The following are excerpts from a statement made by Pastor Kent Carlson on July 10, 2016, regarding the recent events which have polarized and rocked our country. For more of this sermon, we encourage you to Listen On-Line at the Oak Hills Church media page. Look for “The Book of Psalms: Confession” on July 10, 2016.
As we all know, this was a bad week in America with regards to racial relations, particularly as it involves the police. We had two African American men killed by white police officers for no known reason. We don’t know the details yet, or the results of the investigation, but we have this time, and this is becoming increasingly common. We have horrendous and gruesome videos and photos and audio of these men being killed, even though we don’t know the whole story yet.
We don’t know the reasons behind the shootings. Some say it was racism, clear and simple. Others say it was really terrible judgment, or perhaps bad training, or bad learning, on the part of the police officers, or there may be other factors that we don’t know about yet. But there aren’t too many people objectively looking at the situation arguing that the killings were justified. These kinds of violent, fatal, and unjust events simply enflame the feelings and the fear and the anger and the lived experiences of many of our African American brothers and sisters in this country. And if some of us are not aware of these feelings and experiences and fears and anger, or if we minimize them or make them something trivial or without legitimate justification, then I would say that we simply have not had an honest, authentic conversation with an African American brother or sister lately.
And we ought to take a time out, before we say anything else or form any more hardened opinions, and ask god to give us the holy privilege of listening to someone explain these feelings and experiences and fears and anger—and just listen. Just listen, and try as best as we can to understand this world from the perspective of somebody else—without justifying, without explaining, without interrupting, without trying to argue that the other person’s feelings and experiences and fear and anger are an over-reaction or not according to reason or the truth.
But then we had another unthinkable event in Dallas, Texas this past Thursday. A heavily armed African American, ex-army reserve private who had served in Afghanistan, ambushed, killed, murdered, five police officers and wounded seven others, and wounded two by-standers as well, before he was killed by the police. The police were there in larger numbers because they were providing security and protection for people, primarily African Americans, who were marching in a “Black Lives Matter” protest. These officers were killed by a man who apparently said that he wanted to kill white people.
I know a number of police officers—as do many of you—and you know they put their lives on the line every day to serve their communities, to protect us. And they see the raw underbelly of society more clearly than most anyone else, and the vast, vast overwhelming majority of them serve with heroism and distinction every day they are at work. For these five murdered officers, this heroic service cost them their lives, and their families are grieving horribly over this deranged, racist individual who murdered their loved ones.
As is to be expected in our increasingly antagonistic and polarized world, the news feeds and Facebook and Twitter, as well as politicians and pundits and talk show hosts and other people who have a public presence both small or large, as well as just normal folks like you and me, took to the air and the internet to point fingers and to blame and make exaggerated and unfounded claims from dubious sources. And all this has accomplished is to stoke the fires of antagonism and hatred and anger and blame even further. It polarizes people far away from each other on opposite sides of the issues so far away that it is almost impossible to hear each other.
Now, I’m not going to say a lot about all this today. I’m certainly not going to be another voice that polarizes or builds antagonism and hatred and immature judgments. I simply want to remind us all here at Oak Hills, that we are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ, and at the heart of the message of Christ is the message and the work of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the bringing of alienated people together in the transforming presence of Christ for healing and for peace for the establishment, and building up of shalom in this world. Sometimes in our world, this task of reconciliation seems impossible, because the anger and hatred and inability to hear each other is so overwhelming. But regardless, it is our job it is who we are to be agents of reconciliation. This is the work of the kingdom of god. And as followers of Christ, our voices and our lives should be at the center of bringing people together.
I read yesterday this little Facebook post from a young African American woman named Natasha Howell, from Andover, Massachusetts, and she wrote this:
So this morning I went to a convenience store to get a protein bar, and as I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers, one about my age and the other several years older, who were talking to the clerk, an older white woman behind the counter, about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days. They all looked at me and fell silent.
I went about my business to get what i was looking for, and as I turned back up the aisle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the aisle watching me. As I got closer, he asked me, “How are you doing?”
And I replied, “Okay. And you?”
He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?
I looked at him and said, “I’m tired.”
His reply was, “Me too.” Then he said, “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?”
I said, “No. It’s not.” Then he hugged me, and I cried.
“I had never seen that man before in my life. I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me. What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning that was absolutely beautiful. No judgments. No justifications. Just two people sharing a moment.”
That’s the ministry of reconciliation. This police officer was a minister of reconciliation. He bridged the gap—the chasm—that separates us.