First words

I stopped speaking up a long time ago.

I grew up in the social media era. As a result, I felt I needed to voice my opinion on every single issue. Many of us felt that way.

Then came the Facebook arguments.

The endless back-and-forth battle for the passive aggressive likes of like-minded friends that only served to further entrench us in our beliefs — and contribute to our own echo chamber when we deleted the friends who dared disagree with us.

I’m an Enneagram Nine. A peacemaker. I can’t stand conflict. I already felt the internal battle within me as my orthodox Christian beliefs and my Democratic politics conflicted with each other.

I soon stopped posting articles or voicing opinions on Facebook. I was over it. It was enough to deal with my own internal debates. I decided I’d avoid situations in which my Facebook account would become a lightning rod for overzealous Christian friends to argue with me over secular politics or theological issues.

You may have noticed I stopped posting on Facebook at all, with the exception of the occasional profile picture change.

I retreated for a good bit, only discussing theological or political issues in the safety of my home with my wife. I can’t do that anymore.

This time was too much. It was too heavy. It drew me out.

I hadn’t heard of Ahmaud Arbery until this week. I saw the video. I saw him fight for his life. He went down swinging. My heart broke.

I decided this warranted something, even if it was just a Facebook post. I couldn’t remain silent. I understand things can be complicated. Sometimes, white people feel like they need all the facts first or they hesitate before going against the Blue. But this is a case in which things are as clear cut as they can be.

The video is clear. If you can’t speak out against injustice when it is clear-cut, how in the world are you going to be able to speak up when things get more complicated, nuanced or fuzzy? Life can be grey sometimes, but this is as black and white as it can be.

Seriously: what the hell sort of world do we live in, where fully grown white men believe it is their responsibility to grab their guns and play cops and robbers?

I am so glad that I’ve seen some of my conservative friends speaking up. Shoot, even my church—which too often seems to walk the fine line between righteousness and not pissing off their rich white donors—spoke up on this, albeit very lightly. Louie Giglio spoke up, 12Stone Church spoke up, Andy Stanley spoke up, Browns Bridge Church spoke up.

It was a breath of fresh air. The liberal churches are always speaking up. I was so encouraged that traditional and conservative-leaning churches thought this warranted something. But to those individuals or churches who are still hesitant to speak up… you’ve got to.

What is worth more—speaking up for the oppressed or protecting your donor base?

It reminds me of an incredibly powerful song entitled “When I’m Silent” by Tow’rs.

 

I pulled the trigger I held the gun,

The smoking barrel of indifference,

I pulled the trigger I held the gun,

When I’m silent it’s violent, When I’m silent…

 

The silence of the white community has been deafening for years. The indifference disappointing. We can’t do it anymore. This case is easy. It’s so easy and risk-free to speak up now. So do it.

But then remember that it can’t stop now. This is going to happen again. I guarantee it. And we have to be even louder each time it happens. You know why?

Because we don’t listen to black people.

We relegate black women to the category of “angry black woman.” And if a black man were to get fired up about this, we would view him as dangerous or threatening. It’s a shame, but it’s true.

My wife has gotten fired up about this over the last few days. If I heard a black man say the kinds of things she’s said, would I still accept him or would I view him as violent or radical? I’m afraid to answer that one.

Ahmaud died in February. It’s May now. I guarantee you the black community around Brunswick has been loud about this for months! It wasn’t until whites got on board that something was done. THAT’S A PROBLEM. And that’s why whites cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out.

That responsibility is on me, and you, to be allies. Blacks have been fighting for centuries. It’s about time we join them. Because they can’t change the world on their own. You know why? Because we won’t let them. This isn’t a white savior call to action. This is saying that white people don’t listen to black people’s problems. Until we do, nothing’s changing.

I understand the things that make the United States unique and worth celebrating. But I’m not a patriot with rose-colored glasses on. I am a realist. I see what’s good in our history and I see what’s bad. And the idealist in me knows we can be so much more than we have been.

Our entire nation’s story is haunted by the ghosts of racism and violence. In our founding years, we imported people as slaves and made them build our buildings, universities and economies. Even after the Civil War, we denied them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Nine days after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn was murdered by three white men in Madison County, right outside Athens. Investigators believed the men were motivated out of racial hatred and, after noticing the D.C. tags on Penn’s car, were trying to retaliate for the new legislation.

Our history is grey. There’s good, there’s bad. But in times like these, it’s hard to see the good. There has not been a time in this country when things have been “good” for black people. Yes, slavery ended. Yes, civil rights legislation passed. Yes, we have had a black president.

But the legacy of Jim Crow continues. Racism lingers through the generations. Profiling and prejudice endure. And don’t even get me started about how white people’s perceptions of black people and black communities ruin real estate prospects and school districts for black people. White flight, anyone?

I grew up attending Clarke County schools. Most of my classmates were black. I learned about MLK. All of this stuff was in my history books. I didn’t realize the extend to which it was still going on outside of my history book. We can’t let that happen. We can’t allow white children to grow up being taught that the fight for equal rights and protection is one that was completed. Otherwise, they won’t understand the active role they need to play.

I admire the character of the black community. In the over two months since Ahmaud was murdered, did any black people retaliate? Did any black people seek justice for themselves? No one attempted to murder the McMichaels. No white joggers have been killed in a drive-by.

Think of other conflicts in the world. If they get one of yours, you go out and get one of theirs. But black people have better character than that. They aren’t seeking out justice for themselves as vigilantes. It’s so admirable. Let’s not let the justice system fail them. They have every right to be angry or lose patience. But they aren’t going out and killing white people.

So why do we have white people going out and being vigilantes? Shooting blacks in the streets?

Jesus said those who lose their life will gain it. He said don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body. If Jesus doesn’t want us living with a fear of death, how much less important would he deem our possessions?

He said not to store up treasures on earth. If Jesus says don’t be afraid of losing your life, how much more should we not worry about stuff?

Given Jesus’ words on possessions, how upset should we become about break-ins and robberies? I am not saying don’t call the police if you’re worried about someone breaking the law. But Jesus wouldn’t want you so absolutely hung up on protecting your possessions that you grab your shotgun and chase a man down in the middle of the street.

There are two fatal mistakes the McMichaels made here.

The first is believing the situation called for a deadly weapon. They were wrong to profile Ahmaud in the first place. But let’s give them that and say that they should have just called the police and left it at that. Instead, they grabbed their weapons. They decided that someone potentially stealing their treasure on earth was worth taking a life.

The second mistake is that the McMichaels saw it as their responsibility to play the police. There is something inherent in white people that we just have to exert control over blackness. Are we afraid of blacks? Do we feel we are better than blacks? They just couldn’t help but exert control and authority over a black man. It’s a tendency that runs back hundreds of years. I am ashamed.

How backwards is that response given Jesus’ words? Jesus doesn’t want us to be afraid of death and he doesn’t want us elevating our stuff over other people’s lives.

So when two men go out and kill a black man because he MIGHT have taken something from someone… how backwards is that?

Something being stolen is not worth a life of someone else. But the McMichaels decided it was the moment they fetched their guns.

Did I mention Ahmaud was not a robber?

I stopped speaking up a long time ago.

These are my first words.

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