I spoke very briefly yesterday about the killing of George Floyd, the protests, and the riots. As a general rule, I'm reticent to speak to events that are still unfolding and being politicized. These days it seems like that's everything.
I read this morning in 1 Peter 4 that those who have been called to preach or teach "should do so as one who speaks the very words of God," meaning clearly with confidence. It's tempting to rush into speaking confidently for God before hearing clearly from God.
I want my words to be reasoned and helpful. And if a situation is still unfolding or if everyone hears my words as making a political statement, it's hard to be that. Nevertheless, I do have something to say, even if not the final thing to say.
Teaching the wisdom of scripture in a time of social unrest feels like trying to teach a crowded theater how to safely evacuate after someone has already yelled "fire." They're too panicked to hear.
We can all reason that when people don't hear your words it's best to just lead the way. And when people don't notice you leading the way, it's good to take their arm and pull them to safety.
But what if they fight you? And what is safety?
To the shop owner whose store is being looted by opportunistic thieves, is safety just going home?
To citizens whose city is being set on fire by anarchists, is safety just getting out of their way?
To officers who fear for their lives, but who have sworn to uphold the law, is safety just standing down?
To blacks who fear for their lives, and feel unheard, is safety just being quiet?
To whites who fear being called racist if they don't say the right thing the right way, is safety just being quiet?
Two mixed-race boys call me Pop Pop. I can tell my grandsons all day long that they're just as much white as they are black, but it doesn't change that the world sees them as black. And I can say all day long that they actually have certain privileges that I don't have. But it doesn't change that I have certain privileges they don't. Or that I don't face the same kind of hatred they do.
Proverbs 18:13 says "To answer before listening -- that is folly and shame." And Proverbs 18:17 reminds us that "In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines."
Whether we're outraged at racism or rioting (and why can't it be both?) wisdom takes time to listen.
Our perspective is small. We think it's large and global but we're seeing the world through a little window called "the media." We only see what they show us. And then we interpret it as right or wrong by another little window called "our own experiences." Sure, we can flip channels and we should. We can try to look through multiple windows and we should.
Turn to FOX and you see people looting and destroying things. It's really happening.
Turn to CNN and you see people sitting peacefully in quiet protest. It's really happening.
Turn to social media and you will see the hate of racism. It's really happening.
And pay attention to social media and you will see people of all colors who are not racist, and who are working for peace. It is really happening.
But it seems like if anyone speaks about one reality without recognizing the other, people call them names. And if they speak of neither reality for fear of being misunderstood, people call them names.
Proverbs 26:4-5, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."
It seems you can't win. Usually you just have to pick one and live with the consequences.
For those reasons, I'm reticent to say anything about current events, and yet I'm compelled to speak hope and reason today to a circle of people who call me "pastor." And if you care to speak the same hope and reason to those who call you family or friend, may God use it to bring hope and reason to the overlapping circles we call society.
Prudence calls us to be slow to judgment about people and their actions. But love calls us to be swift to action in rescuing the oppressed. And both prudence and love call us to be consistent in our judgments about what is right and wrong.
Here's my counsel:
And if #3 seems objectionable to you in any way, reread it as God telling you to do it. It's not written for you to agree with. It's written for you to learn from. Here it is again as we read it in James 3:13-18,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Let's live as "wise and understanding," as beacons of light and hope, sowing peace and righteousness. For those who live by the Holy Spirit, there is such love joy and peace, even in the face of such great conflict. As believers, this world is not our home. But as we join together, Jesus is at home with us while we are in this world.
Psalm 120:7, "I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war."
Even if others are for war, let us work together for peace.
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.