Decades ago, at my home church, the pastoral prayer would be followed by the choir’s soft refrain:
“Hear our prayer, O Lord, hear our prayer, O Lord; incline thine ear to us, and grant us thy peace.”
Those long-buried words were resurrected from memory during early Sunday morning exercise — and became my prayerful mantra throughout the day.
But they are not enough.
A prayer for peace is incomplete without a prayer for justice. And both are incomplete without making ourselves available to be answers to those prayers.
Denials, deflections and weak justifications often keep us from facing uncomfortable realities. We project blame, downplay others’ pain and offer oversimplified solutions that don’t really solve anything — especially longtime, systemic injustices and personal struggles we have never faced.
There is no justification for the killing of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbury and too many others. Saying “I don’t agree with what happened, but…” just detracts from “what happened” — and the reality it will happen again without significant change in hearts, minds and systems of power.
Also decades ago, curfews due to racial unrest were a mere inconvenience to my family. We had to get home from shopping or visiting my grandmother. “Troublemakers” were riled up about something.
“Just calm down and we’ll fix it,” said political leaders and law enforcement officers. A half-century and more later, it still hasn’t been fixed. Liberty and justice for all are still ladled out in unequal portions.
I’m careful when speaking into such situations, but more wary of being silent. My caution comes from knowing my inability to walk fully in the shoes of those who fear for their own lives and those they love simply because of the color of their skin. Those who’ve heard again and again, “Calm down; we’ll fix it.”
Generally speaking, people rather than professions are good or bad. But some cultures within various professions can create a stronger sense of justice or abuse. It takes courage and ethical clarity to be a force for good when others seek to misuse power in ways that bring great harm.
We’ve seen those two perspectives at play in recent days. As well as the tragic opportunism of those who bring self-serving, unrelated rage to any given moment.
Having video cameras in every pocket has brought the undeniable and stark reality of racially-based brutality to the forefront in more frequent ways now than even TV cameras did during the civil rights movement. One can only wonder what has gone on — and continues to go on — in unrecorded situations.
Testimonies of those in power are more weighted than those with little or no power.
Also decades ago, many in my family and community embraced racial stereotypes and racist attitudes in less than whispered tones. Relationships following desegregation helped in some ways — causing many of us to assume, wrongly, that a progression toward racial equality was full steam ahead.
Now we know much of the deeply-ingrained racism was simply being muted — and is now gaining vocal strength with the stoking of racial fears from the White House that enjoys overwhelming support from the church house.
Systemic and individual racism has not been fixed — after decades of failed promises.
Therefore many of us are outraged but not surprised when a white police officer — who callously caused the death of a black man — is arrested well after a cooperative, clearly-identified journalist of color covering the related events.
Yes, we need to pray for peace. But that is not enough.
We need to acknowledge the racism within our own hearts and unjust structures. Overcoming racism involves much more than being nice to a black coworker — and claiming, “I’m not a racist, but…”
For some it’s so hard to admit the advantages of being part of the majority race. Perhaps it takes away some satisfying sense of self-accomplishment.
Yet, the inability or unwillingness to recognize and acknowledge white privilege is white privilege.
Likewise, we must admit and confess that the racism and sexism embedded in American Christianity as biblical commands of God-ordained structures of authority — long used to keep minorities and women in submission — have not been rectified.
We must call out those whose public “Christianity” is a mere veneer over a greater commitment to white nationalistic politics at odds with everything Jesus said and did.
There are not good people on both sides of inequality. Injustice is not merely one opinion over another.
Followers of Jesus must stand on the side of unbridled compassion and equal justice where Jesus stood — even at the high cost of a cruel cross.
If we don’t challenge racial injustice — and act in ways to bring constructive change to the church and culture — we are complicit.
And it takes more than “feeling bad” for someone harmed or killed by racial hostilities, and praying that the resulting rage soon calms down so we feel more safe ourselves.
Incline thine ear to us, O Lord, and grant us thy peace. And justice.
And make us instruments, rather than obstacles or bystanders, to your ways of answering.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.