sin, but that is only the beginning. We must then live lives of repentance, reconciliation, and justice.

Allow me to point you to authors and speakers who are able to take you further than I can on your journey of reconciliation and justice:

Let Justice Roll Down - by John Perkins

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - by Michelle Alexander

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria - by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Roadmap to Reconciliation - by Brenda Salter McNeil

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart - by Christena Cleveland

I also encourage you to attend the "The Duke Summer Institute of Reconciliation" and visit the home of Dr. John Perkins for a justice tour of West Jackson, MS.

Finally, below are links to two outstanding messages given at Urbana 2015 by Dr. Christena Cleveland and Rev. Michelle Higgins.