I have two sons. One son was brought into our family through adoption, the other will join our family by birth in a few weeks.
These boys will share so many things: a crazy family that loves them, a room, an identity as missionary kids, inside jokes, vacations, but one thing they will never share is the color of their skin and the things they encounter in the world because of it. I pray they will understand one another and stand by each other in the face of these experiences, but particularly when it comes to being a person of color in our society, one will experience it by proxy and the other will experience it personally.
As a mother of a black son I dread this truth. Several years ago we visited a civil rights museum and I stood in front of a blown-up image of an African-American student in Little Rock, Arkansas, walking to school after desegregation. Behind her is an angry mass of white faces and I stood transfixed with horror at one woman's face, her mouth open wide, expelling hateful words, brows furrowed with determined fury. In my mind, suddenly the young black girl she was screaming at was my son and I had to hold back the tears as I thought about someone spewing such hatred all over him, merely because of the color of his skin. I thought, for the first time, what it is like to be the mother of a black child. The helpless feelings of sorrow and anger at the injustices, and even dangers, your children face. I felt them too as I stared at that photo.
Today it is unlikely my son will be followed down the street being hatefully screamed at, but he will experience many subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) acts of racism, people and systems that consistently make him question his value as a young black man. In the face of current events my heart is heavy with the pain and anger and confusion that still makes up the issue of racial injustice in our cities.
Whether some people want to admit it or not, the reality is that if both my sons decide not to walk with the Lord and make terrible moral and legal choices in life, one will most likely be given the benefit of the doubt and every opportunity to change, and the other will likely be labeled and dismissed. One might get community service and the other prison time. One might be pepper-sprayed and the other shot. It is so much less personal to think about this truth in light of differing communities, but having that divide present under my own roof makes it a more intimate pain.
As I have watched the events of Ferguson, Missouri, unfold and witnessed the frenzy of angry and unloving words unleashed in the world of social media, I find myself deeply troubled...both as a mother of a black son and as a Christian. The incident that touched off the eruption is not 100% clear, the diluted messages coming from within the community makes it difficult to hear the truths being spoken, and the aggressive and uncompassionate backlash from those watching widens the chasm between people.
Facts and law are not unimportant to the Lord, but if that was all He looked at we would all find ourselves condemned. The facts and laws involved in these current events are important but they do not tell the whole story. We, as the Church, have the opportunity to reclaim the story that is unfolding for the Kingdom. Redemption and transformation won't come from the law or from being right; it will come from the power of grace changing hearts. And, no matter how impossible a task this seems to be at the moment, Christ makes all things possible in Him. Standing hand-in-hand with brothers and sisters in Christ from different backgrounds and with different opinions is made possible because we are one family in Him.
Many Christians seem to be abdicating their role to stand for justice because they see a lack of clear and "practical" steps to be taken. I certainly do not have all the answers about what has to be done, but I know Someone who does. And, I know a good place to start is in humility. Jesus Christ stood silent in the face of his opponents, an extra act of sacrifice as He went to the cross for them. Can we, as His Body, not find it in ourselves to listen more than we speak, to be slow to anger, and quick to love? Can we lay down our literal and metaphorical weapons and reach for someone's hand instead? Perhaps it will be in these moments of self-sacrificing humility and in a quiet affirmation of people's value to the Kingdom that God will make the next steps clear.
I have two sons and God breathed life equally into each. They will stand hand-in-hand because they know they are of the same family...even when the tough times come because that is what brothers do. I pray that we may do the same as the family of God.