I learned something from Ferguson, Missouri.
My employee, Barry, told me a story. It was somewhere around 2005 or 2006. Barry came to work and said, “I got pulled over last night.”
I asked why.
He said, “the police pulled me over and said they were looking for a stolen car. I asked them what kind of car. They told me a 2002 Camry. I said…well I’m driving a 1996 Nissan Sentra.”
I was puzzled.
I don’t know why they pulled you over. You didn’t have the right car.
“Bobby. I was pulled over for “Driving While Black.” It happens all the time.”
That night something changed. I began to ask questions. I learned a lot about the struggles many non-whites face, especially in Ferguson and Florissant, Missouri, both a few neighborhoods from where we lived while attending seminary. I became more aware about structural inequalities that exist because of a long history of slavery, segregation, racism and violence.
Now, it’s 2014. Ferguson has been in the news for the tragic killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Stories about race, privilege, and racial sin seem to appear more frequently. But what can I do?
We can repent of the racism in our hearts. The story Barry told me made me realize my own racism. I didn’t harbor an affinity for white supremacy, but I sure locked the door when someone didn’t look a way that made me feel comfortable.
We can ask questions and have real dialogue. Barry’s story made me realize how ignorant I was about many things African Americans have happen to them on a regular basis. I’ve never been followed around a convenience store. I’ve never been profiled or pulled over when driving after midnight. Coming to this realization caused me to learn more about the realities of privilege and my own blind spots. Hearing others’ stories reshaped my own thinking and gave me a greater appreciation for other cultures and their histories.
We need friends who are not like us. The United States is not a monoculture. Oklahoma City is not a monoculture. When we read the Scriptures, we see that God is a god who delights in the diversity of creation. His people are made of every race, ethnicity, and language. Acts presents a story of the Gospel’s power breaking through racial and ethnic divisions. Revelation gives a depiction of the reversal of the sad divisions we humans create. If we want to see racial divisions lessen, it starts with each of us as we make friends, one by one. It means churches should do joint ministry and worship efforts. It means that we need not just to say “the Gospel breaks barriers,” but to live that.
We must fight against racial injustice. The second great command in the Scriptures is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means we must take seriously the Bible’s call to speak out for the oppressed and to be on the side of the widow, the orphan and the fatherless. Too many white Christians turned a blind eye toward slavery, Jim Crow, and other racial issues that created devastating consequences in our nation. We have to be honest about these things and speak against them. Christians are called to love in word and deed.
We must be uncomfortable. Living the incarnation is messy. Relationships are messy. God’s grace calls us to enter into the lives of others to bring hope. It is never easy. But we do it because Jesus did not come to this earth for his own comfort and he calls us to follow him. Doing that means giving up. Sometimes it means hearing stories we don’t want to hear. Other times it means owning up to our own prejudice and blind spots. Always, it means embracing the path of the cross – dying for the sake of others. White Christians, like myself, need to sit and learn from our African American friends who have so much to teach us.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because the Scriptures call us to press toward the day where there will be no more crying, no more suffering and no more pain. The Scriptures call us to stand for truth and goodness. And, most importantly, Jesus did these things.