The Christian Century initiates a conversation for pastors of predominately “white” congregations to talk about racial violence in general and Ferguson specifically in an article titled “How pastors talk about Ferguson.” C. Browning Helsel offers “A Word to the Whites: Preaching about Racism in White Congregations,” challenging those who identify as socially colored white to consider their racial identity development and to create a “nonracist White racial white identity.” The website http://www.preaching.com offers a sermon illustration that encourages persons to become “gracists,” outlining the points of David Anderson’s book Gracism: The Art of Inclusion.
In light of the ruling of no indictment in the choking death of Mister Eric Garner at the hands of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, we need a word from the Lord regarding our belief in race and the implications of this social faith. The video of Eric Garner has gone viral and the hash tag #crimingwhilewhite is trending. In the video, Eric Garner is being choked, an illegal form of restraint banned by the NYPD and his death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Eric Garner even says several times in the video, “I can’t breathe.” The decision of the grand jury not to indict the officer has led to more peaceful protests and rightly so.
No badge, no uniform should get in the way of common sense and our common humanity. We do not have the right to take the life of another person; there is no law that is above this, no matter the land or the people. With that being said, we must consider what is not. Are we saying what is necessary to encourage a change in our cross- cultural relationships and communication, in the ways in which law enforcement officials “protect and serve,” in enforcing “equal protection under the law” for African Americans? How is your church assisting in this dialogue in order to create and/or increase the effects of this change? What are your leaders singing about, praying for, preaching about? Because we cannot depend on a video, a medical examiner’s report or a grand jury of our peers. But, I digress.
Do you have resources or ideas as to how persons can preach about the effects of race on our faith and our fellowship so that we might transform this nation and our world? Can you offer training opportunities for police officers that would sensitize them to other cultures and communities? Are there prayers that you can offer for the police departments in America and those citizens who have historically been unlawfully stopped, detained, arrested, injured and murdered? Are there scripture passages that might assist us in bridging the cultural gaps, in eradicating stereotypes and prejudices?
And we need to do more than shake our heads from the comfort of our homes, hand down family verdicts or pronounce community judgment on social media. We need to do more than hold a sign and chant. Each of us need to protest against our own prejudices, to call for a change in the way we view persons from other cultures, to get the hatred out of our hearts before we attempt to remove it from some one else’s. It’s easy to talk about the sins of these police officers but how have our faith communities aided and abetted in this kind of lawlessness?
Yes, these will be hard words but we have to say them because we need to practice before we preach.