One of the first doctrines found in Scripture is the truth that all people of all ethnicities, genders, nationalities, and abilities are created in the Image of God. This glorious truth grounds our understanding of the rest of Scripture: God created women and men in the image and likeness of God. To violate that image through the unjust taking of life is direct rebellion against the Creator.
In a despicable act of “revenge”, gunmen opened fire on the police at a protest in Dallas last night. As of this writing, five of the eleven officers shot have died.
One shooter claimed he was angry about the killing of black men at the hands of the police and wanted to kill white people – in particular white cops – in retaliation. It seems he and his fellow gunmen were furthering the cause of minorities in this country, taking vengeance for the slaying of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile earlier this week.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
These murders were acts of cowardice. Those officers didn’t kill Sterling or Castile. And even if they did there would be no warrant to gun them down in cold blood that way. No, these officers were working to ensure the protest could happen without an eruption of violence that would drown out the good message of the protesters with a riot. Instead the protest was sabotaged by a barrage of bullets.
These shooters have betrayed the cause of every minority in this country who wants to see unity in diversity and ethnic equality championed in the public square. They have rebelled against their Creator who valued the lives of those police officers, as all who claim the name Christian must do.
What will we gain from more death? What will violence bring than more violence? How will the deep rifts between law enforcement and communities of color be healed as more and more people are being killed in the streets?
Church, we must lead. We must be on the front lines in this struggle to see all people of all colors and ethnicities treated with the dignity God built into them. Because when we allow the world to lead chaos will ensue and lives will be lost. We must champion the truth that Black Lives Matter all-the-while demanding that the lives of police officers also be treated with the respect we seek for the oppressed.
There are three powerful ways the Church can begin to lead.
The Church must lead with weeping. We weep with the families of the murdered police officers. We weep with the the Sterling and Castile families. We weep for children growing up without fathers and wives/girlfriends forced to wake up alone. We weep because precious life was lost and the image of God was violated.
This weeping is a sign of solidarity and support. It tells the grieving that their grief means something and that we’re willing to come alongside them in the love of Christ. The love we show is a picture of the love that God has for the mourning and downtrodden and it is a privilege to be able to show that love to the world through tears.
The Church must lead with prayer. The prayers of the saints are a pleasing aroma to the Lord and a sign of our humility. Peace is a goal far out of reach for sinful women and men. But it is not beyond the arm of our God. He is the sovereign Lord who has ordained prayer’s effectiveness. So we must pray for peace and justice with equal fervor. It is easy to pray for justice when injustice shakes our bones. But it is also important that we pray for peace when anger boils and threatens to turn into murderous hatred. We must pray for peace of heart and mind as well as for peace in the streets. We must pray that those men and women who protest injustice do so peacefully and that the police would treat all persons of interest with dignity. So we pray for the end of the violence and for justice to roll forth like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24).
Some may say that prayer isn’t worth our time. That it is the ineffective reflex of pie-in-the-sky Christians who would rather fall to their knees than take to the streets. But those who criticize prayer have misunderstood prayer’s power. Prayer calls on the God of the Universe to come to our aid with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. It lays before the King of Kings the concerns of a people that he may gloriously come to our aid. Prayer is not a waste of time; it is the foundation for all action for it places us in line with God’s will and grounds our work in the power of God.
The Church must lead with action. It is not enough to weep and pray. We must act. We must go into the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the Gospel which saves and offers hope to a broken and dying world. But if the Gospel being preached only concerns our relationship with God then it is only part of the Gospel. For the Gospel also tells us that the dividing walls of hostility between different peoples have been broken down in Jesus Christ. Yes, in Jesus and in Jesus alone will there finally be an answer to the violence plaguing our society.
Our actions, then, cannot be limited to preaching. We must be peacemakers. We must protest injustice. We must stand for the weak and voiceless. We must make room for the other that they may speak for themselves. Action will look like a good many things. It will look like community meetings and prayer vigils. It will look like fostering conversation between law enforcement and communities of color. It will look like laying ourselves down for the other, elevating marginalized voices and respectfully – peacefully – demanding equality for all people. It will mean adding the work D.A Horton calls “ethnic conciliation” to that short list of justice issues that the church so loudly champions.
Church, let us weep. Church, let us pray. Church, let us act so that the killing may end, justice may prevail, and peace may reign.