Opinion

Time for white churches to speak out about police shootings

Demonstrators raise their hands toward a line of police officers on Highway 880 in Oakland, Calif., during a protest on July 7, 2016 against the police shootings that led to two deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota. Photo courtesy Reuters/Stephen Lam

MEMPHIS —This Sunday is marked on church calendars everywhere as the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

In America’s white churches, this Sunday also should be marked as the First Sunday of Repentance.

The very fact that we still have churches that are identifiably white or black or brown clearly shows a need for confession and repentance.

But this isn’t the time for interfaith, interracial, interdenominational love and happiness.

This isn’t the time for “kumbaya” or heartwarming renditions of “We Shall Overcome” or “Let There be Peace on Earth.”

This is the time for white people in America to tell white police officers to stop killing black men.

This will require more than a policy change or a presidential proclamation or street protests.

This has to come from the top.

And it has to be delivered from the pulpit to the pews, by every white preacher to every white pew-sitter.

We Americans don’t go to church as much as we used to, but we still are largely a people of faith who believe truth, justice and freedom are more than man-made concepts.

The plague of police shootings across America isn’t just about criminal justice or legal truths. This is about divine justice.

This isn’t about law and order. This is about a disorder in God’s creation.

And besides, this isn’t a black problem. It’s a white problem.

What sort of sermons would you be hearing this Sunday if Philando Castile and Alton Sterling had been white Christians killed by Muslim police officers?

Or if those two men and Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice and Mike Brown had been Jews killed by skinheaded police officers?

Or if all of them and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and Darrius Stewart had been white women killed by black male police officers?

If it had been our white fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who had been shot and killed by law enforcement officers while selling a CD, or holding a fake gun, or driving a car, or wearing a hoodie, we’d be offering more than thoughts and prayers.

We’d be demanding justice, not looking for reasonable explanations.

White ministers must explain why these never-ending police shootings have nothing to do with “black-on-black” crime.

Why they aren’t byproducts of fatherless homes or single mothers or children raised out-of-wedlock.

That those are symptoms of a larger problem — a shameful legacy of white supremacy that goes back generations and lives on in our genetic makeups and mind sets.

White people in the pews must confess that our system of justice — and it is our, we built it and control it — still isn’t colorblind.

That we are so blinded by our great privilege and good intentions that we still can’t see that the problem is us, not them.

That we shouldn’t have to be told over and over that black lives matter. Period.

Let the confession and repentance begin this Sunday.

It’s the first Sunday after the fatal shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

It’s also the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, the so-called “birthday” of the church, the day on which all Christians were forever “bound together” by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In churches across America this Sunday, ministers will read the same gospel lesson of the day, from the Book of Luke.

It’s one of the most beloved stories told by Jesus, the parable of the good Samaritan.

In the story, a man is beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of a road.

Both a priest and a Levite — a minister and a member of the privileged class — pass by the half-dead man and do nothing to help.

A Samaritan stops. He not only helps the man, he does so at great personal risk and sacrifice.

It’s the story that asks, “Who is your neighbor?”

Since all of the main characters in the story seem to be men, it also seems to be asking “Who is your brother?”

After Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, Ferguson and Baltimore, New York and Memphis, and dozens of others mournful places, our spiritual leaders need to help us understand the answers to those questions.

And explain to us why we no longer can pass by the fatally wounded black men on the side of the road.

(David Waters writes for The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal)

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  • Time for black churches to start talking about police shootings as well (as in it’s totally wrong, totally demon-possessed, for cowardly black snipers to shoot at police and thereby kill the rule of law).

    I’m black; I’m just saying it because it’s the truth.

    Difficult times, difficult conversations on all sides, are on tap. There’s people on all sides who don’t want to “hear it” concerning their own particular side.

    Worse yet, there’s people (on all sides) whose lives have been wounded — no joke — by those on “the other side” (perhaps as children or teens, perhaps as adults), and it has left a permanent mark on their lives. All races are in this particular boat.

    So what to do? Prayerfully try some conversation. But not just one race, or one race’s churches. It has to be ALL of them, plus the non-churchgoers too.

  • floydlee: Amen, from a white guy tired of being carved into groups by way of race.

  • I have family members who are cops. A lot of them made the decision to become cops as a way to give back. Those in their early thirties were all in high school on 9/11. They chose to stand up for America by becoming cops. They make the effort to learn Spanish and to respect the cultures of minorities. Yes, there are incompetent and corrupt cops, but the bad ones are a tiny number compared to all those who choose to serve and protect. Cops are almost always union members and very often social liberals who support the 2nd Amendment. The arrogant haters among them stand out by simply being a wrong-headed minority within the larger group.

  • More white people are killed by the police than black people every year. A white person killed by the police gets no more national press attention than a dog. Instead, the press produces massive coverage of shootings of black men and the riots that inevitably ensue. Ratings equal money. The recent shootings have also created a publicity break for a key American politician just when she needed it most.

    If anyone really cared about safe policing, we would be pushing for meaningful reform and progress that protects the lives of the police and the public. Why aren’t there more effective non-lethal methods of apprehending suspects? How could we better protect officers’ lives so they are not constantly in a state of fear wondering if the next traffic stop will result in a bullet in their faces?

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