The Travesty of Philando Castile, the Need for White Christian Repentance

Friday, June 16

  • St. Paul, Minnesota—Philando Castile’s murderer walked free despite video evidence of guilt.

Saturday, June 17

  • Washington, D.C.—a third noose was found in the U.S. capital this month hanging from a lamp post outside of the National Gallery of Art.

Sunday, June 18

  • Washington, D.C.—Nabra Hassanen was attacked and murdered walking to a mosque.
  • Seattle, Washington—Charleena Lyles was murdered by the very policemen she called to help her, fearing a burglar was in her house. She was pregnant, and three of her four children were home when she was killed in her apartment.
  • Charleston, South Carolina—marked the two-year anniversary of the murders of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Susie Jackson.

Monday, June 19

  • United States—marked the 152nd Juneteenth, the annual celebration commemorating the end of slavery.

Tuesday, June 20

  • Dashcam footage released of Philando Castile’s murder, where it took 40 seconds for a traffic stop to turn fatal.

Wednesday, June 21

  • Washington, D.C.—Nabra Hassanen’s memorial was set on fire in Dupont Circle.

About a month ago, Jimmy Smith-Kramer, Richard Collins III, Ricky John Best & Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche were murdered – victims of hate crimes. There’s not enough room in this article for the full list. The Scope of Hate in 2017 is disturbing. While hate crimes and crimes committed by the system with no convictions are two different categories of crimes, they stem from the same deep root of racism, a sin that white American Christians need to study and lament, scrutinize and repent.

Correcting Our Language

Racism vs. Prejudice

Racism is often defined as prejudice plus power. Prejudice is a preconceived judgment based on insufficient knowledge. While people from all backgrounds portray the sin of prejudice, the sin of racism is accomplished through dominance and power. That is why I am writing this article for those of the dominant culture, namely white American Christians.

This message is not only for whites because I am trying to segregate us. This message is for whites because minorities live in a reality we take for granted. Just as Paul had specific issues to address to specific churches, I feel the need to address my fellow white Christian. This message is not for whites only... but I feel the need to address my fellow white Christian. Click To Tweet

Minorities are tired of trying to tell us things we won’t hear. They are tired of being called derogatory names that devalue their human worth. They are tired of listening to white men in power (yes, especially in the church) throwing out ignorant opinions on issues of race without care to where they land or what damage they cause. They are tired of asking us to care. They are tired of overt, but also and more often, covert racism.

Racism spans the history and the geography of our nation. It’s a beast that still eats well in America. Post-racial America does not exist. Colorblind America does not exist. We must learn how to live, move, and bring about the good news of the gospel in the context of our tense, racially-unreconciled nation. The gospel has something to say to our racially-unreconciled nation. Click To Tweet

Systems vs. Incidents

Jim Wallis, in his book America’s Original Sin, explains what might be a serious distinction in mindsets:

… The heart of the difference is that many white Americans tend to see unfortunate incidents based on individual circumstances, while most black Americans see systems in which their black lives matter less than white lives.

Maybe we should line up events that happen every day that point to the systemic oppression of minorities. Would that help us to collectively see these systems with better vision? Yet it’s not just overt racism that feeds this systemic beast. It’s small[er] things such as:

  • black pastors not being considered for lead pastoral positions of predominately white congregations based on their skin color
  • black church secretaries being censured for their political viewpoints that go against what is dominantly deemed as ‘Christian’ politics
  • white pastors responding to racism with simplistic phrases such as ‘Jesus is the answer’ and then cutting off the conversation
  • white congregants saying, ‘Wow, you’re not like other black people’ or ‘Wow, you’re pretty for a black girl’
  • any Christian justifying an unjust death by police because the person who died had interactions with police prior to their death
  • white Christian leaders looking for ‘diversity’ as a means to a larger church, yet silencing the input of minorities

Each one alone may seem like a crumb to some of us, but a pile of crumbs keeps the beast coming back for more. Incident upon incident upon incident equals a system of incidents.

Spiritual Warfare & The Good News

I am thankful that the largest American evangelical denomination officially condemned alt-right white supremacy, yet their tardiness in passing the resolution speaks of a large portion of Christians who don’t immediately acknowledge our role in this fight.

Regardless of our race, we need to recognize that spiritual warfare is the undercurrent of racism. Regardless of our race we need to recognize that spiritual warfare is the undercurrent of racism. Click To Tweet

The lust for power and dominance will tempt us all, but we must resist. Shouts from the battlefield try to lure us to the wrong side: “All the kingdoms of this world and their glory will be yours” (Matthew 4:9). Like Christ, we must resist. The temptation to dominate is stronger when we are part of the dominant culture. It is Christ-like to resist this temptation; it is demonic to indulge. Christ was neither threatened nor made impotent in resisting earthly dominance.

The upside-down kingdom that Christ modeled for us says that true power starts with humility.

I firmly believe the gospel has the power to bring good news to Philando’s family, to Charleena’s family, to the families of those to whom the American justice system has radically failed: Terence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Danroy Henry, Oscar Grant III, Kendrec McDade, Aiyana Jones, Ramarley Graham, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford III, Jonathan Ferrell, Timothy Stansbury Jr. … . But that good news can never penetrate when it comes from the dominant culture standing at a podium dominantly telling people to listen to it.

“In the Kingdom of God, racial reconciliation that is absent of racial justice is insufficient,” said Natasha Robinson. The Kingdom of God has something to speak into these situations, both to those who suffer and to those who cause the suffering.

If we are ever going to stand alongside minorities, we whites need to gain the wisdom of the non-dominant culture first. We also need to recognize that God chose to bring the good news through a people group that had been oppressed for generations. We have much to learn from those who understand oppression.

The question for us as white American Christians is what can we do about it? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stop asking if we can all just be colorblind. Racial reconciliation does not involve a diminutive of the truth but rather an expansion of it. Diversity is beautiful not because we are all blind to each other’s differences but because our differences allow us to collectively see the world more clearly, more fully.
  2. Pray for minorities in our nation. Pray for extreme racism and subtle racism, and ask God to show you how you have fed the beast.
  3. Stop talking so much. Listen, listen, listen to the pain, the cuss words, the yelling, the agony of minority groups who suffer much at the hands of the dominant culture.
  4. Recognize that walking into spaces where you are a minority is especially tough. You are especially vulnerable. You fear things you wouldn’t normally fear. You’re on edge. For most minorities in this nation, those spaces are part of everyday life, especially today in America where extreme white nationalists have been emboldened to yell demeaningly to others.
  5. Give up a chance to speak in exchange for a chance to listen.
  6. Submit to the spiritual leadership of a minority, whether by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or committing to a congregation led by a minority pastor.
  7. Recognize that the whole of the gospel can only be found through the sum of our differences. No one culture fully understands the truth of who God is. We have much to learn from each other.

We should be “engaged and challenged [as white] evangelicals to own [our] present and historic indifference and concern of minorities,” as Esau McCaulley said at Missio’s Awakenings Conference. “[Black evangelicals] are now in the place where we no longer have to be invited to the conversation, we are creating our own platforms, our own ministries, and spreading them through our own God-given entrepreneurship.”

Minority Christians don’t have to be convinced that racism is spiritual warfare. They don’t have to be convinced that it’s time to pick up their swords and fight. The question for my fellow white, dominant-culture evangelical Christians is, how many more news stories will we need to be convinced we’re walking on an active battleground? Consciously or unconsciously, we’re a part of the battle. Are we feeding the beast or fighting against it?

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
I ask you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

(Evening Prayer from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)