In a most recent HMM staff meeting our discussion turned to the series of tragic deaths in the black community and ensuing demonstrations occurring all around the country in the last few weeks. The depth of emotion shared in the staff meeting caught me by surprise. The emotions expressed were so deep that I thought it might be helpful for me to speak out on this issue personally as a white evangelical.
My first encounter of significance with this subject happened when as a child I traveled with our family to Florida on vacation. At one gas station I was shocked to see two water fountains, one labeled “white only” and the other “black only.” Living in the Midwest I’d never seen anything like this before. And sense that time I’ve not personally witnessed any indications of racial discrimination so graphic until most recently in the deaths of Travon Martin and George Floyd. Have instances of discrimination been going on? Most assuredly, but as a white evangelical, living north of the Mason Dixon line I have been oblivious. And I think that is part of the problem. Most of us white evangelicals would loudly protest that we are not bigoted against any race of different color than our skin. But maybe we need to listen “more deeply” to where the anguish is coming from with our black brothers.
I recently read an article by Shai Linne, a black hip hop artist who is a reformed theology evangelical. I’ll quote a few paragraphs of his story to give you what I think is a sample of the racism many blacks feel in America:
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, my wife and I received an email from a white sister in Christ. I was hesitant to let her know how I was feeling, for fear of being misunderstood and, frankly, because of emotional exhaustion. But as I began to write, I poured out my heart in a way I’ve never really articulated all at once. I’ve been encouraged by some around me to share this publicly.
Sister, I’m going to tell you how I’m doing. And as I tell you, please understand that I’m incapable of completing this message without weeping. There’s a part of me that’s saying, “Spare yourself the pain, Shai. It’s not worth it.” But I’m choosing not to listen to that part of me because I would be robbing you of an opportunity to “bear one another’s burdens” and “mourn with those who mourn”—and I’m sure, as a sister in Christ, you want to do just that.
Sister, I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder. The image of that officer with hand in pocket as he calmly and callously squeezed the life out of that man while he begged for his life is an image that will haunt me until the day I die. But it’s not just the video of this one incident. For many black people, it’s never about just one incident. Just as it wasn’t just about the videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Rodney King, etc., etc., etc., etc.
This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something.
It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked.
It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me—and me beginning to preemptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.
I think that I need to listen deeply to the pain of black brothers like Shai Linne. Like Elisha’s servant I need my eyes opened to what is really going on. But unlike Job’s friends I know I need to cultivate really listening and not providing superficial advice to black brothers and sisters who have lived with this subtle and not so subtle discrimination all of their lives.
My intention is to develop a relationship with someone who feels deeply about these matters but holds a different viewpoint from my own.I like the comment of a fellow leader on deep listening,
I find the phrase, “Help me to understand why you…” to be very helpful. But when we ask it, we then need to listen to actually hear and understand. I love James 1:19… “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Second, I want to learn how to stand up and speak out when I observe racial disparity of all kinds. The Scripture is full of accounts concerning the Lord’s heart towards the outcast, the discriminated in society: the fatherless, the widow, the refugee, the Samaritan, the woman at the well….And discrimination is a current problem all over the world: the untouchables in India, the Rhoringans in Myanmar and the 47 million refugees all over the world. Is it to join demonstrations, maybe; to write letters, maybe? I know what it doesn’t mean, silence.
I want to be like Jesus. He acted against discrimination. He invited himself to a despised tax collector’s house for dinner. He spoke against the religious rulers of the day. He intentionally traveled through a despised Samaritan town to reach out to a socially outcast woman. Jesus acted against discrimination of all kinds.
I encourage you to join me in pursuing the practical application of Galatians 3:27-28 “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus!
Jim Brumme has been part of Harvest Media Ministry since 1996. He joined HMM as a volunteer member of the board of directors in 1995 while serving as the Missions/Evangelism Pastor at Christ Community Church in Tucson, Arizona. Jim has served as a pastor in several churches for over 30 years. Jim is passionate about assisting Great Commission focused ministries communicate the Gospel in a media-savvy way. He has been blessed now for several years to represent HMM to the global mission community. For recreation, Jim is also quite involved in music, leading and coordinating the worship at Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson.