Current Events

Clearly, We Are on the Same Page

Taelor Gray

Last night, I watched the cell phone video coverage of the shooting of Walter Scott with what I can only describe as a momentary yet disturbing sort of desensitization. I’d like to say I was just shocked. I wish I could say I was shocked. I now see that it has been difficult for my conscience to emerge from the World Star fight videos, looped Vine shenanigans, and recycled Facebook video footage with a healthy sense of life’s gravity. It took a moment for me to realize that I was watching a real-time video of someone’s life being taken.

Putting my over-exposure to social media aside, what really impacted me about this reality was the fact that I had just put my one-year-old son to bed for the night. As I saw Mr. Scott run for his life, observed the officer coolly maintain a firing stance, and then watched the officer proceed to unload multiple shots into Mr. Scott’s back, my immediate thought was, “That could be my son.” I don’t know if this thought was triggered because we had just enjoyed our nightly ritual of Barney and Friends with a warm bottle of milk, or if he’d made me laugh earlier while changing his diaper, or because I couldn’t get over how much he seemed to enjoy the Minnie Ripperton vinyl I played during his dinner. I just felt an overwhelming sense that my son was in danger. I was overcome with grief.

My initial response to this situation has gone from desensitized, to sorrow, to finally a type of numb cynicism. I want to be careful to define the sensation as cynicism, because I refuse to give in to apathy, although the terms may sound similar. What am I cynical about? The thought came to me immediately: White people still won’t care. Obviously, I need to unpack that.

  1. This is the first thought that came to my mind, which is an uncensored glimpse into the thoughts that are not always captured by Christ. I was tired, cranky, hungry after a bout of illness, and weak—not exactly the mental environment for Godly, holy thoughts. Instead, my mind was ripe for harsh generalizations borne from intense emotions.
  2. Seeing so much of these recent police injustices being endlessly discussed via social media platforms has unfortunately soured my mind. Even people saying the right things seem to be saying them with an agenda, and it has been difficult to cling to hope when the immediate view is ego-jousting or political positioning.
  3. The racial reconciliation discussion in the church has been exhausting. At Veritas Community Church, I have genuine brothers to unite with in these discussions. We are diving headfirst into issues of racism with faith-filled optimism, aggressive intentionality, and a fearless hope fixed on nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness. But it still gets exhausting. I can feel when we begin to disconnect. I understand how tough it is to translate this “now-discussion” of race and the Church into a challenge to re-think every preconceived notion one might have about black people in this country. I understand how it can be difficult to navigate white guilt vs. good, fruitful conviction that moves us toward change. All of it is great and we’ll keep trusting God’s grace during the journey. Yet in the midst of the entire process, I’m still black in this country. I still feel the weight of that through all of these discussions.

So where does this leave us? I’ve given my stages of reaction and even a little psychology behind why I’ve landed in some of those places. What is left to convey? I, for one, am sure that there are far more educated voices with more prominent platforms who will astound us with their views on these historic moments in our country. We’ve already seen many great writings. However, I hope to make a few points and ask a few practical questions in light of this discussion.

Clarity is Subjective

One of my dear white brothers who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past six months said something that sparked this article. We were with a couple of other pastors talking about the video clip, and he said something like, “I’m glad we have the video, because clearly we can see the act of wrongdoing in this case.” When he said that, it immediately gave me pause, because in these situations, the adverb “clearly” does not mean the same thing to everyone—nor is it used in the same context. I think of the Ferguson events, where a video circulated of Mike Brown’s “strong-arm robbery” and the message promulgated throughout much of the news media, both liberal and conservative, was “Mike Brown was clearly a thug.” Unfortunately, this echoed through much of the commentary from some church leaders as well. After watching the Eric Garner footage, many people in the black community cried out: “He clearly was murdered by a police officer, although he did not resist!” We land on the Walter Scott shooting, and we quickly rejoice that Officer Slager was arrested and charged. We do not have a conviction, so we’ll see how “clearly” the jury sees this piece of evidence.

Social Media: A Gift and a Curse

I previously detailed some of the personal ill effects social medial has had on my conscience. Ironically, many of these gone-viral camera-phone scoops are actually impacting the conscience of this nation and fueling this current discussion of racism. Critical questions should be asked—what if this officer was not taped? Would he have successfully been acquitted via a falsified report? How many other officers are doing this? How many years has this been going on? I’ve seen videos over the past eight months that have simply amplified what has been an internal reality of the black community for centuries. So only now it has become a national discussion because we have the technology to help the public see that black folks aren’t exaggerating? Now we look at the demographics of the North Charleston Police Department and find that they are eerily similar to much of the demographics detailed in the DOJ report regarding Ferguson…how far does this reach? The viral properties of Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have been effective in igniting these discussions.

We Need the Spirit of God NOW

I’ve heard the “right message.” I’ve heard the “right theology.” I’ve heard the seminars, and the studies, and the ideological hypotheses of how we improve as a church. Now is time for the ugly uncovering of our hearts before God. The deepest, most painful types of repentance are only made sweeter by the indwelling Spirit of God. His affections for Jesus, his love for the Father, his power equipping us to show this world what grace looks like and shatter the social norm—this is what we need. We need the Spirit. We don’t just need a theology of the Spirit’s work, we need him to fill us and our waste-laid cities. There are wicked spiritual rulers and authorities that have feasted off of this nation’s Christian witness because of systemic racism. The arm of God in this world is the power of the Holy Spirit. He changes hearts, he reveals the truth of the Gospel, he renews minds, he opens our eyes, he convicts, he unshackles, he resurrects. So what do we do? We pray and then we act. We preach. We befriend. We listen. We march. We serve. We give money. We vote. We show no fear. God is for us. We place our trust in him and thrive in the Spirit’s courage.

This isn’t a romanticized conclusion. This is hope. This is why those born again in Jesus do not have apathy. What we don’t see fully restored here we know we’ll see restored in eternity. Revelation 5 is the page we all will be on, so let us tend to heavenly things.

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