Like many people this week, I watched as the seam of a fragile façade of racial peace ripped a little more. The rip--and the chasm that is being created from it--were built into the façade from its very beginning. Sins never stay hidden. They will come broiling up from the depths, some sooner and some later, but they all will rise to the surface. The sin of racism in America is something that rises maybe more often than most of America's sins. This is for good reason since this country was built on the backs of slaves and indentured servants. Their blood, sweat and tears are poured into the very foundations that only the Founding Fathers get credit for. Their call and response, hollers, spirituals and hymns seep up through the dirt and the concrete haunting the land from East to West, North to South.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are soon to be in the ground if they are not already. As all blood spilled through violence does, their blood screams from the ground. It screams for justice. Unfortunately, their blood is only being repaid with more blood. Ironically enough, it's the blood of members of one the best police departments in the nation, one that sought to be part of the communities they patrolled, to de-escalate and disarm potential violent situations instead of the shoot-first-ask-questions-later style of enforcement that has become the norm in our nation. The type of police force that the Black Lives Matter movement sought. Yet innocent blood cries from the ground this week (as it does every day, though not always broadcast). Human life was taken unnecessarily. Our country's sins have claimed more of God's image bearers on both sides of the chasm which has spread out before us.
As disheartened as I was by the news of the deaths of those five police officers, I was more disheartened by the responses made in its aftermath. The anger and vengeance implied in the responses toward the Black Lives Matter movement and the "keyboard warriors" (a derogatory name ironically used by those who are "keyboard warriors" for white privilege and keeping the status quo) who take up it's cause. #AllLivesMatter was plastered all over the Facebook walls of the mostly white populace. The implication being that no person is superior to another. While true, where was this response when the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were grieving for those they lost? Where was that response with Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and the many other minorities who have been unnecessarily killed by those who were suppose to protect and serve them.
Even if any laws were broken, when did the job of the police shift from de-escalation and disarmament to public execution? And of all of the recent black deaths, the punishment has not fit the crimes. At no point is resisting arrest, running away, etc. deserve death as its penalty. These are the tactics that the DPD sought to get rid of in order to lessen the need for lethal force. And, yet, these are the ones who took the bullet for the failures of their fellow brothers and sisters in blue.
The Black Lives Matter movement's message was blindsided, unfortunately, by the actions of one rogue individual, Micah Xavier Johnson, an army reservist who had been deployed to Afghanistan (I'll leave alone the irony of this man's military status and the hatred shown towards him for now). It appears he was driven to such a violent response because of the seemingly daily death of his brothers and sisters. He spoke of his dissatisfaction with the Black Lives Matter Movement as well with white people, especially white cops. He took the lives of the very police officers who were attempting to address the situation by shifting their policing tactics. Between Micah Johnson and each officer who has killed another black or latino son, daughter, father or mother, needlessly, the chasm only widens more.
Johnson's criticism of Black Lives Matter and the very apparent disconnect between the movement's principles and the snipers actions did not stop multitudes of anger and backlash against BLM. "All Lives Matter"--the shout of BLM's critics--is a response that only works if the playing ground is truly equal. We have seen in this recent week that this simply is not a verifiable fact. Black Lives Matter because they never have mattered as much as white lives throughout American history. You can't make an historical case saying otherwise. It's impossible. "All Lives Matter" coming from the lips of insidious white privilege is a cry to keep the status quo and to once again silence the blood of minorities that scream from the ground, to ignore the suffering and cries of people who we have always seen as inferior, consciously or unconsciously. It's good to hold prayer vigils in front of police departments in the wake of the Dallas shootings, but where are the prayer vigils for the lost lives of our black and latino communities? Why can't compassion and public prayer be shown for those who are actually the least of these?
Once again, by implication, we as the white majority are saying those lives don't matter as much. And we clarify this by creating justifications. They were criminals. We show their mug shot instead of them serving the children of their community. We advertise their sins while a white woman who murders her children gets her glamour shot in the paper and we are told that she was otherwise a supportive, loving mother or something similar. We talk about the service record of the policeman who has come under fire for shooting a black man and hide behind his badge so that we don't have to deal with the evil that corrupts everything underneath the very fabric of society. If all lives really matter, then you should be grieving the death of an image bearer regardless of who they were or what they did. Instead, we are making it about ourselves, our whiteness, because, if we are honest, that's what we are really defending, just like our fathers and their fathers before them. The LORD has strong words for this kind of behavior though:
You can rationalize and justify this to not be you. We are all skilled at that. But anyone who takes the life of an image bearer of God is an enemy of God. It is an offense to God. And the above states the end of God's enemies. It's time white people, myself included, strike down the idol of their whiteness and the power and privilege that comes with it. It's the only way we can approach the chasm and seek to cross it and heal. Until then, America's racial sins will continue to take life and ruin the lives of both sides of the chasm.
Post Script: and, now, for the horror tie-in...
Since this is largely a horror blog, I did want to relate all of this to an aspect of horror I have thought quite a bit about dealing with the Lovecraftian approach to horror which also has ties with Christian conceptions of divine revelation. The Lovecraftian ideal is a recognition of humanity's limits in knowledge--that there are aspects that are just outside of the boundaries of humanity's reasoning--and those things beyond the boundaries of our knowledge revealing themselves to us. This is strangely Christian in that God reveals himself to a creation and creatures who are limited in what they can know and seek, who suppress their knowledge of their Creator, consciously AND unconsciously. He reveals Himself to us and that is where the origins of salvation are bred. Without that revelation, we would not know or seek the salvation available to us. The central division between Lovecraftian and Christian conceptions of revelation is the substance of that revelation. Lovecraft's revelation was dread-inducing and terrifying. The Christian conception involves the means unto salvation, a grace and mercy offered freely and unconditionally to broken and sinful people. A good news.
So what does this have to do with the racial divide? It seems to me that one course of action is to see the perspectives and stories and experiences of minorities as a revelation that happens to us as a white majority. We need to shut up and take in this revelation, this raw human data, and allow it to change us. This revelation will be somewhere between the Lovecraftian revelation and the Christian idea of divine revelation. This is because the substance of the revelation will be descriptive of the effects of sins that we, whites, want to suppress and ignore. This information will bring dread because the hard truth of slaying idols is that it implicates us all in that idolatry. We need to see our power and privilege in society for what it is. We need to call a spade, a spade. It's an uncomfortable proposition. One that I have come to face in my own life within the last few years--and, still, to this day--when I came face to face with my own part in the sins of our current society. That knowledge is dreadful and not easy to hear. But revelation requires some form of death.
However, if we are receptive to this revelation and lean into the dread of its implications on our lives, then this revelation can change us for the better. We start to see people....as people. We can see clearer the systemic sins of society (if you don't believe in systemic sins, especially racism, then you need to go back into Scripture and struggle with the nature of curses in covenants) and it's effects on our brothers and sisters who don't hold the power or privilege that we as white people do. We are given freedom to mourn the deaths of both the Sterlings and Castiles of the world and the lives of those police officers who are killed in the line of duty as well. We can seek to understand the reasons people do what they do and seek to call out the sinfulness of that which they do. We can seek to make less of ourselves and more of others. Is that not a central message of the Gospel and the very nature of Christ's sacrifice for all according to the Scriptures? Christ can say all lives matter because he first showed this to be true by dying for all people. Don't say all lives matter until you are actually willing to make good on the actual meaning of that, until you are willing to grieve with, love and die for all lives.