Thoughts on Racial Issues, pt. 3

There was an incident in Indianapolis back in May that has stirred up quite a bit of racial tension in that city. A young black man, Brandon Johnson, was beaten until bruised and bloodied by five white police officers, who claimed that he was resisting arrest after trying to prevent the arrest of his younger brother. This is, without doubt, a clear case of police brutality. And, to be honest, it is probably more likely than not that Johnson was beaten to the degree he was because he is a young black man. To make matters worse, of the five officers involved, one was fired, one was reprimanded, and the other three went unpunished.

But the racial tensions resulting from the incident in May have lingered and even grown in the intervening months. There have been rallies, marches, and protests against the Indianapolis Metro Police Department. Civil rights figureheads, most notably Al Sharpton, have spoken to crowds, calling for all of the officers involved to be fired.

Most recently (and most stomach-turning-ly), it appears one church has gone too far in trying to make their point.

Sgt. Matthew Grimes was asked to give a presentation to a church audience on July 24 at Municipal Gardens, in the 1800 block of Lafayette Road.
During the presentation, an altercation broke out in the crowd, and Grimes intervened. The officer was thrown to the ground and drew his Taser, ready to stun one of the people involved, police said.
At that point, someone stepped in and told the officer that the incident had been concocted to test the reaction of the officer to the situation, police said. Grimes suffered severe back spasms after the incident and was taken to Methodist Hospital for treatment.

The reason this pains me so much is that it’s another example of how racial issues have become such a focus in our nation that they even trump religious conviction. The leadership at this church in Indianapolis became so consumed with racial issues, that they forgot about grace, forgiveness, and love. And, on top of that, their ‘experiment’ led to a man being injured – an officer who was giving a presentation about how the IMPD was working to bridge racial gaps. I honestly don’t know how anyone can objectively look at this situation and not think, “Race-baiting.”

One of the issues I’ve been pondering concerning racial issues in America is what the Church’s role should be. To be honest, I don’t have an easy answer. Part of me thinks that the Church should cry out with one voice for peace, justice, equality, and righteousness in this world. We should be a force for positive change, a champion for fair treatment of all people, as the above church in Indianapolis was apparently trying to be. If we could just unite and all pull the same direction, we could make a real difference in the very fabric of our culture. And if we could make that happen, stuff like racial tension would just disappear.

But as nice as that sounds, that doesn’t sound very much like the Jesus you see in scripture. Jesus was made an oft-quoted statement about treating other people the way you want to be treated. And, on the surface, this sounds a whole lot like peace, equality, and justice. That is, until you read some of the other stuff Jesus said and didn’t say.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

-Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said if someone slaps you, don’t slap them back. He said if someone sues you and takes your shirt, give them your coat, too. These statements don’t fit in with the idea of justice on display at a church in Indianapolis. More to the point, they don’t fit in with the idea of justice that I believe most of us carry around in our heads.

I think our idea of justice comes more from our sinful nature than it does from God. Justice, to us, often means retaliation, vengeance, “evening the score”. That’s what the Mosaic Law said – “the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'” But Jesus flipped the script on that.

On the whole, I believe the role the Church should play in racial issues should be even less than we currently do. The World doesn’t need us to shout at it or at each other about what legislation needs to be passed, or about who should lose their job over this incident or that incident. What the World needs is for us, the Church, black followers of Christ and white followers of Christ, to love Jesus and love each other. If it’s true that you can truly be known for one defining characteristic, wouldn’t we (the Church) rather be known for the love of God displayed in us than for our politics or our skin color?

Peace.

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