A Call for White Believers to Engage Pain and Responsibility
“Christians are never angry enough. We have learned to distance ourselves from anger, irrespective of whether it is righteous or unrighteous… If we allow ourselves to join God’s fury and then focus on what we are to hate (evil, sin, ugliness), our hearts may discover a new dimension of the character of God. Righteous anger warns, invites change, and wounds.
True anger is paradoxical in that it has the strength to inflict pain, but it burns with the desire for reconciliation. It is bold, but it is also broken.”
Cry of the Soul – Dan Allender and Tremper Longman
I write this two days after the killing of Alton Sterling; one day after the murder of Philando Castile. I add this line as I send it in the morning after 11 Dallas officers were ambushed, 5 of whom are now dead and whose names I would write down if I knew them.
I feel more disgusted than angry, more shaken than resolute. Confused and conflicted.
The problem is not complex. The problem is simply that I, as a white American male, am not only afforded many opportunities, but am also able to avoid many fears simply because of my skin tone, profile, hazel eyes, and the consistency of my straight brown hair.
This is not a call for white guilt, which serves only to justify the mind of the privileged and does little for the oppressed. This is a call for white responsibility. A call to join in the fight for the here-and-now freedom of our fellow image-bearers (Isaiah 58 and 61). A call to be angry about those things which anger God, which in this case is the continued oppression of a people group through fear and violence (Prov. 6:16-19). This call is an echo resounding from Paul’s imperative in Philippians 2, where we are told to take on the same mindset of Christ as we pursue unity within the body. The same mindset which actually had the Son of God laying aside his rights as God. Paul’s pleading cry that you and I ‘in humility value others above yourselves.’
Righteous anger warns, invites change, and wounds.
I have been hearing the warning cry from my African-American brothers and sisters for as long as I have been listening. I believe I would have heard it sooner had I had ears to hear, but I chose denial and blame-shifting as an easier, softer way. My black brothers and sisters have invited me into change as well, a change of perspective towards something more empathetic and reasonable. Now righteous anger prompts me towards a wounding which is necessary and good. The problem, as I see it, is that for my black brothers and sisters to feel less oppressed and more free, I must embrace a wounding. To truly support the equal treatment of the image of God in all types of men and women, I will feel pain in places I do not want to feel pain. For generations the necessary pains for freedom have been deferred to black men, women and children. I ought to feel disgusted and angered by this, and it is a sad fact that far too often I feel little more than uncomfortable.
I am not exactly sure how this will work. As a white male, I am well acquainted with comforts and an upper tier in the hierarchy of American culture. It is in those very places -my pride, comforts, and collective ego- that I will most likely feel the necessary wounding for change to occur.
For now, I will start by venturing to seek out empathy and understanding. Throughout Scripture, there are precedents and examples of lamenting and mourning together, (see Jemar Tisby’s post for great insight on this) but it doesn’t stop there.
Romans 12:15 actually commands us to ‘weep with those who weep’ as a part of living in unity as one body. So, I will watch the videos which churn my stomach, read the posts which frighten and rattle my heart, and cry for the orphaned children who have been made fatherless. I will engage with the pain which is presented to me. I will embrace the uncomfortable. I will screw up along the way and I will repent. I will open myself to conviction and ask for a repentant heart. Along with the psalmist in chapter 88, I will lament my anger to God as to why it is the way it is.
I will not turn a deaf ear to the cries of the heartbroken. In fact, I will try to become a safe person for my African-American friends to vulnerably share their anger, hurt and confusion– listening without judgment if and when they choose, rather than at my convenience. I will try to speak up when other white’s play the victim, cry foul, or seek to give guilt-shirking platitudes or answers. I will continue to listen, continue to seek to feel the pain of the black community, even as my heart breaks for the men and women in uniform who were ambushed. Grief is never either/or. Grief is inclusive, it is always both/and.
Pain is the place to start. I will allow myself to despair, and as I share in desperation I will turn my hope to God; again, and again, and again, until change finds its proper place. I will open myself to the life-changing mechanism of pain (Rom.5:3-5), which in turn will give me courage to act upon and eyes to see any God-given opportunities to seek freedom for my black and brown skinned brothers and sisters.
I ask you to join me.
In an effort to try and step away from my white privilege by making this post about the issue rather than the author, I sign this anonymously:
A heartbroken white male
4 thoughts on “A Call for White Believers to Engage Pain and Responsibility”
Holy Smokes! Did I just read something that could be some up along the line of “I will ignore the truth when it isn’t going the way I’d like it to go”?
I too am an angry white man. As a 48 yr old, I grew up in the 1970’s and early 80’s. My parents divorced when I was 5 and I was raised by my mother and a slightly abusive step-father who was mostly disengaged from parenting. We never went hungry but there were certainly no luxuries during my childhood. There were plenty of domestic strife, alcohol fueled squabbles, and frequent trips to neighborhood bars in search of my step father. At an early age I can recall wishing to be older, not so I could “be cool” or “be stronger” or “tougher”, but so I could get a job. Money was always in short supply.
I went to work the summer before I entered 7th grade cleaning a “beer joint” every morning before school. I did this job for most of my 7th grade year. Every summer afterwards, I would spend working in the construction business with my father. (he was just a carpenter and did not own his own business). I did this in order to buy my school clothes each year. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m sure there were plenty of kids doing the same thing as I was. Nothing in my life was easy, nothing was given to me. I tried to become a Police officer in the early 90’s only to be told “we don’t need another officer that looks like you”. I have no white privilege to feel guilty about. If I did have some, I would gladly trade it for some affirmative action. I currently have a full time job and 2 part time jobs. I have always treated others equally and will continue to do so. I live by the “golden rule”, my feelings are forged from my experience and I am not ashamed of them.
Natasha S Peacock
Wow! Powerful! Thank you!