Tag Archives: race

Life Matters


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


© 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.

We’re Not as Colorblind as We Think


Martin-Luther-King-1964-leaning-on-a-lecternSeveral months ago I read an article in Christianity Today called “Pastor, Can I Come to Your Church?” The article detailed an experiment intended to gauge the level of implicit racial bias* in churches by studying how they responded to an email asking for information about the church. Emails were sent to 3,000 churches; the only difference between the requests was the name of the signer: each name suggested the writer’s ethnicity as white, black, Hispanic, or Asian. [*Implicit racial bias is made up of the stereotypes and attitudes that affect how we unconsciously think about and act toward something or someone.]

The results of the study, culled from 1,500 responses, were surprising and humbling. If you’re a church leader, you need to read the article; if you’re not, you should still read it.

I have long prided myself for my color-blindness. (That alone should have been a warning.)
After all, I’ve lived in four countries on two continents, including three months in the heart of Watts in South Central Los Angeles—on what police described as “the good end of the street with the highest crime in LA”, an area that was later decimated by riots. I went to high school with kids from more than a dozen nations. I’ve traveled throughout Europe and have spent time in Africa, Mexico, and South Korea. I dated an African-American girl while in the Air Force. I couldn’t be racist, could I?

But that article about implicit racial bias has stuck in my throat. I may not cross the street when approaching a black man on the sidewalk, but do I move my wallet to a front pocket? When I see an Arab-looking man in a public place, do I start thinking about escape routes…just in case? When I read of yet another police shooting, do I automatically assume it was justified?

About ten o’clock last night I went to the store to get Kleenex® for my sick daughter. At the only register open there was an argument between the white cashier and three black women. Though relatively calm, the customers were complaining that the cashier had been rude; she was trying to defend herself, explaining that she was simply following procedures—something about the amount of their purchase, identification, and possible identity theft.

With the argument still going on, the cashier rang up my purchase and I backed out of the line, still blocked by the upset customers. As I was leaving, a supervisor came over and tried, unsuccessfully, to explain the procedures the clerk had followed. I wondered what might have happened if the clerk had simply said, “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

The situation occupied my mind all the way home. I hoped the race card wouldn’t be pulled. I desperately wanted it not to be about race; it probably wasn’t…and at the same time, it probably was. Even if the cashier truly didn’t consider that the women were black; even if a self-checkout register would have resulted in the same ID check; in the customers’ minds, there is a race component, born out of hundreds of years of black oppression by whites.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S., a day set aside to remember the slain leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and, by extension, to consider the broader race situation in what politicians love to call “The Greatest Nation on Earth.” Judging by that race situation, the moniker is not well deserved. We have come far, but not too far…and certainly not far enough.

I don’t even know what “far enough” would look like, but I don’t have much hope of seeing it in my lifetime. But if we—if I—can start by becoming more aware of these implicit biases, and then try to change just one of those, maybe that’s a good start.

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes it seems like an impossible dream—and it is, but for those last three words: in Christ Jesus.