It takes a lot to make me angry. I’ve never been in a fight. Never wanted to be in one. And while I had a great time knocking the stuffing out of my friend Travis (and simultaneously getting the stuffing knocked out of me) while we were taking Karate a few years ago, I am a person of peace. There have been a few times when someone hurt me enough to kindle my fury, which is typically dealt with internally, but in general if people do something that insults or disrespects me, I typically assume it is simply a product of their ignorance or immaturity and not worth my time. I just don’t tend to take those things personally. I consider myself peacemaker.
Being a peacemaker is biblical and is an important principle. However, there are some inherent challenges that those of us with this personality type face that I believe are also inherent to the Christian community. Being a peacemaker is not an excuse for inaction. Often times keeping peace can be a way for us to avoid a challenging situation. Our lack of action is less about being peaceful and more about protecting our own selfish wants. Or, it is just a symptom of us being so self-absorbed that we don’t notice the needs in the world around us. Two separate things have happened the last few weeks that have brought this to the forefront of my mind.
The first happened as a result of a presentation I watched by Tye Gibson a couple weeks ago. It was actually regarding creation, but he included a portion that addressed the way women (and children) are treated. He made the statement that there are right now more women and children in slavery, most of them as sex slaves, than the entire number of African Americans that were involved in the infamous American slave trade. (PLEASE NOTE: I’m not downplaying that event, and I’ll get to George Floyd in a bit.) This made me sad. Then it made me mad. The fact that there are thousands of people suffering and most of us don’t even know about it, and even if we do, we give it very little thought. The idea of women and children being taken advantage of, traded like commodities just makes my heart hurt.
Then, a few days later, George Floyd was killed. I had been so busy working and was not paying attention to news/social media, so I didn’t really hear about it until several days later. Now, I grew up in Sandpoint, ID a small town in north Idaho. One of my best friends was of islander descent, and I played sports with 3 of the 5 African Americans in town. (Incidentally, 3 of which were named Robert) Alright, there may have been a few more people of African American descent, but hardly a haven of diversity. However, race never was something I really thought about. These guys were my friends, just like anyone else was. My good friend Robert was harassed a couple of times (that he told us about) by some of the “crazy folks” who lived out of town but other than that I was blind to issues of racism. In fact, my best friend Bryan, who is white as they come, was harassed much more by the local police than anyone else I knew. He never did anything wrong, and I’m pretty sure he looked a lot like someone else in town who was much more nefarious. They hassled him on a monthly basis for a period of a couple years.
It wasn’t until I moved to Fresno, CA that I began to understand that racism was still a big deal, and I learned more about the challenges that minorities face. It is also the first time I understood what it was like to be hated, just because of my skin color. I remember we started a ministry in a rough part of town taking food and offering practical education (health, job interview skills, etc.) to struggling families. In one of the houses I visited I encountered a young African American man from whom I could feel the hate when I walked into the room. His mother was very thankful for the help we were providing, but his eyes told me that if he ever saw me anywhere else, the response would be much different. I can’t blame him. His life experience and “education” on the streets had taught him that people like me were the enemy. And likely, no one like me had ever modeled anything different. What for me was a moment in time where I felt hated for my ethnic background, he may have felt on a daily basis. I can only imagine what it is like to live with constant reminders from others that you are worth less, that you are second class, that your race makes you less of a person. The more a lie is repeated, the more we tend to believe it.
I am blessed by the opportunities I have been given. Sure, my family was not well off (incidentally, you don’t need to be to have an amazing childhood) but at the end of the day I’ve benefited from being a part of my demographic. I don’t feel that is something to be ashamed of. However, what I am ashamed of is how little I have done to use the gifts I have been given to help others to have similar opportunities.
As I read about all that is happening following the killing of George Floyd, I am struck at how easily the conversation becomes derailed. The fact is, while I know many excellent police officers, there are people who are victims every day of profiling and excessive use of force because of their race. This is something we need to talk about work for change. Furthermore, there are communities of people who feel oppressed and like they have no hope of a better life. Individuals and groups who feel unwanted. What have I done to address these issues? What have we as a church done change the situation?
The problem is, it is all too easy to let barriers keep us distracted from the issues. People with political agendas on both sides of the aisle will use events to create hate and unrest to further their selfish ambitions. They hijack events to serve their own interests, at the same time creating barriers that keep many of us from action. It seems like most of the conversation I hear is about how people shouldn't loot (and I don't believe they should), instead of actually talking about the issues that are driving the protests. That is why I am convinced that POLITICS ALONE WILL NOT SOLVE THESE ISSUES. It has never worked. Sure, we may be able to change some behavior, and that is important. But politics will never change someone’s heart. This isn’t to discourage Christian’s from being involved in politics. We need good people in those positions making decisions to protect those who don’t have the power to protect themselves. But if we wait around for our political leaders to solve these problems, we will always be disappointed.
They only way to truly change hearts is through the offering of love and grace. That is what makes Christianity different from other worldviews. That is where the lifechanging power comes from. That is what Christians are supposed to be known for. John 13:35 says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And here is the deal. Love and grace are not passive. In fact, the opposite of love is not hate…it is indifference. Jesus mission, besides all that salvation of the world stuff was to end the suffering to the orphans, the widows, the poor. Multiple times Jesus instructed his followers to help the oppressed. Being passive is not being a peacemaker, it is simply demonstrating our own lack of a heart change. Either we are too selfish to notice, or we don’t have the courage to do anything about it.
So, what are you going to do? Social medial posts are great, but they do nothing to change the world around you. How are you going to step out of your own little self-centered world to help the oppressed? What are you going to do to fight injustice? Are you willing to sacrifice some of your comfort, to be inconvenienced in order to make a difference? I know for myself, it is time I had the courage to act. I’ve already made plans to support an organization that works to stop human trafficking. I’m not sure yet how I will be involved in supporting an end to racism and mistreatment of minority groups, but what I know I can do is continue to encourage others through my public platforms to act on behalf of the oppressed. Shoot, I’m even planning on giving blood next week. It’s time I start looking out for my brothers and sisters in the family of God (a.k.a the human race). I may not change the world, but it is a start. What are you going to do? I’d love to hear your plans.