Below is an excerpt from the April 30 issue of the weekly eNote written for the congregation of Floris UMC.
It has been an unusually difficult week in local news. The death of Freddie Gray sparked violence in Baltimore that requires the presence of the National Guard. I think most of us find ourselves resonating with different aspects of the news that seem almost contradictory. I recall the reaction of the mother in Baltimore who drove to the mall where teenagers were throwing stones at the police. She made no apologies for forcibly removing her son from the mob and telling him that she had not raised him to behave in such a manner. This single mother, who lives in a low income neighborhood where she works to keep her kids from being sidetracked by crime and violence, has been a hero to many.
On the other hand, it is hard to look at a collection of stories in our news from around the nation over the past several months that involve the deaths of black men and not become disturbed and deeply concerned at the state of race relations in the United States. We are aware that every year across our country there are millions of traffic stops, criminal investigations and arrests that are performed by police officers who do so with professional respect, proper observance of civil liberty and a lack of violence or unjust force. The story of Officer Jesse Kidder, who could have opened fire on a man who charged at him when told to stop in New Richmond, Ohio, is a good example. What is disturbing is the severity of the small fraction of those who cross the boundary and use their power in ways that end life.
Watching these stories, many of us have been motivated to have conversations with friends who are in various racial minority groups to see if they have had experiences that were painful to them. Sadly, many have first-hand accounts of what it is like to be looked upon with suspicion by fellow citizens or law enforcement personnel that appeared to be racially motivated. As we continue to work toward being a church whose diversity represents our community, it is essential that we get to know each other. It is not sufficient that we condemn riots or sit comfortably in our living rooms while our country continues its historic struggle with race. We are not powerless. Over fifty years ago the segregated church in America was the prophetic voice for racial justice in our country. Without the church, the rights and liberties now afforded to all in our society would never have been granted. Now is the time for the church to become diverse and integrated, so that racial reconciliation and true equality can flourish. There will always be room for peaceful protests to draw our attention to social issues still present in the race struggle. But there must be something more as well. Right in your church, you can build relationships with people who don’t look like you. Together we can hear each other’s stories and realize that they often differ due to issues of race, culture and income. A call to relationships may seem an anemic response to many. But consider this: the most life-changing, opinion-altering, growth-filled moments of your life are probably all connected to people you came to know, respect and even love.
The desire of God, found throughout the New Testament, is for us to live in a just and compassionate community in which the love of Christ prevails over our differences. When our distinctive backgrounds become a source of mutual beauty rather than a basis of misunderstanding and distrust, we will know that God has been placed at the center of our lives. But that is not going to happen until we reach out, introduce ourselves, invite people to share a meal or a conversation and build real relationships. Those relationships begin with a prayer for a curious mind that wants to know others and their stories, without judgment or preconceived notions of how the world works for them. As your pastor, I am encouraging you to pray about the issue of race in America. I also encourage you to join me in praying about the issue of race in your own life. Reach out and proactively get to know another person who might be used as a means of God’s grace in your life. I believe God wants us to continue to progress and contribute toward the unfolding work of Christ that has the power to overcome the deep sins of our past.