Black Lives Matter Sunday – December 14, 2014

black lives matter

I am not attending a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) or Assemblies of God (AG) church, but this statement from George O. Wood, the Superintendent of the AG is a good statement about how Christians can love and support the Africxan American community and work towards reconciliation in America. I encourage you to read it through to the end. I have added the emphasis on my own, but I thought they were especially noteworthy parts.

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Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. of the Church of God in Christ has asked COGIC churches to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday this coming Sunday, December 14, 2014. As Bishop Blake’s friend and counterpart in the Assemblies of God, I ask that all AG churches do the same. I have two reasons for doing so.

First and foremost, black lives matter. The lives of all people are precious to God, of course, but at the present moment, many of our black brothers and sisters in COGIC and the AG feel that their lives are not highly valued by many in white America. As examples, they point to the recent controversial decisions of grand juries in St. Louis County, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, not to return bills of indictment against white police officers in the deaths of two black males, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically? Scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of people, not even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If so, then whatever the circumstances, we can be certain that God did not take pleasure in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Therefore, neither should we. Can we affirm, then, the grief our black brothers and sisters feel about these men’s deaths? Think of it this way: If the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner attended your church, how would you minister to them in their sorrow?

Scripture teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Black Lives Matter Sunday is a way for all Assemblies of God churches to do that with our black brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many multicultural churches in the Assemblies of God. Scripture teaches, “If one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Let us suffer with our brothers and sisters in their time of mourning.

Second, America is racially divided and needs the Church to heal its divisions. The Pentecostal movement, to which both COGIC and the AG belong, traces a large portion of its spiritual genealogy to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, at the start of the twentieth century. In that revival, led by a godly black man named William J. Seymour, the Spirit of Jesus Christ powerfully knit together the hearts of people who attended, regardless of race and ethnicity. For a shining moment at Azusa Street, when the surrounding culture was segregated by color, “the color line was washed away in the Blood,” as Frank Bartleman famously put it. Unfortunately, the forces of segregation reasserted themselves among white Pentecostals, and for many decades thereafter, they allowed the spirit of Jim Crow into their churches.

Great strides have been made in civil rights and racial reconciliation over the past century, of course, but America still experiences racial divisions. If Spirit-filled Christians cannot find a way to work together to heal these divisions, what hope is there for the rest of the country? The Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God share a like, precious faith, including our belief in and experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has already united us in doctrine and experience, in other words. If we cannot unite at this hour, how can we expect America to be united, when it has no spiritual foundation for unity?

Because black lives matter, and because America needs the Church to heal its lingering racial divisions, I ask that Assemblies of God churches join the Church of God in Christ on Sunday, December 14, 2014, and pray for the following things:

• Pray during the service that God would bless the ministries of the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many AG multicultural churches, enlarging their territory through Spirit-guided influence on the communities where they minister.

• Pray that God would unite the hearts of all Spirit-filled believers, but especially COGIC and the AG, so that together, we would become a “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12) in our nation.

• Pray for law enforcement and judicial officers, especially Spirit-filled believers among them, that they would be servants of justice, reconciliation, and peace in the communities they serve.

I recognize that some of you may find my request to observe Black Lives Matter Sunday controversial because of deep disagreement over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. I do not wish to be controversial or to bring further division within the Church or within America. We have enough of that already.

Rather, I wish for us to find points of unity and cooperation across racial lines. We can take steps together in that direction by affirming the value of black lives and by praying for unity in our churches and our society this Sunday, December 14. I hope you will join me in observing Black Lives Matter Sunday with our brothers and sisters in the Church of God in Christ.

Finally, at this Christmas season, may we take to heart once again the glorious announcement of the angel that the birth of Jesus is “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10)!

It’s Not a Crime to Kill a Black Man

Eric Garner

I hit a breaking point today.

I’ve had moments of anger and frustration as I’ve read, talked to, and dealt with racist idiots from every background. Today’s breaking point stemmed from the announcement that the Grand Jury would not be indicting police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a man who died as the result of being choked by the officer.

What makes this incident so poignant is that the entire thing was caught on video. Unlike the Ferguson incident, Pantaleo vs. Garner is not a case where we have only the survivor’s version to be corroborated or repudiated by the coroner’s report. It is intense, so if you aren’t keen on such content, you can skip the video.

Everyone can clearly see Officer Pantaleo choking Mr. Garner. It’s indisputable. It BOGGLES my mind that the grand jury would not indict. Many others are blown away. Those of us who are shocked and, yes, I’ll say it, outraged, by the behavior of the grand jury are crying out for justice. It is not just that a law enforcement officer can break departmental guidelines (the NYPD banned the chokehold in 1993 – NY cops have had over 20 years to learn this lesson) but that the officer’s behavior that led to the death of the civilian does not carry criminal punishment.

I confess, I am not a lawyer.

I have, however, seen every single episode of Law & Order (yes, all 20 seasons). That pretty much makes me an expert in all things New York and the criminal justice system (if I have to tell you I’m not serious you just need to close this right now – right now – don’t even read another word).

No, I’m no lawyer, but I’m an intelligent human. I know some big words like manslaughter and negligence. Even criminals in the middle of a felony can be charged with felony murder if someone dies in the commission of their felony – even when the death was not intentional. Since Mr. Garner died as the direct result of Officer Pantaleo’s actions, it seems just that the man responsible ought to suffer consequences.

Yes, this is a justice issue.

That means it OUGHT to be a Christian issue.

It took me all of 10 seconds to run a search in the Bible (ESV) and see that the word justice appears 138 times.

Genesis 18:19 ~ For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.

— How do you keep the way of the Lord? By doing righteousness and justice.

and

Exodus 23:6 ~ You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit.

— Everyone gets equal justice, regardless of wealth or status.

and

Deuteronomy 16:19 ~ You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.

— Justice is meted out with equality without favoritism.

and

Psalm 82:3 ~ Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

— The underdog and disenfranchised has a God-given right to justice.

and

Matthew 23:23 ~ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

— Showy religion is no good without justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Are you getting the picture? God cares about justice. We should care about justice.

But then come the rebuttals:

– “The Grand Jury decision stands – you should accept it and move on” (I was actually told this today).

This is foolishness. Grand juries are made up of fallible humans. They don’t speak with divine authority. They are not the end-all of the justice system. No matter how hard we try, there is always something in us that skews how we see things. We approach all of life with an interpretive lens. The difficult thing in moving past racial tensions is to learn to see others through their own lenses rather than our own.

If a system has flaws and errors it is our obligation to speak up and to fix those errors, not to sit back and let injustice rule the day and try to “move on.”

– This is only an issue because of race-baiters who want a “war on whites.”

This is not foolishness. This is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. Eric Garner didn’t need to die. Eric Garner shouldn’t have died. The fact that he died and that the criminally negligent perpetrator is not being charged is an abortion of justice, the kind of justice God repeatedly calls us to pursue.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue. It should not have mattered what ethnic groups were involved. It should not matter what YOUR ethnic background is. This story should stir us all.

This is not a race issue. This is a humanity issue.

What saddens me about white America’s response (yes, I’m going to make a broad, sweeping generalization) is that, rather than listening to the outcry of the Black community and those who stand in solidarity, many are trying to deflect. Deflecting is an argumentation technique where a person who feels attacked/criticized tries to steer the conversation in another direction RATHER than addressing the issue at hand. We do it all the time. My wife and I do it to each other. We now call each other on it. She’ll tell me, “You’re deflecting. Can we talk about what I’m saying?”

White America is deflecting. Rather than listening we throw up statistics and bluster, “Well, why don’t you make a fuss about black-on-black crime?” or “What about the little white boy that was killed by three evil brown-skinned thugs?”

That’s deflecting.

Instead of addressing the issue at hand we try to make it about other issues.

Stop it.

From a biblical point of view, Jesus addresses it best when he tells us that we ought to treat other people the way that we would like to be treated.

It’s that little thing we sometimes call THE GOLDEN RULE. If I want people to hear me and care about injustice being done to me, I should listen and care about injustice done to others. Stop looking at the issue through a persecuted white lens and start to see that sometimes injustice actually DOES happen to minorities. Imagine that!

In all of my legal expertise I have no idea where things will go from here. In my reading of the Bible I can tell you that we need to change our lenses and treat others the way we want to be treated.

We need to be people that pursue justice – for every race.

Do me a favor and share this post, would you? This is a message that everyone needs to hear.

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple
Just One More White Man Commenting On Ferguson
It’s Great Being White!
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black