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Please Adjust Your Radar

Please Adjust Your Radar

            I did something very “white” the other day and guilt-followed a bunch of non-Caucasian[1] Christians on Twitter. Someone pointed out that following only white people might very well make you a racist and at the very least makes your tastes narrow and non-diverse, so I, not wishing to be either of those two horrid things, availed myself of available resources concerning note-worthy blogs and Tweets of non-Caucasians (or, POC, People of Color)[2] and haphazardly picked a few at random to follow.[3]

            So, yes, @DruHart @EugeneCho @CSCleve (who I think started all this)  @infiniteideal and @miheekimkort I was one of the flood of white people who you suddenly found amongst your Twitter followers the other day. A couple of them even followed back, which was nice.[4]

            The result of this, besides this scintillating blogpost you now find yourself reading, was that my Twitter suddenly went to war against itself. “Iraqi Christians in danger from Islamic militants” was no longer the dominant theme scrolling down my page. #Ferguson and #Michael Brown appeared and with them came accounts of the tragedy that took place near St. Louis last week and the protests mingled with violence (from both sides, apparently) that have swiftly followed. [5]

            I contrast these two seemingly unrelated tragedies because it seems odd that the one in which America seemingly has the most interest (Iraq) seems to be the one that has the least direct impact on Americans. Make no mistake, the events that have transpired in Iraq, including the persecution of minorities, are terrible.[6] If even half of what has been reported as happening is accurate then there is certainly quite a lot of grief to be felt over the situation. But you know what it’s not? It’s not on our doorstep. It’s not hanging over our heads, happening in our communities, or heating-up on our streets.

            The situation in Ferguson, MO is all of those things. It’s here, it’s escalating, and it’s of our making. And it’s not just in Ferguson. There seems to be a long-lasting, wide-spread epidemic of unarmed black men dying at the hands of law enforcement officials.Whether the deaths of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others were the results of poor judgment, poor police-work, racist people, racists profiles, the wrong people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a combination of these and other reasons, the truth is becoming evidently clear.

            The lives of the “lower-class” aren’t just cheap in Iraq; they’re pretty cheap here, too.

            It’s not just “radical Islam” that has trouble valuing life; mainstream America has the same problem.

            Let me pause here to say that I have known several policemen and law enforcement officials over the years and they have all bee honorable men and women. To do the work they do is to see man at his worst, pain at its deepest, and depravity at its zenith. To give your life to that profession is to do something worthy of great honor and respect and too often they are made the butt of jokes, the objects of scorn, and portrayed as the root of evil. They are none of those things. They are, however, put in a position of power, given a shield and a gun and told to serve and protect. Most often they do, but when they don’t, because of the nature of their position, an abuse of power can have horrible and sometimes deadly consequences.

            There’s a great, great quote from the old Hawaii Five-O TV show about the sanctity of life that should, in my opinion, be displayed in every police station in the US. McGarrett’s lieutenant is under investigation for shooting and killing a young, unarmed man and in the course of their conversation McGarrett has this gem of a quote:

            You think it's easier to kill a grown man? You think the next one'll be easier than this one? God help you if you do. It better hurt every time. It better tear your guts out every time you pull that gun, whether you use it or not. You learn to live with it, but don't get used to it.”

            No one becomes a saint when they pin on a shield or when they assume a position of power and influence. They’re still fallen people like the rest of us, prone to act irrationally, judge unjustly, and operate under their own unique cocktail of fears, prejudices, and predetermined notions. No one, including the police, is immune from the effects of the Fall. We all judge people based on our perception of them and that perception is as much determined by our pasts as it is their present condition.

            We use these same parameters to determine which causes we support and which ones we’ll ignore. Which stories are important and which ones are just white noise.[7] There’s nothing wrong with this as long as recognize that these blinders exist and work to correct and adjust them as need be.

            The end result is a dead man in the streets, his life, death, and existences judged by the color of his skin and the vocation of his killer.

            But it’s worse than that, you see, because the root problem isn’t a matter of skin color, religion, sex, or politics. The problem is that we use these and other parameters to decide which lives are more valuable and therefore which deaths are worth mourning and which tragedies are worth the outcry. We use familiarity and similarity as means by which to determine which side of the conflict is the “right” side.

             This person is like me? Oh, good. Now I know to be outraged when they’re wronged and defensive when they’re accused.

            They aren’t? Well, I’m sure they had it coming or that someone somewhere is doing something about it.

            Call it racism, call it societal oppression, call it whatever. But if you’re more concerned about what’s going on at the other side of the world to people you perceive as being “like you” than you are about a dead man in your streets, I think you’re missing something. Something vital.

            Psalms 10 shows us that God aligns Himself with the oppressed, the fatherless, and the humbled. He stands against the oppressor, the proud, and the wicked. His desire for justice is not dependent on skin-tone or religious affiliation. And where He stands, we should stand. What he desires, we should desire. If His heart is grieved, then ours should be also, and a young black man bleeding out in the streets of St. Louis grieves His heart as surely as does the beheading of elderly Iraqi woman in the Middle East.

            To the latter we may only be able to respond with prayer and foreign aid, but the former is near to us and within the distance our feet can travel and our hands can reach. We need not downplay (or exaggerate) the violence happening in the name of religion and violent politics in lands not our own, but we have a greater, more pressing injustice to address within our own borders.

            God help us all if we get used to people dying in our streets.


[1] “non-Caucasian” is used her because I followed people of varying ethnic backgrounds and descents, not because I think Caucasian is the standard against which all should be measured. Just so everyone knows

[2] Some seem to embrace this acronym, others don’t.

[3] I’m not actually saying that only following people who are like you or who think like you makes you either of those things, but I sure wasn’t going to risk it. And, in my defense, I already follow Thabiti Anyabwile, so it wasn’t like my Twitter was only white people. I would follow Anthony Bradley, but he’s not out there that I can find.

[4] I imagine it went something like, “Whoa, who is this white dude that popped up? I better follow him back, in case he’s up to no good.” Because I totally am. Up to no good. Usually.

[5] Check out the Twitter account of @AntonioFrench to get an idea of what has happened since the shooting

[6] Although, as Joe Carter over at TGC points out, they may not be as sensationalistic as you think.

[7] No racial overtones or pun intended. It’s just a phrase.

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