We Have Refused to Listen

The murder of George Floyd calls us to repentance

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama

The tragic events we have encountered over the past days, the horrors we have watched, and the words we have heard, bruise us, wound us, shatter us. We are in shock. How should we respond? What would Jesus have us say and do?

Perhaps you are asking similar questions.

“No more,” we moan. “No more.” We struggle to comprehend, much less speak, of what is happening. What is the Lord saying to our country? To our churches? What words can adequately capture the sorrow, anger, and longing of our hearts for justice for our land, our churches, our homes, our friends, and yes, for our enemies?

As I write I ask myself, What right do I have to tap out words about injustice? I have experienced life in America as a white man, with all the accompanying privileges. I have not tasted the bitter water of discrimination. I have never suffered for the color of my skin. Never. Not once have I feared a lighted torch, a bullwhip, a German shepherd’s growls, a hooded face, a burning cross, the lynch mob and hangman’s noose, the invasion of my home, red lights blinking in my mirror. I have not struggled to breathe with a knee planted on my neck.

What to do? What to say?

First, we come quietly and respectfully to our dear friends and colleagues of color. We lean into them and softly say, “I’m sorry. It shouldn’t be this way.”

But this is not enough. I ponder the words of Donn Thomas, a Christian leader of color, who gently and insistently prods, “Something must be said. Our white friends are so silent. We can’t hear them.”

And so, as president of Renovaré, I am compelled to speak. I am compelled to write. But as I write my fingers freeze and my eyes tear up. “Lord, I have benefited from the very abuses I condemn. It should not be this way. Oh, Lord, it should not be this way. Have mercy, Lord. Have mercy.”

Who am I to speak? I am simply God’s image-bearer, as are you. Perhaps that is enough.

I sit to grieve with black and brown friends and colleagues. And others. It is their mourning bench, not mine. “Do you have space for me?” I ask. “May we pray and lament together?”

“Yes. Of course. We hoped you would come. There is room for all.” How kind of them. How patient. How gracious. And so, we sit, we ponder, we pray.

Together, we grieve the events of these past days. We lament, though, not simply the recent days. The voices and actions of injustice are long. Months, years, centuries have swept by, leaving in their bloody wake the troubled waters of pain, sorrow, terror, cruelty, and death. “Lord, do you not see the suffering of your people? Do you not care? How long, Lord? How long?”

As I sit with them, I sense the Lord speaking. He is calling us to repentance. The Holy Trinity calls to me and to the white Christians of our nation. We bow the knee. We make no excuses. We name our sin as specifically as possible. We ask for grace for genuine repentance. And we pray: “Lord, have mercy.”

Oh, Lord, we have sinned,
against you and against our neighbor,
in the things we have done, and the things we have left undone.
We acknowledge our ignorance and willful neglect.

Forgive us. Cleanse us. Renew us.
Reset our moral compass.
Fill the wind of our sails with the breath of your Spirit.
Propel us to the places and people
who can teach us to love
in new and unexpected ways.

We plead for deeper courage and compassion.
We ask for a quiet, teachable spirit.
Give us love and humility to erase the boundary lines we drew in fear.

Expand our vision to life and flourishing for all —
from the unborn to those living on death row.
We invite you, we welcome you,
to plant new seeds in the garden of our minds and hearts.

The Lord is calling us to sacrificial love, a love where the currency of our words is backed by the gold of our lives. We have not yet reached this congruence. Jesus beckons. “Walk with me into a future that seems uncertain to you. It is not to me. I have a much larger pasture for you. Other sheep are waiting for you there. And I promise you, I will always be your Shepherd. Trust me. Be not afraid.”

President of Renovaré. Previously chancellor and distinguished professor of theology at Eastern University. renovare.org