It is with a heavy heart that I write this today.
It has been a few weeks now since I first saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death. At the time I was highly emotional and was just flat devastated by what I saw. I was tempted to lash out and vent my very raw feelings in the moment. But being a man of God and knowing that feelings alone should never be a motivator I decided to control myself, pray, talk to my close friends and also gather all the facts of this case before I spoke on it.
So now here I sit, after all this, and I feel a very big need to speak on this situation. Mind you, I am not without sin and know I have much to grow in in my own life, but I must share my true heart in hopes of reaching some open ears and hearts today, as Jeremiah 20:9 said “It’s a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones, I become tried of holding it in.”
We have a very big problem in our world today, it’s one that has existed for many generations of humankind and one we must honestly face and take action to erase. It’s racism. It’s real, and it’s personal to me.
I was raised in the sixties and early seventies in a blue collar, Caucasian family. I love my parents and they were good people and although it was subtle, I was raised hearing racial slander in my house. Unfortunately, I believe most people are raised with some racial bias be it subtle attitudes or blatant hatred.
I was blessed that in my neighborhood there was one African American family that moved in and also that my elementary school in our city began a bussing program to integrate schools. I had an opportunity to spend time with people who didn’t look and talk exactly the way I did and it was a huge life lesson. As we spent time together, I think we all were able to overcome our preconceived notions and ideas and erase the ignorance that caused so much fear and division between our races. My high school experience was the same. I was able to have best friends from numerous races and backgrounds. It is interesting that children can easily grow and change if given the opportunity (Matt 18:3-4). Now the adults must follow suit!
I was then blessed as a young adult to become part of a church that was also racially diverse, which unfortunately is also very rare. Many of us were raised in a church with only people of our race which only adds to the problem. In that church I made more best friends from other races. We were striving to build a church that would be an example. Jesus broke down racial, gender and economic walls and his people and his church should imitate that! (Gal 3:28)
Today, the church I pastor, is a completely racially diverse group, with a diverse leadership group. It is sad that so many people are surprised and impressed when they see it because it is so rare. I recently was asked how we were able to accomplish this. The answer is simple, you must not accept anything less! Racism is sin pure and simple and our churches should reflect the difference that Jesus brings. (John 13:34-35)
I remember watching President Obama’s inauguration and just weeping, thinking that maybe we are making serious strides in race relations now that we have elected an African American president.
But here in lies the problem. We cannot look at the past, slavery, 60’s segregation etc… and say “but we’ve come so far”. The past cannot be our standard! Total equality and respect must be the standard and nothing less! It was what Martin Luther King preached, lived and died for.
So fast forward to today, as I watched Ahmaud Arbery being murdered on a nationally released video I was horrified, disgusted, frightened, angry and saddened. I was reminded once again of the sin of racism and hatred that continues to divide humanity and cost the lives of many minority men and women. But what about all the killings that don’t have videos exposing what really happened? Why must my African American brothers and sisters live in fear knowing that they can be abused and even murdered in this day and age without repercussion.
One of my best friends, an African American, who was Captain of his College team, a highly respected engineer in the community and a beloved leader in our church, had to face constant harassment from local law enforcement, being pulled over numerous times without reason simply because he was driving in a rural white community. He was hurt, scared, angry, and felt helpless as he told me about it. I did my best to listen and try to help. I can never truly understand what it is to feel what an African American person feels and deals with, but I can listen and do my best to try. I suggested he ask the help of his boss who was a former Professional athlete and a white male to use his influence to help, and thank God he did. Well, what a surprise when I heard the harassment stopped. Racism is real, and it is very dangerous. It needs to end.
Why should anyone have to deal with this injustice and harassment!
This is not simply an African American problem, it is a humanity problem and more people from all races should see the need to speak to it. It will only change when we raise a collective cry of change!
As my wife and I talked this situation over it was with much emotion and indignance as we realized that it could have been one of our best friends that this happened to! What if it had been Cameron, Dan, or Mike that was gunned down without reason?? It really hit home. We sat devastated at the thought and were overcome with concern and anguish. That’s when I knew I needed to speak up.
As a white male, I feel that it is vitally important that my voice is heard in support of my close friends from other races.
So what can we do, and how should we respond? These are big questions and I don’t claim to have all the answers but I know what I can do to start and I want to challenge all my friends, family, and church leaders everywhere to start doing “SOMETHING”!
First, we need action from the very top of our government. We need equality and equal standards in Judicial Actions. We cannot have different standards for different people. Who of us hasn’t been appalled when we hear of a celebrity or pro athlete gets a slap on the hand when a regular person would get jail time for the same offense? That is not righteous and we know it! So why should an African American from a lower income area serve years for an offense when a Caucasian from a higher income area simply gets a monetary fine for the same offense? This happens, it is reality and it needs to change.
You may say, “Yeah, but what can I as an individual do about that?” You can vote with more interest and knowledge of what people stand for, taking time to find the individuals who have a platform of change for the good. And most importantly we can pray for God to hear and help as the Israelites did in their time of slavery to the Egyptians, believing that he would act. It is the long game, and one which will take diligence and patience since we don’t have total immediate control over it, but it does work long term.
Second, and most importantly, is the one thing we actually have full control over, that is our personal life and actions.
When we preach, our life must back it up. When we want change, we must become the change. It is the one thing over which we have total control and that can be done immediately. Example is the greatest teacher.
What does our life look like to others? Do we have a diverse community of friends? Do we care about all people equally? Do we strive to learn about other people and cultures other than our own? Do we see humanity as God does, all simply souls on a journey of life? Are we willing to get out of our comfort zones to be there for other people unlike ourselves? These are all questions we should take seriously and realize that they are the way to a different world, a world in which we are judged not by the color of our skin or our economic status, but by the content of our character.
I am grateful that my children were raised not even concerned with color but instead raised in a home built on love and respect of all people. My children have best friends from many races and have dated and also married people with different racial makeups. It is clear that our one life can influence those around us and in our homes to also change and grow.
I’m grateful that our church, The Buffalo church of Christ, reflects what heaven will surely be, a place where people from all cultures, races and places will be together in true harmony.
I’m grateful that I have ministry friends from diverse backgrounds and races.
I am grateful for our leaders in the Buffalo church of Christ who come from numerous backgrounds and races but lead with one heart and mind as family.
I’m grateful that God gives us the opportunity to change and grow and influence others to do it one heart at a time.
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand or turn a blind eye to the issue. Ahmaud Arbery is just one case in a long list of racial atrocities over many decades, it’s time to do our part to bring righteous change by being the change.
I want to encourage you all this final thought of Hope for change. My parents who I spoke of earlier were raised in a time of much racism, they were taught it and they were guilty of it. They were older and so called “Set in their ways” when they began to attend our racially diverse church. After a few years of being around people from different backgrounds I began to see them change and grow. Their old school notions began to disappear and the years of ignorance washed away. They became best friends with people of different races and no longer saw color, but instead saw equal human souls. They had changed even at an old age. Let us never give up on humanity, let us simply start with hope and an individual effort.
To all my friends of different races, I want you to know that my family stands with you, our church stands with you, and God is still on the throne. Let’s persevere, do our part righteously, and trust in the king until we can all one day say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last”.
Buffalo church of Christ