Tag Archives: racism

The Beatitudes: Re-thinking Law Enforcement Officers & Race Relations

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I posted this picture on my Facebook account last week, which prompted a lot of pushback from a friend of mine who has worked as a police officer.  The topic of our conversation, like many I’ve had with friends and acquaintences that currently or have worked as police officers, is their objection to the idea that there exists a mass movement of police brutality toward African-Americans and other people of color across the country.  They object to the idea that every single person who puts on the uniform is taught a way of doing their job that prejudiced and biased towards people of color, and that the law unilaterally protects them so they are free to commit such acts.  My friend and many of the police officers I converse object to the idea that all cops are racist.

I would contend that perhaps the acts of violence themselves aren’t systemic, but the attitude of racial prejudice is systemic, but systemic in our society, not solely within the ranks of law enforcement officers.  I think that police, like most organizations, are a cross-section of society.  That means yes, racist folks exist within their organization.  But it also means that not all cops are racist. Yet, I do wonder if we have issues within law enforcement departments that work to protect and ignore the comments and actions of those who are racist, rather than hold them accountable for such attitudes and action.

However, my conversations with friends and acquaintances have me wondering where the gospel is for those who wear the badge when we talk about racism.  Where is the word of grace and reconciliation for them, just as it is offered for all people?

A mentor of mine, in our conversation about law enforcement officers and race, raised this thought to me: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  This verse from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the passage known as the Beatitudes, is usually taught to us as God’s blessing on those who we deem peaceful – folks like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and the like.  Seldom do we think of folks like police officers, sheriffs and their deputies, or even military in such a way.  They carry weapons, they wear intimidating uniforms, they work for the very powers and empires that freely use violence in the name of keeping peace, right?

But when he said “peacemakers,” what if Jesus was talking about the Roman guards that were around them everyday?  What if Jesus was saying, “Those guys over there in uniform, who represent the empire you despise, yet keep the peace in a way that doesn’t abuse power, but rather serves and protects each of you?  Blessed are they…because they are children of God.  I’m including them as well.”  Maybe you object to that notion, but we know such people existed, because it’s right there in the Bible.  In chapter 7 of Luke’s gospel, there’s an account about a Roman Centurion whose daughter is sick, and the Jewish people appeal to Jesus to heal her on the grounds that “he is worthy for you to do this, for he loves our people.”  What if today, Jesus’ same blessing is for police officers today?

A member of my congregation, a police officer who serves in Norfolk, VA: “Pastor, so I was out the other day, and this little black kid comes up to me and strikes up a conversation.  I got out of my car and started talking with him, because I want him to trust me.  But then his mom comes up, snatches him away by the arm, and I hear her say, ‘You don’t ever talk to those people.’ Now how am I supposed to get past that attitude?  And isn’t she just making the problem worse?  I want the neighborhood I patrol to trust me, and I’m trying.”

Blessed are the peacemakers.

A former police officer shared this story, “Our department was going to arrest this kid who was ID’d at the scene of a crime.  The plan was to go in, full breach, because they feared he might run.  My partner spoke up and said, hey, my partner works that area, he knows these people.  After skepticism that it would work, I eventually got the go ahead to go to the house.  The mother let me in, even after I told her the news was bad and we had to arrest her son.  There was a pistol on his dresser, but because it was me, and we didn’t go in breaking their door down, we were able to avoid someone getting killed.”

Blessed are the peacemakers.

I wonder if there is a difference between “peacemakers” and “law enforcement,” not so much as what one does in their job, but instead as attitudes or postures one adopts as they look at their role and responsibility. Those who enforce the Law are suspicious, taking on a “guilty until proven innocent” posture.  They enforce the law as means of imposing the law with the goal to subdue.  Peacemakers look at their role differently.  They work to “serve and protect” the neighborhoods they patrol, and the law is a means to ensure people are kept safe, that peace is kept and maintained.  Peacemaking is a means to allow people to live freely, rather than a means of suppression and control.  Law Enforcement’s aim is to impose a way of life on people; peacemaking’s aim is to live life with people in community.

As much as I think we have an obligation to listen to the stories of people of color and the ways they are discriminated against, we also have an obligation to listen to those who wear the police uniform and strive to keep peace  We have that obligation because Jesus has mandated “blessed are the peacemakers” and they are children of God.  As the church, it is that status and identity that frames our relationships, and the Body of Christ and the prophetic proclamation of God’s justice – especially in the topic of race – suffers if we condemn or silence any one part of it.

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Violence & Hatred: When Prayer Isn’t Enough

 I am writing on my own behalf, and the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the Navy Chaplain Corps.

I’m angry.  I’m frustrated.

Last month, I was proud of those I call brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  When the news of the Emmanuel AME church shootings in Charleston broke the morning after they happened, within the day there were many speaking out against violence and hatred caused by racism on social media as the facts of the victims, shooter, and events became known.  Many individuals spoke out; we were shocked that this happened in the church, that among the victims were those who had relationships with the ELCA, and that the shooter himself was a member of an ELCA congregation.  Even our own presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, released a letter speaking out about how racism is a problem in our nation, and that we need to start having conversations about racism – to be honest and speak out.  “This happened to our own” we cried. I was proud to call myself an ELCA Lutheran.

But today I’m not so sure.

Yesterday, yet another shooting occurred in our nation, this time in Chattanooga, TN.  The shooting was directed at a Navy Operational Support Center where Reservists like myself perform their training and service to the nation.  As the facts of the victims, shooter, and events were released, I was shocked. Four Marines were killed….those I call brothers and sisters in our Navy and Marine Corps.  The shooter, who held a twisted, radical view of Islam that in his mind justified his hate as jihad – Holy War.  More violence happening as a product of extreme hate and fear.  Since I’m in training right now and my time to see what others are saying is limited, it wasn’t until last evening I finally got around to see what others were saying.

Virtual radio silence. I scrolled pretty far down, and rapidly on Twitter and Facebook. Nothing.

I was angry.  I was frustrated.  And so I lashed out on social media myself.

Of course, my anger solicited responses from those in my denomination. I will admit, people correctly questioned and called out I unfairly unleashed a harsh critique against my church, the National Youth Gathering it is holding currently, and its official words on social media.  I own that.  However, it was many of those individuals I call brothers and sisters that disappointed me.  And it was this sentiment that got me:

“It was mentioned.  It was prayed about a number of times.  What else do you want us to do?”

I am no longer angry.  I am no longer frustrated.  I am disappointed.

Just a month ago, my church spoke out against violence and hate.  Yesterday and today, my church continues to fail to do that same thing in the wake of Chattanooga.  But hey, they prayed about it.  They’ve done their part.  What else do you want us to do?

Now that I’m a bit removed from my emotions, I think I can answer that question.  What I hope for is that we recognize violence and hatred in this case and have the courage to speak out against it.  Radical religious belief is just as dangerous as racism in this country.  In fact, it might be more so because it has global ramifications.  ISIS, al Qaida….formally recognized terrorism that gains momentum from such attacks as the one yesterday, whether it originated from these groups or not.  I want us to talk, have conversations about religious fanaticism being just as dangerous as extreme racism.  I am disappointed that we as a church are unable to say anything to our nation about our Muslim brothers and sisters who are peaceful, and to call others not to perpetuate a new form of racism that could result in retaliatory attacks on Muslims and mosques.  I am disappointed because the death of military service members who volunteer to give their lives is a subtitle in our nation’s consciousness.  We do it because frankly, we’re too scared to call the shooter what he really is because he is muslim – and not white.  We feel sorry for the Marines and their families but we don’t want to feel too much, because that might mean we support what they do.  Our progressive values are in conflict with the reality of violence and hatred.  I am disappointed because their death seems to be only worthy of a 2-3 minute moment of silence.  We use prayer as a way of passing the buck on our responsibility as people of God to speak prophetically into what happened in Chattanooga even though we know exactly what happened there.

What I am not saying is that prayer isn’t appropriate.  We should and need to pray to God in times like these…just as we did with Charleston. But we have work to do.  Religious extremism and intolerance is a new “ism” that poses a threat to a just and peaceful world that God desires for us all.  It may not be as old as the ties of racism, but it nonetheless should demand our attention.

That is what I want from you, oh individuals in my church.

I realize the deaths of 4 Marines may not be as personal to you as the deaths of 9 African-Americans in a church.  Yet, we can no longer pick and choose when we decide to speak out when violence and hatred drop on our doorstep.  I don’t think Christ gives us that luxury.  We have to acknowledge it, speak prophetically against it, engage in conversation to learn and listen as we proclaim Christ’s resurrection and grace as a way forward – and that God calls us to work alongside God in that coming reality.  Prayer isn’t enough anymore – I believe Christ demands more from us as disciples of the cross.  We have to do that….or risk becoming a church that’s more inclined to be guided by the self-preservation of our progressive piety rather than by Christ crucified and raised.

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Observing MLK Day: A Different Approach

Today is MLK Day. It’s a day to remember this great man who led the African-American Civil Rights movement, and stood for so much more. I’m sure there’s lots of people who will offer reflections on MLK Jr – his life, his work, his faith, etc. But perhaps there’s a different way, and that’s to listen to the actual words of the man himself, and what they inspire and invoke in us today. Perhaps that’t the real significance of Martin Luther King Jr and his life – what he inspired a whole nation to in the 1960’s, and what he inspires us to today.

So if you can spare 20 minutes today, watch this video. Trust me, it’s worth your time.

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