loving our neighbor

A Pastoral Letter to White Americans

Marie Havens / Shutterstock.com

July 14, 2013 protest in Union Square, New York City following the George Zimmerman verdict. Marie Havens / Shutterstock.com

The stories of young black men being killed by white police are sparking a national conversation. However, public responses to these painful stories reveal an alarming racial divide. From an unarmed teenager killed in Ferguson, Mo.; to a 12 year-old boy shot dead in Cleveland; to a white police officer on video choking a black man to death in New York City; and a startling series of similar stories from across the country and over many decades — our reactions show great differences in white and black perspectives.

Many white Americans tend to see this problem as unfortunate incidents based on individual circumstances. Black Americans see a system in which their black lives matter less than white lives. That is a fundamental difference of experience between white and black Americans, between black and white parents, even between white and black Christians. The question is: Are we white people going to listen or not?

White Americans talk about how hard and dangerous police work is — that most cops are good and are to be trusted. Black Americans agree that police work is dangerously hard, but also have experienced systemic police abuse of their families. All black people, especially black men, have their own stories. Since there are so many stories, are these really just isolated incidents? We literally have two criminal justice systems in America — one for whites and one for blacks.

Are there police uses of force that are understandable and justifiable? Of course there are. If our society wasn’t steeped in a gun culture, many of these shootings could be avoided. But has excessive, unnecessary, lethal force been used over and over again, all across the country, with white police killing unarmed black civilians? Yes it has, and the evidence is overwhelming. But will we white people listen to it?

God's Word vs. the American Bible

Man highlighting Scripture, James Steidl / Shutterstock.com

Man highlighting Scripture, James Steidl / Shutterstock.com

As Christians, we’ve been taught to follow the commands written in the Bible, but it’s easy to pick and choose which verses we want to follow, and we tailor ‘holiness’ according to our particular comforts and cultural preferences.

For example, there are hundreds of verses, stories, and illustrations in the Bible that talk about giving abundantly to the poor, being absurdly generous with our resources, and not idolizing money, and yet we have a tendency to focus on the few verses that mention being ‘good stewards’ of our money (Prov. 10:4-5; 13:22).

1 Tim. 5:8 says: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Phew! This verse is all we need. It provides an opportunity for us to succumb to society’s expectations under the false pretense of being righteous — it’s a Biblical escape clause.

We search for these texts and treat them like precious treasures because they accommodate our lifestyle and help us rationalize our action (or inaction) — but we often rip them out of the larger context and disregard God’s greater intention.

Much of Jesus’s ministry centers on reconciling relationships, forgiving — and loving — enemies (Matt: 5:43-48), empathizing with those who we don’t normally understand (Philippians 2:3-4, John 8:1-11; Matt. 19:14; John 4) and loving others (John 13:34; 1 John 4:19-21). It’s hard to deny these truths, but when reality hits and we encounter those we dislike, we rely on verses that warn against bad company (1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20; Psalm 1:1) and spending time with evildoers. It’s easier to fall back on these verses than it is to recognize the ones calling us to wholeheartedly love others.

Loving our Muslim Neighbors

Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A few weeks ago, we asked you to sign a petition asking the Department of Justice to investigate hate crimes against the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque. Federal officials are offering $15,000 for information leading to the man who set the mosque on fire July 4th.

Beau Underwood wrote for Sojourners two weeks ago: “The biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves requires Christians to speak out against these attacks. By protecting the rights of American Muslims to worship in the United States, we provide a powerful witness to those countries where Christian minorities face attack and persecution, such as Nigeria, Egypt, Somalia, and Kenya. If we expect others to take our advocacy for global religious freedom seriously, then our efforts must begin in our own backyard.”

More than 5,500 of you signed this petition, which is incredible! But we don’t have to stop there.

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