How are we ever going to sort this all out?
Two days, two police shootings of innocent black men, with horrifying video on social media. And then a night when six policemen protecting a peaceful protest are killed by snipers.
This isn't Syria. This isn't war. But it is America, where the original sin was slavery, where the rhetoric of "all men are created equal" in the founding document did not include men of African ancestry (and did not grant full personhood to any women at all).
Statesmen knew this was going to be a problem. Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia:
Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a context.Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address:
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."The discussion about justice is shifting in 2016. We're not talking slavery any more, or flagrant Jim Crow laws, we're talking Black Lives Matter. We're beginning to recognize institutional racism, how the system is built on assumptions about white privilege, how laws and history have created systems that are hard to escape but are no less unjust.
I live in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb whose eastern border is Chicago's west side. Back in the 1960s, as racial change and destructive housing practices crept westward through the city towards Oak Park, the village made a deliberate and largely successful effort to avoid resegregation and to integrate its schools and neighborhoods. Good for us!—or is that white privilege using its power to preserve its own property values? There's still an "achievement gap" between black and white students at the high school and racial disparities there in discipline and suspensions. We talk about these things in our local newspaper and in local elections, but there's a lot more hand-wringing than there are answers.
Racism has surfaced in our national politics in the "Make America great again" candidacy of Donald Trump. Most news media pundits are appalled, but a significant portion of them explain the Donald's appeal as the response of the economically disenfranchised, these are voters reacting to the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs for those without a college education. But others cite polls that suggest Trump supporters are reacting to "the browning of America," to demographic change that threatens white control. There's a black man in the White House who's a powerful symbol of that change and a target for hateful responses.
Maybe the good news for America about Trump's candidacy is that it's brought racial hatred out in the open, where it can be named and disavowed, if not outright rejected. But the knee-jerk anger, the spite, the hatred are frightening. (See "Hang Hillary" in The New Republic.)
And there is anger on the other side. A comment about one of the snipers in Dallas, from the New York Times at 8:25am this morning:
The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said the gunman who was killed had “said he was upset at Black Lives Matter, said he was upset about the recent police shootings.”
Chief Brown said, “The suspect said he was upset at white people; the suspect said he wanted to kill white people.” He was especially upset at white police officers, said Chief Brown.
“This must stop, this divisiveness between police and citizens,” said Chief Brown said, who is black.How will we stop it--not just the divisiveness between police and citizens, but between black and white, between those unaware of their privilege and those victimized by it, between the haves and the have-nots, between those who hold tightly to their place in society and those who know that America has always regarded them as "other" and not entitled to full freedom?
We've seen so much violence in the last 48 hours, in the last month, the sudden and fatal violence of gunshots, followed by arterial blood seeping through the shirts of victims. As Christians we worship a God revealed in Jesus, who died a violent. tortured death on the cross but then was resurrected. Will this heal a broken world? Fast enough? We wait.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:22ff)The news from Dallas was appearing on my phone as I went to bed last night. On Facebook I posted a statement of prayer "for all in the valley of the shadow of death." It seemed feeble. I added an exclamation point for emotion and it looked even sillier, even more hopeless.
Grief and lament--I'll hand that off to the Spirit today. I'll begin to look for my role in sorting this all out. Because we must.