Just about everyone in America knows Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. This tragic reality is not the first of it’s kind, but has gained a lot of attention largely due to the Sanford Police Department’s handling or lack of handling the case and of George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin. I’ve waited a while to respond because like many I was outraged when I heard what happened, but I decided to wait til all of the facts came out because I knew there would be a social, racial and eventually even a theological divide over this case. When I thought that I would be able to speak from the perspective of a gospel-centered African-American solely addressing Mr. Zimmerman, I heard Richard Land’s comments on the case and I couldn’t keep silent as both blacks and whites have asked my opinion. Before I proceed I want to say that I believe deeply that most of what I share addresses the gospel and not just opinions, but I’m sure some will spin it and I accept that reality.
I think it’s important to note that the gospel demands that we care for both Martin and Zimmerman, in fact my church which has blacks and whites had a prayer for our country and we prayed for Martin’s family and we prayed for Zimmerman to respond to the gospel. While I’m a proud African-American, I identify with my heavenly race as a child of God before identifying with my “blackness” and I must be intentional about this because I do wrestle with this daily. As a more reformed African-American I’ve witnessed and have been the victim of racial jokes, assumptions and prejudice by those that claim to deeply believe in the doctrine of grace, but not necessarily actively displaying that when it comes to those of different ethnicities. Before you think I’m going off course, I share this because this part of the issue with Mr. Land’s comments and many like him. The issue is that African-Americans are oftentimes judged by whites socially and theologically because they believe their views of people and ways of doing things are “right” and not just preferential. In case you missed Richard Land’s comments let me remind you of what has caused (justly) this outrage:
“people are justified in seeing you black men as threatening. A black man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man”
So here’s some of the problems with this statement: 1) It assumes that statistical data determines character 2) It affirms fears that many have because of prejudice in their hearts and uses “stats” as a smokescreen to affirm racial and social profiling 3) It generalizes African-American men to stats (which aren’t factual in this case) that don’t apply to them 4) IT SHOULDN’T BE SAID BY A BLOOD WASHED CHRISTIAN. Here’s why it shouldn’t be said and consider this my social reductio ad absurdum: White men are statistically more likely to be serial killers, rapist and child molesters in America. Since this is a statistical fact all of humanity is justified in being fearful of having their children around white men, in fact white women shouldn’t readily trust their own husbands around their children if they are married to a white man because he’s more likely to molest his own children than any other ethnic group in America. Do you see the problem with using “stats” to determine or set a trajectory for character? Using Mr. Land’s logic should I not allow any white men to hold or touch my children, should I never let them in my house and should I sleep with one eye open? Of course not, while these stats may be true it’s simply irresponsible, incomprehensible and SINFUL for me to treat anyone this way based on the statical data of others. What makes this such a volatile issue is the fact that it was said and that the apology wasn’t one that owned up to what was said as sinful. It was the traditional “I’m sorry YOU feel that way” and “my black friends know I’m not a racist” jargon that we here from many white politicians that want the Christian vote, but don’t hold to the essential doctrines of the faith. African-Americans expect our white brothers and sisters to be just as outraged as we are by these comments and we don’t want to feel like he’s (Richard Land) being defended for a past track record. Being African-American and in the SBC is hard enough considering the history of the convention and what the SBC must realize is that African-Americans take the general silence amongst those with large platforms with the exception of a few is taken as acceptance. We (African-Americans) by in large don’t want a response after our outraged is viewed, we want to see initiative and intentionality concerning race relations. We want to feel like the SBC is color-embracing and not color-blind. Color-blindness is the issue because there’s a lack of understanding and willingness to understand and embrace African-American culture. I realize that not everyone has been silent and I’m not saying that Richard Land is a racist because I don’t know him personally and I can’t judge his heart, but I can and will examine his statements and yes I’ve heard and read the content of the entire talk and no matter how you spin it, his statements are just plain WRONG. The comments are wrong there should be an apology not for how you made us feel, but for what was said and any refusal of that is pride and should be viewed as sinful.
My prayer in all of this is for Richard Land and the SBC to understand that potentially electing Fred Luter isn’t enough. Having African-American in high ranking positions doesn’t deal with the real issue which is the heart, in fact it comes across as spiritual affirmative action when African-Americans are used as tokens of inclusion without the intentionality to support it, I’m not saying that’s the case with Mr. Luter, but as a member of the convention I want to honestly say that’s how WE ARE perceived because of the lack of diversity and handling of race relations. Having African-Americans in prominent positions within the convention doesn’t address the hearts of the members of the convention and this is what must be talked about honestly, candidly and consistently. We all (including me) bring prejudices to the table because of the first Adam, but because of the second Adam I can honestly confront my prejudice with the reality of His grace and love for me. This is what must be actively displayed and confronted in order for authentic racial, color and culture-embracing reconciliation to become an organic reality within the SBC and I realize that I play a role in that as well.