Mountain Sky Outlook: If We Remain Silent, the Stones Will Cry Out
July 8, 2016
The view isn’t very pleasant from the Mountain Sky this week. Or this month, for that matter. The terrible news comes too fast to respond: police shoot and kill Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, police shoot and kill Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop outside Minneapolis, a sniper hunts and shoots down police in Dallas, Texas.
These headlines claim attention against a backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in Orlando, Istanbul, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, political hate speech, betrayal of public trust, aching chronic poverty, poisoned water, persecution of gay people, explosive train derailments, the Zika virus. And, beneath the public agony, our private hearts beat with their very deep and personal sorrows and fears. Nobody knows the trouble we’re seeing but Jesus.
I find myself praying: God, you promise fullness of life. We are living the valley of the shadow of death. Shall we fear no evil? Are you protecting us with your rod and staff? We could use your comfort!
God is quick to answer my prayer with a call to action: “Hey, church, listen up. Give me some help here! I’ve prepared you for this.” Love your neighbors! Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute! Judge not! Cry out for justice! Be my peace-makers!
When I am buffeted by the news, I turn to scripture in prayer, because I am absolutely certain that God is working through people of faith to build a better future.
God wants all people to live in peace and unafraid. Black people and other people of color in America should not be stopped by police, arrested by police, shot by police, die in police custody, given longer sentences, imprisoned or executed at a higher rate than White people. Injustice in the criminal “justice” system in the United States is undeniable, and no follower of Jesus should sit by quietly as long as these are realities in our nation.
In the social contract between law enforcement and the public, we ask police officers to put their lives on the line for public safety, and we entrust them to use lethal force to “protect and serve.” We have a responsibility to ensure that they have what they need – the training, the equipment and the support systems – to do the job. As a society we need to prepare them, expect them, and hold them accountable for interacting with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations in ways that de-escalate tensions and to use the power entrusted to them with restraint and fairly.
The interests of Black Americans and police should not be seen as in competition with one another. Systemic injustice makes it appear that the support for police comes at the expense of fair treatment of African Americans. Systemic injustice causes cries for just treatment of African Americans to be heard as criticism of police.
Christians have the responsibility to love and care for our neighbors and strangers as dearly as we love ourselves, to speak out when we see injustice, and to hold systems of authority responsible when we see patterns of unfair treatment.
What would Jesus do? It’s hard to know for certain. But we have some pretty good clues: He wouldn’t protect himself against the dangers of the world. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t buy a gun or carry a gun. He stood up against the powers and principalities of his day with the power of his un-defended person. He never armed himself, rather he berated his followers who drew the sword. He wouldn’t blame or banish immigrants or people of specific racial or religious groups. Time and again, Jesus reached across social barriers to embrace tax collectors, foreigners and the physically and mentally ill. He wouldn’t stigmatize divorced people, or gay, lesbian and transgender people. The gospels teach that his closest followers and religious authorities criticized him for hanging out with un-desirable people of all kinds, though he would call them to live in relationships of integrity and to keep covenant. He wouldn’t stay at home and watch the news on TV and follow Twitter on his smartphone. He was always on the move, always interacting with townspeople, always moving among the crowds, and, except when he intentionally withdrew for prayer, he was always touching the lives of people. He moved into situations of need and conflict, to engage those most affected. He traveled to Jerusalem, just as things were heating up, and the danger was greatest.
We say that the Church is the living body of Christ. So, what are we going to do? How will we work to end unjustified police killings of Black people? How will we temper the presidential campaign? How will we create community with persons who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender? How will we build community with Muslim Americans? How will we support officers of the law to live fully, also, as officers of the peace?
It’s time to ACT our FAITH. In the days ahead, I hope that every church will open its doors to its community to gather to share common concerns and grief in prayer. Pray that God’s kingdom will come. Build healing relationships. Bear witness to truth. Advocate for justice.
Serving Jesus' promise that all might enjoy abundant life,
Elaine JW Stanovsky
Attached is a letter from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, encouraging faith communities to gather to pray for justice, reconciliation and peace.
A spiritual resource for people experiencing distress: “Seven Suggestions for Healing in the Midst of Stress and Anxiety,” by Flora S. Wuellner.