It was eerie to wake up and see Baton Rouge in the national spotlight yesterday, making headlines on all the major news outlets and trending as the number one topic on Twitter. The story? Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot at point-blank range by two Baton Rouge police officers.
I was going to post this blog late last night, but I decided to wait and post it this morning. I was shocked and devastated to wake up this morning with more headline news – a live stream Facebook video of Philando Castile, shot by a police officer and dying on the scene, was on the home page of CNN.
What happened in Baton Rouge hits pretty close to home – as a former resident and city employee, my heart grieves for the Capitol city. I spent years working to revitalize many of Baton Rouge’s traditionally disinvested communities (including the neighborhood where Sterling was killed).
Second, as an African-American pastor, ministering in a predominantly white congregation, I’m often asked questions on race relations in America. People are genuinely searching for answers on this exceptionally sensitive subject and are looking for someone to help them navigate through their thoughts and subsequent response as a Christ follower.
Finally, as a doctoral student at Duke University, it’s tragedies like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s death that have compelled me to write my dissertation on political civility and racial reconciliation in America. It’s important to thoughtfully, constructively, and civilly address issues that affect the social, political, and religious landscape of America and give direction on how we can pray and act in the wake of these tragedies.
What happened in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis has, yet again, aggravated the deep wound of racial conflict and misunderstanding in America. So where do we go from here? How can we participate in the healing process?
Below is a list of practical things you can do and pray for to be a part of the arduous task of racial reconciliation in America.
It’s Imperative that We Empathize with the Pain of Sterling and Castile’s Family
We need to stop for a second and imagine the pain they are going through. Empathy involves you being aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objective manner. You may not be able to articulate the pain of these families, but it’s necessary that you seek to put yourself in their shoes.
My eyes were blurred with tears as I watched Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son weep during a press conference on the death of his father. Can you imagine what he’s going through? Can you put yourself in his shoes? He lost his father. Tracy and I watched the video of Castile’s death this morning and I had to leave the room because I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. Can you feel the level of loss that their families are experiencing, knowing that the death of their loved ones is now in the national spotlight with millions of people venting their frustrations and opinions?
There is an immense amount of pain that is being felt among family and friends. Before we pray for healing, I think it would be prudent to take a time and reflect on how deep this wound is for their family, friends, and community.
Pray for the Pastors in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis
Specifically, that God will give them wisdom in addressing their congregations and grace to lead in the weeks, months, and years to come. There will undoubtedly be confusion and questions that arise in congregations across Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.
We need to pray for the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation to infuse pastor’s hearts and minds. I love Walter Brueggemen’s line on prophetic ministry: that it should nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness that is alternative to the perception of the dominant culture around us. My prayer is that pastors would speak with conviction and authority on God’s salvific hope and healing power and that what they would stand in stark contrast to what is presently happening in the hearts and minds of the people in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. That hope, faith, and healing would replace confusion, strife, and division.
We Need to Pray for the Police Officers in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis
Day after day, thousands of police officers put their life on the line to protect the citizens in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. A majority of them are good men and women. We need to pray against any retaliation against them. We need to pray that God would use them as agents of healing and that God would supernaturally move on the hearts and minds of men and women who harbor bitterness and would mean to harm them.
There’s nothing wrong with being angry at what has happened and seeking reformation in the justice department, but we need to remember that a majority of law enforcement officers are good people, with good hearts, and want to do the right thing.
Pray for the Churches in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis
We need to pray for the churches all across these two cities; that from their hallowed halls would spring an outpouring of the love and grace of God. I pray that the church would rise and lead the process of restoration and reconciliation in these cities. That ministries across Baton Rouge and Minneapolis would find a new source of strength to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this dark time.
Pray that God will use these Tragedies to Bring about a Renewed Effort of Racial Reconciliation
We know the typical narrative that two sides of this issue espouse. One that emphasizes consistent police brutality towards minorities in major metropolitan areas. The other side highlights the systemic violence that plagues African-American neighborhoods, that “all lives matter” and that this culture of violence is not addressed with the same amount of energy as police brutality.
Why can’t we believe that God can use this tragedy to ignite a whole new level of restoration and healing? Why do we have to resort to rancorous quarreling when events like these happen? Why do we use heated rhetoric and drive-by social media posts to demonize others who don’t ascribe to our beliefs and opinions? We need to pray and fast that God would break through calloused hearts and mend racial wounds in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and America. Why can’t we choose to be instruments of healing, peace, and love, instead of tools of discord and disunity?
Engage in Cross-Cultural Interaction
There are many barriers that divide us: age, appearance, intelligence, political persuasion, economic status, race and theological perspectives. One of the best ways to stifle Christ’s love is to be friendly with only those people that we like. We tend to befriend and connect with people who are culturally similar to us. This creates and maintains homogenous ideas, attitudes, and beliefs. It robs us from the benefit of having a diverse set of friends and perspectives that can potentially expand our cultural horizons.
Connect with people that are different than you. Particularly, ethnically different than you. If you are white, talk to a black person about police brutality. If you are black, develop relationships with your white brothers and sisters and don’t be afraid to talk about the political and societal issues that are important to you.
If we’re going to have true racial reconciliation in this country we’re going have to resolve to listen well to the “other” side. To listen well you have to be transparent. Being honest in your communication is essential to creating trust. It breaks down barriers when you see someone being vulnerable.
We don’t communicate effectively because of fear; we don’t open up out of trepidation of rejection or apprehension from getting hurt. When you’re transparent and vulnerable you go a long way to alleviate the concerns and fears of that other person you’re communicating with. Be intentional in your conversation. Ask questions. If you want to cultivate a healthy relationship you must be conscientious in your dialogue.
Be Willing to Yield on Some of Your Views
Arrogance breeds dogmatism. It is so important to stand up for what you believe in. We must be a people of deep conviction, but don’t be so dogmatic in your position that you can never see or seek to understand a contrasting opinion. When we are overly dogmatic in the defense of our position we tend to cause the defensive walls to go up in the other person. Once those walls are up, it can be quite difficult to really hear the other’s point of view.
Personally Acknowledge and Embrace the Arduous Task of Reconciliation
Let’s not put a band aid on this issue. Pray for wisdom for city leaders and for justice to prevail in the federal investigation. We need to understand that this issue is not going to be fixed overnight. It’s going to take many conversations, prayers, and active outreach. It’s going to take government policy changes. It’s going to take forgiveness. Please don’t move on after a couple of days or weeks. Actively participate in racial reconciliation. Ask your pastors and mentors what you can do to be a part of the solution.
Reject Color Blindness
This is a dominant ideology that many believe solves racism. I categorically reject color blindness…and you should too. “Believing in the notion of colorblindness sounds like this, ‘I don’t even see color,’ or this, ‘But we are all the same,’ or this, ‘I’ve never looked at you as a (fill in the blank)’. These statements are usually followed by a sugary example of our sameness and ends with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr about character not color being what really counts.” (Christena Cleveland)
One can be pro-black lives and pro-humanity. Why do we have to rush and quote #AllLivesMatter when we see a #BlackLivesMatter on a social media post? You can notice my race and still acknowledge my humanity. I acknowledge that my wife is a white woman. She clearly knows that I am a black man. And we have embraced our cultural and ethnic differences. “Too many people have bought into the myth that to see color is to erase my humanity, my character, my individuality. When actually my race can give you clues into who I am, if I am given the chance to explain why my race matters”
I want to encourage you to reject colorblindness and become color conscious. Colorblindness disregards ethnic differences. Color consciousness makes one aware of race and celebrates the differences. This ideology compels one to acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate ethnic differences. It appreciates diverse thoughts, perspectives, and regularly seeks them out. I love what Cleveland writes about color conscious people, “they refuse to ignore race because they are too busy exploring it for all its beauty, quirkiness, and yes, messiness.”
Read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Perhaps the most powerful piece of literature I have read besides the Bible. I would encourage you to take twenty minutes to read and reflect on MLK’s passionate plea to fight racism. It will give you great insight into the problem of race in America.
Let’s take the lead on this issue, folks. I’ll leave you with this wonderful and inspiring quote: If there are those who fuel the fire, there are also those who douse the flames.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.