By Jake Luhrs and Ben Sledge
“I read about this stuff in history books! I didn’t think it was still going on. Man, I was naïve.”
Andre peers out into the group of predominately white 20-something’s gathered around him listening to his story.
“I tell her parents I make straight A’s, I’m involved in extra curricular activities, but her Dad doesn’t care. He doesn’t want me dating his daughter.”
He pauses and rubs his hands together. “But again, I’m naïve and stay for dinner and basically tell him ‘I’m gonna date your daughter anyway’. It doesn’t really hit me what’s going on. I just figure he doesn’t like me. What finally woke me up was the day that girl I dated called me crying hysterically because someone had written ‘NIGGER LOVER’ all down the side of her car.”
The room remains pin-drop silent as he collects his thoughts and then continues:
“The thing you don’t understand is how what’s going on in the news affects me and how I’m hurting. For 3 weeks now I’ve kept this bottled, but it hurts. Like, the whole Ferguson and Michael Brown case? We don’t know all the details and I’m not passing judgment. But to have a Grand Jury not even decide whether to send to trial to see if excessive force was used? To investigate if there was foul play by a jury of peers? And then the whole Eric Garner deal tonight? Well….it’s a slap to the face and like someone wrote ‘NIGGER LOVER’ all over that car again.”
The other night Ben Sledge asked his church small group of 20-year olds to talk about racism and recent events in light of what’s happening around the country with public outcry and protests. He did this because his group is mixed ethnicities and wanted the predominately white members to gain insight from a perspective outside of their own and how they’re to respond to one another in light of being Christians. How they should be sympathetic and as Romans 12:15 states “mourn with those who mourn”.
The problem is that many of the comments on the civil rights issues being raised that we’ve seen from white “self proclaimed Christians” is one of back-biting, snide comments, and pointing to statistics on crime within the African-American community as opposed to getting to understand their brothers and sisters in Christ’s perspective and exactly why and how they’re hurting. Many don’t understand the systemic injustice and profiling that can happen to our brothers and sisters simply because of the color of their skin. And it’s because they’ve never taken the time to ask them or hear their story, let alone care.
Instead they like to pretend that if we stop talking about racism that it will magically disappear and our churches and cities will suddenly become multi-cultural. Instead we can’t fathom that a town is being burnt to the ground when it’s the only thing that’s caused the majority of people (and the church) to even notice that black Americans are reasserting their humanity. That much like a soda can shaken for several years, one small poke has finally made it explode.
Recently I’ve been recording a new album and writing new lyrics. One of the topics I wanted to cover was an objective view of a non-Christian critiquing the church and their systems of injustice and then a Christian’s response on how we’re to act and love. We didn’t use the song for the album, but Brent (one of our guitarists for August Burns Red) encouraged me to write a blog about it. After hearing Ben’s story from the other evening, it fits well with this topic.
One of the lyrics was “A slew of hypocrites within four walls. You’ve got wolves disguised as shepherds. Leading the sheep into their feeding. Your ‘brothers’ walk on the backs of the broken with cheap talk to pad their pockets.”
If you’ve listened to the podcast I did with BadChristian you might have been able to tell I have a chip on my shoulder with the church at times. Recently, I just got back into attending church and realizing sometimes I was angry for no reason when it hadn’t done anything to me. I even realized I needed to apologize for that (I called Ben since he’s a pastor, ha). But other times that stigma is true. Our church leaders will turn a blind eye to the suffering of the oppressed and continue, proverbially, to “walk on the backs of the broken” while some of them even get rich off it.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently voiced this when he wrote his famous letter from Birmingham jail:
“I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows….In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’”
To be silent is something we cannot afford to do for those of us that call ourselves Christians. We cannot allow to be further “led into the feeding” and turn a blind eye to those asking us just to simply validate that what they’ve experienced as minorities is, indeed, legitimate. The point of this blog is not a discussion about respecting authority, crime, looting, or any of that. This is about noticing that something within our churches and society IS broken. Far too many of us (Ben and I included) have stayed silent or championed “justice working” instead of showing compassion and mercy to those mourning that justice works differently for them. And as Christians what’s mind-boggling is we love God’s mercy and tend to want to skirt away from his justice, but when we’re asked to show mercy to others we instead champion justice. Yet the mindset of Christ in our lives is just that – showing love and mercy to others.
One of the other lyrics I wrote that quantifies this was “Grace is freely given, never deserved, nor has it cost me anything. It reminds me I am no different than all of mankind. I’m blemished and stained, not perfect or blameless. To accept the broken misled sheep, along with broken misled wolves, it goes to show that none of us are true leaders. I understand the scrutiny, it’s hard for a man to tell the story of Love.”
So many people are turned off by Christianity because we don’t live that faith feeling – the love we feel from God – towards others. We’re known more for our criticism, condemnation, and lack of love. But the faith we feel and the love we receive from God should make us emphasize with our fellow man. That grace given to us should remind us “we aren’t different from mankind. We will oppress. We will hurt others if left unchecked. But when we truly begin to take the mindset of Christ, he changes that heart issue.”
Ben and I recognize this. We fail often and instead of helping can hurt and oppress people. But if we call ourselves a Christian organization we should be trying to kill those portions of ourselves that are destructive to our fellow man. We’re not writing this as a “look, we’re doing this, and so should you” but instead as “we recognize the brokenness within us and we want that to change and impact others”
We at HeartSupport believe it is our responsibility to help be a voice for the voiceless, to champion the marginalized and oppressed, and sympathize with those hurting regardless of their background, rap sheet, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Many will not come to believe what we do in Christ, but we’re okay with their hurts, doubts, and disbelief. We will not be silent, but be a microphone to champion truth and love.
We ask that you in return, if you do indeed call yourself as follower of Christ, live the values of Romans 12:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:14-21 ESV)
Don’t stay silent. Lift your voice. Overcome evil with good.
Jake Luhrs & Ben Sledge