Dear Franklin Graham,
You recently shared this Facebook post, in which you asked us all to ‘listen up’:
And I’m writing to tell you that I have. I’ve listened. And this is what I hear:
I hear voices of injustice bemoaning a broken system. I hear neighborhoods crying out in anger, violence and pain. I hear families ripped apart by unprecedented rates of incarceration. I hear the earthquakes and aftershocks of a nation groaning under the weight of systematic subjugation and racism. And I hear the wisdom of your father, Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, condemning the same racial issues within the Church.
That’s what I hear.
Do I hear disrespect for authority? Sometimes. But not in the ways Christians should. I don’t hear the Church condemning poverty, but I do hear us complain about taxes. I don’t hear Christians bemoan the abuse and abandon of our Native American predecessors but I do hear us indignant over the plight of illegal immigrants. I don’t hear Christian leaders condemning war, torture, or capital punishment but I do hear us fighting legislation that poses a threat to ‘traditional family values.’
And when it comes to racial reconciliation, most of what I hear from white people is along the lines of: “Racism was a thing of the past. But it’s all sorted out now. So get over it and stop making excuses.”
When I turn to Scripture, I hear something very different. I hear that God remembers the sins of our fathers for several generations. I hear the story of his people whose divinely-ordained laws set out provisions for the aliens, the weak, the poor and the hungry. I hear the prophecies of Amos calling for judgement upon a nation known for systematic oppression. I hear the voice of Jesus’ brother, telling us that the religion God demands requires that we look after orphans and widows- the vulnerable, overlooked, unheard in society.
And then I hear the advice of Mark Twain, who said “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I take this to mean, on a personal level, that we who find ourselves among the privileged, the well-to-do, the successful, the lawmakers, the religious, the Pharisees…it’s time for us to stop and listen.
And still I hear Protestant, white, male leaders who love talking about how the Bible tells us to respect authority when it comes to riots against racism and systematic injustice, but tend to abandon their respect for governmental authority when it comes to laws concerning same-sex marriage. Are you going to continue espousing your paradigm of Biblical submission when our lawmakers advance the rights of same-sex couples and families? Or will your concern for what takes place in the bedroom supersede your concern for the perpetuation of injustice in our schools, neighborhoods, courtrooms and prisons? Is advocacy for the rights of a homosexual citizen what signals- as you recently and so ironically put it – “anti-Christian bias?”
Injustice is not instigated by those on the receiving end of oppression. A white person suggesting that a solution to racial injustice is for minorities to “respect and obey” is like telling a victim of domestic abuse “well…you should try not to make him so angry.”
So I’m writing to tell you that what I hear, Mr. Graham, is a world that groans under oppression. And as white, middle-class, American males, you and I aren’t getting the short end of the stick. Rather it’s the side of the oppressors, the instruments of pain and machines of injustice of which you and I are a part. Racial tension in this country is not created by some bitter minorities with an entitlement complex. Rather, it’s propagated by the insistence of the guilty- that’s us– to stitch up the wound in haste, so that it remains raw and infected. And when the patient returns and asks us to treat it, we demand another payment.
Mr. Graham, I’m listening. And I hear the cries of people who’ve been hurt, who’ve been ignored, who want love and need grace. And I hear the antagonists in the story throwing up our hands and saying: “not our fault, not our problem.”
I’m listening, Mr. Graham. And that’s what I hear.
What are you listening to?
A white male with (pretty) good hearing
One of the numerous things learned as a counselor is that certain emotions are rooted in deeper feelings. One such emotion is anger. Anger is rarely the root of the issue; more often than not, anger is an expression of hurt, loss or disappointment. In other words, anger is rarely the core problem but acts as a red flag for deeper pain.
We must remember this when we examine the current events in Ferguson.
On Monday night, a grand jury decided not to press criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown, a black 18 year-old male, earlier this year. Previous to the decision, local and national authorities urged for a peaceful reaction from citizens. Nonetheless, the decision sparked widespread violence in the town; protesters fired guns into the air, burned and looted local shops and attacked police barricades. Within hours over 29 arrests had been made in what one police chief called the “worst night” of violence since the shooting on August 9.
Social media, inevitably, has also erupted, mostly in indictment against the protestors. “They should be ashamed of themselves,” one commenter said. “This is crazy and utterly ridiculous …. You wanna whine about how you are treated …. Look at how you are acting!” another noted. Others referred to the protestors as “animals” and stated that the “black community only cares about a black life when its taken by a white person” arguing that this shows “who the real racists are.” Many invoked the judgement of God in their statements, noting that “God is not happy with the world right now.”
But judgement against the events in Ferguson, both the decision of the grand jury and the subsequent protests, is the wrong response. What we are seeing on our TVs, news feeds and magazine covers is not anger but hurt, deep, rooted and pervasive hurt. In no way does this excuse the subsequent actions; but to write off these riots as immature or poorly-controlled anger is neither helpful nor wise.
The African-American community living within our own borders is one that has suffered grave and undeniable injustice through the history of our nation. And this suffering has created a strong bond of community, a thread of continuity that runs through black communities within our borders. The sense of community is foreign to many white people who’s family history does not contain the type of subjugation and dehumanization that necessitates such communal bonds. We cannot understand this; and we certainly shouldn’t judge it.
And to argue whether or not racism still exists is another discussion, but to deny that it has existed in horrific and scarring ways in our nation’s past is not just ignorant, but deeply insensitive. And recently a black community suffered the loss of one of their own at the hands of white authority. At the very least, this tragedy was like ripping the stitches from a gaping wound that has only just begun to heal; it will prompt even the best patient to scream and try and hit their doctor. At worst, it was history repeating itself, horribly.
Which is not to say that violence is a right or just reaction to injustice. But to assert that only black people act in such a way is ignorant of the log in our own eye. Following the tragedy of 9/11, most of the country screamed for vindication and provided overwhelming support for a ‘War on Terror’ to bring justice to the terrorists. This war has cost our nation billions of dollars and thousands of lives; to say nothing of civilian collateral halfway across the world. And now the same populace that called this war “heroic” is calling down judgement on a community reeling from tragedy, resorting to violence as a vent for anger.
We cannot understand, but we should try.
Because the pain of racism is real. The pain of the injustices of our past, injustices of our present, are real, bitter and destructive.
And we’re seeing this pain exhibited, justice being attempted, through chaos in Ferguson, Missouri.
So when we look upon the events of Missouri, let us look with eyes that see through the violence, beyond the anger; not to justify it, but to empathize, to understand, to be united in their suffering. Let us not look in judgement, in condemnation, but with hearts that break with the community. Let our hearts break for the business owners who lost their livelihood, for the families who face terror in their communities, for the children caught in the cross-fire and for a neighborhood of people who are exactly like us: hurting human-beings, prone to anger in their pain.
And so, if we must say something, I think it should be a prayer; if we are going to utter words in response to this event, then let us petition God for the sake of Ferguson and for us all: