Written by: Jana Holley
I know that like me, many of you have watched the news over the last few months and years and seen report after report of some of our fellow Americans being mistreated or gunned down. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown and Ferguson. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray and Baltimore. McKinney. Charleston. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Laquan McDonald. And on and on it goes.
I know that even reading that list, some of you are raising arguments. I know, because I used to do the same. I’ve watched every report, read every article, voiced an opinion or two and then largely, gone on with my life. I’ve questioned the accusations of police brutality – after all, aren’t they isolated incidents as opposed to patterns of systemic problems? I’ve questioned the character of the victims. I’ve seen mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and members of the community hurting and outraged to the point of rioting and without listening to the cries of the oppressed, called them criminals. Without considering history and without seeking understanding, I’ve judged whole communities based on the actions of a few.
I was comfortable turning a blind eye. I felt safe in defending the status quo. It’s not my problem. And so the list goes on and on. Who will be next?
My friends, I get that we are afraid. We’ve turned this into an “us” v. “them” problem and that makes us afraid to lose, afraid to give up control. We are afraid of “them.” We don’t get “them.” We don’t get their culture, their emotion, their music, their experience. So I stay comfortable, casting judgements and enjoying my place of privilege.
And it IS a place of privilege. I don’t have a fear when I’m pulled over by the police. In fact, every time I’ve been pulled over, I’ve known exactly why I’m being stopped. I’ve never had to think to myself, “keep your hands on the wheels, slow movements only.” My friends of color have had very different experiences.
I’ve never been denied an opportunity because of my color. In fact, I’ve had every opportunity I wanted available to me. I’ve never been deemed an “up to no good thug” because I wore a hoodie. I’ve never been just talking to an officer and had him put his hand on his taser “just in case.” I’ve never had even my worship song suggestions ignored because they were unknown to the white church. My friends of color have experienced all of these.
And the thing is, the list of casualties, the systemic racism, to my African American friends, is nothing new. It is a part of their experience. It is their painful history. It’s OUR painful history.
It’s just new to me. And my heart is broken.
The last two years or so I’ve also had the opportunity to gain a few friendships with a diverse mix of friends. These friends have changed me. Listening to their stories has changed me. Having my friend weep across the pew from me after Charleston, has changed me. Their love of me, their patience with me and simply listening to their stories, generations of stories and pain – has changed me. Recognizing my own sin and place of privilege has changed me.
Friends, if you are like me, we can turn a blind eye no longer. We can no longer defend the status quo. The time for justice is always today. Our brothers and sisters are hurting. They are dying. We must listen to their cries, we must seek understanding, we must join them in the demand for justice. We must actively seek reconciliation because a “house divided cannot stand.”
There can be no reconciliation without justice. And there can be no justice without humility. We must confess our sins. We must be willing to hear what our friends are saying. We must listen to the cries of the oppressed and acknowledge the sins of the oppressor.
And we must acknowledge our wrongs both personally, and as a nation. Wrongs like Article 1 of our Constitution that says a person of color is only three-fifths of a person. Wrongs like the racist housing policies in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s that denied loans to people of color and limited the areas where they could purchase a house, effectively creating ghettoes. Wrongs like Supreme Court justices suggesting that people of color could not cut it at the most prestigious universities and are more suited for lesser schools. Wrongs like a governor not protecting his state’s low income, minority children from lead poisoned water. Wrongs like the systemic patterns of police abuse,brutality and cover-up.
Friends, we should all be heartbroken. We are all God’s children, created equally in His image for His glory. When one of us hurts, we should all hurt. Where injustice exists, we should seek to make it right. When we don’t understand our brothers and sisters we must have enough courage to ask questions. When one weeps for a life lost unnecessarily, we should all weep. We are all connected. We must stop letting fear keep us from doing what is right. And we must stop being afraid of embracing a “both/and” mentality. This isn’t an “either you’re for us or against us” world. We can say that Black Lives Matter AND be for the police but against police brutality.
We are one brotherhood, all connected, made in His image. And when we are one, we are beautiful. Remember the solidarity of the nation right after 9/11? It isn’t cowering in fear and drawing secure lines and protecting the status quo that makes us great. It’s when we stand up for what is right, when we shout justice and wave freedom’s banner from the mountaintops, when we act as one in spite of our fear that causes us to stand uniquely beautiful in the world. It is our unity that makes us strong.
And this is the unity that Jesus prayed we would embody. This is how, as followers of Christ we are supposed to be. We cannot rightly represent Jesus without seeking and doing the hard work of racial reconciliation. And as my friend, Latasha says, “the church cannot be a credible witness of Jesus to the world without racial reconciliation.” If we want to follow Jesus wholly, then like in Micah 6:8 we must be about what the Lord requires of us: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
In closing, friends, I end with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
My friends, it is time for us to shine.
Jana Holley is a rare occurrence – a native Austinite who still lives in Austin. Over the past 20 years she has lived overseas, been a missionary, worked in the Austin film industry, taught 6th grade theater and worked for a church. She is a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend. A writer and creative. A dreamer. A lover of Jesus and fellow traveler in the adventure that is following Him. She steadfastly believes in redemption, beauty from ashes, and will fight for it when needed. She keeps a blog at janaholley.com where she goes to put down her thoughts about life, following Jesus, and occasionally even politics (and promises to write more!). She is currently seeking her next adventure.