Tag Archives: black lives matter

Smart Minds & Big Words

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2016_annual_logoI spent a recent weekend with a 350 really smart people who use really big words. Most, it seems, are PhDs or in the process of earning a PhD. They come from and have ministered on every continent of the world, with the possible exception of Antarctica. They are pastors and missionaries and university professors; anthropologists, sociologists, linguists.

I felt … not out of place, but out of my league—like a weekend soccer player taking the field with  the likes of Lionel Messi, Rolandinho, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Evangelical Missiological Society gathers these academicians and missiologists each year to share research and practice around a central theme. This year’s theme was Missions and the Local Church — a matter close to my heart as a pastor, a missionary kid, and a missions practitioner and advocate.

Truth be told, I went for my own fifteen minutes of fame: I was invited to present a paper I had written about how a church I pastored sought to shift how and what we did in missions. But I have to confess: I also went with low expectations of the weekend; academic researchers are not always known to be dynamic presenters, and their papers are not always compelling subjects for guys like me who just want to lead a church to make disciples at home and somewhere around the world.

My low expectations were vastly exceeded. So much so, in fact, that I needed to take a break from the presentations that have greatly encouraged and challenged me in order to put some thoughts down on paper. (Or a computer.) A sampling:

In The Burden of Healing: How Pentecostal Believers Experience and Make Sense of Chronic Illness, Shelly Isaacs shared the stories of men and women suffering from chronic illnesses, whose burdens were made heavier by the unfulfilled promise and expectation of divine healing. The stories hit close to home, as I could relate each one to my own friends who also hoped, prayed, and had faith to be healed … yet never received the expected and desired answer.

Steven Weathers, a PhD student, shared research about ideologies that inform evangelical perceptions around Black Lives Matter. His words were often hard, and challenged me (as a white evangelical man) to again confront my own implicit biases—that is, those that I am not even aware of lurking sometimes deep in my heart and sometimes just under the surface. A couple statements worthy of noting:

Evangelicals are not countercultural, but call for personal change that leaves systemic cultural norms in place. [from Emerson & Smith; source unknown]

Black Lives Matter won’t matter to white evangelicals if we think individually; we need to think systemically. [Weathers]

These are particularly damning statements. They suggest we are willing to change ourselves just enough to be comfortable, but we won’t fight against the cultural realities that lie at the root of Black Lives Matter (or the civil rights fight of fifty years ago).

Some final thoughts from Ed Stetzer’s keynote address on Priorities for Churches in Missions: the decline of denominationalism and the rise of non-denominational churches has not been a neutral influence on cross-cultural missions. Historically, missions had a voice at the table with denominational leadership, and there was a clear and intentional pathway to missions through denominations. With the growth of non-denominational churches (400% since the 1980s—and now the largest evangelical bloc), “innovation is now a higher priority than missions awareness and engagement.”

Within evangelicalism, “missional” has grown while “missions” has declined; gospel demonstration has increased (a good thing), but gospel proclamation has taken a back seat (not so good).

We must no longer merely give lip service to balancing demonstration and proclamation; we must actively practice both.

In my own paper about engaging the local church in global missions, I included this statement from a book by three missiologists: “the center of gravity in missions has moved from the agency to the local church.” I think that’s a good thing; but Stetzer brought a tempering perspective: Churches are vexed about the nations, but don’t have the connections, training, or constructs to engage well and effectively.

The great charge to the Church is to make disciples of all peoples, everywhere. One of my great burdens is to help local churches do that well and effectively … whether it means engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement, offering hope and healing to the chronically ill, serving refugees, rescuing victims of human trafficking, or preaching Jesus where His name has not yet been heard.

Life Matters

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In my ninth grade Social Studies class I wrote a paper arguing that abortion should not be legal in the US. It was Spring 1979 – just six years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. I was 15 and had grown up as a Christian. That God was “pro-life” seemed prima facie long before I knew what that Latin phrase meant. After all, wasn’t “thou shalt not kill” one of His Top Ten rules for living?

But there was a problem: The more I researched constitutional law, the harder it was to find a compelling legal argument to overturn Roe v. Wade, much less to adopt a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

That paper forced me into the dilemma of arguing for a law that fit my faith, but not my citizenship. It was one of my earliest shifts away from a black-and-white, right-and-wrong mindset.


Last week, the ugly reality of our nation’s ongoing struggle with race again came to the forefront. The facts in the incidents are more than any of us will ever know or comprehend, but that won’t stop most of us (me included) from forming uninformed opinions. Just take a glance at social media and you’ll see what I mean.

Black lives matter. Police lives matter. White lives matter.
Babies’ lives matter. Women’s lives matter.
All lives matter.

Well, of course. But when we hear one of those lines—Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter—and respond with another—All lives matter. Babies’ lives matter.—we’re just using our mouths instead of our ears… our heads, not our hearts. We’re not listening.

 


When I was writing that abortion paper, I learned about something else that matters: words. You see, I called myself pro-life, but people on the other side called me anti-abortion; they were pro-choice, but my side would call them pro-death. We said we cared about life, yet too often showed little concern for the life of the mother; they said they cared about the woman, yet showed no concern for the life—or even potential life—growing inside her. It was a war of words.

“Black lives matter” began as a rallying cry but turned into a movement. Like a lot of movements, it’s not all simple and pure. (Didn’t the non-violent civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr., in some way spur some of the violent actions of the time – even while not condoning the violence?)

Whatever you think of the movement, the words themselves matter: black lives matter. And, with help, I found that when I would respond to that cry with a trite, “all lives matter,” I was only proving that black words didn’t matter to me. And that meant something needed to change: me.

Saying “black lives matter” shouldn’t just mean that cops need to stop killing black people.
Saying I’m “pro-life” shouldn’t just mean that we need to stop killing babies.

If lives matter…if life matters…then we should value those lives, their worth, their joys, their pains, their struggles…. If words matter, then maybe we need to start listening to them.

Just Listen

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© Steven Secon, Architect

Words cannot express the tragedy that has torn at our nation in the past few days.

We have watched a distraught Diamond Reynolds pleading with God for the life of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, who had just been shot multiple times by a police officer.

We have witnessed a desperate struggle between black Alton Sterling and two white officers, ending with Sterling’s point-blank shooting death.

We have seen five Dallas police officers gunned down by snipers during a Black Lives Matter protest.

And these are, we know, not isolated incidents. We have seen too many black men killed by officers sworn to keep the peace, and too often for reasons that seem to be little more than the color of their skin. We have seen too many police killed, apparently for no other reason than that they wore a uniform.

It seems almost impossible to write of these tragedies—this national tragedy—in words that are balanced and avoid assumption. Indeed, perhaps the most accurate assumption any of us can and should make is that in most cases (not all) there is both guilt and innocence on all sides. Yet even that statement seems to be a desperate stretch for balance in those instances where balance is clearly lacking.

In the midst of all this, social media lights up with hashtags and memes, opinions and arguments; some crying out for the innocents on their side and others shouting for judgment for the guilty on the other side. Pastors call for peace, politicians call for prayer or gun reform or immigration laws, mothers call for justice. And some, like me, feel that we ought to say something, do something… and yet we—I—feel helpless, impotent.


Yesterday I sat across a restaurant table from a young black man, just the second time I’ve met him. I realized (among other things) how much I have missed, having relationships almost exclusively with white people like me. And I realized how helpless I feel to do anything that might make a difference to the racial divide in my community, let alone my country.

Several times, as we talked about these killings and what it’s like growing up as a black man in America, my friend apologized for “bringing me down.” He needn’t have; I needed to hear him. It reminded me of my disabled friend, through whose eyes I have begun to see disabilities in a new light.

As I’ve reflected on our conversation, I’ve realized something else: can do something. I can keep listening to my friend. And in the listening, I will learn, and that may be most important – at least for me. But in the listening I also give my friend a gift: the gift of being heard.

In times like this, it’s easy to jump on the hashtag bandwagon, to spout opinions, to show support for one side or another. But making a real difference isn’t easy, and it’s not accomplished by changing your profile picture.

If you’re wondering how to make a difference, then maybe the best thing is to find someone to talk with, to listen to—someone not like you: someone with different skin, a different religion, different beliefs; someone, perhaps, whom society says you should be at odds with. Go sit at a restaurant, a coffee shop, a park bench, and listen.