Jordan Edwards was a freshman at Mesquite High School in my mother’s hometown. He was a straight-A student, a standout athlete, and a beloved classmate. His parents sat weeping at a press conference last week because a police officer shot their fifteen-year-old son in the head.
A fifteen-year-old boy now lies in a coffin, and his parents are left to grieve.
A fifteen-year-old boy now lies in a coffin, and a nation adds his name to a long list of minorities killed by law enforcement.
A fifteen-year-old boy now lies in a coffin, and the church is still figuring out how to talk about it.
We know the story all too well. Police shootings of minorities are not a new phenomenon, but their media coverage has intensified over the last several years, ever since the grand jury declined to charge Darren Wilson with the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 — or, perhaps, since a neighborhood watchman shot Trayvon Martin in 2012. Other names have blazed across the headlines: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, and many others.
We’ve seen the protestors shouting in the streets, holding up signs, demanding justice, demanding answers. We’ve witnessed the media coverage slant this way and that, painting an unarmed black man shot by the cops as a thug over here — painting a police officer struggling to do his job in a racially heated environment over there. In the midst of it all, there are “cooler heads” asking for the outrage to stall long enough to get all of the facts. On the other hand, you have “hotter heads” refusing to wait because we already know the story — the oppression of black people at the hands of law enforcement is a tale as old as time, right?
It’s noisy out there.
I am a black woman who has felt the sting of racism. I am a black daughter, a black sister, a black wife, a black mother — when it comes to seeing justice for all of the men in my life, I am invested at every turn. That’s real.
I am also sister in Christ to police officers and their wives — I know many honorable men who sacrifice much to serve and protect and wives who are invested in seeing their husband’s come home safe, and so many children whose dads live in the line of fire. That’s real.
I am also a sister in Christ to myriad white brothers and sisters who find themselves a step removed from the implications of these patterns. That’s real.
And what’s also real is the abuse of power, discrimination, violence, and prejudice against black people, both in this country and around the world. We aren’t even two generations removed from the Jim Crow laws that systematically oppressed black people in this nation — in the town where I live. The wounds of racism and the grip of its worldview aren’t as easy to shake off as we’d sometimes like to believe. That’s real.
It’s all real. These facts coexist in a complicated network of baggage that we all bring to these discussions.
But the answer is simple: this world is not our home, and heaven awaits us in its glory.
Just because the answer is simple doesn’t mean that its implications are easily applied, though. If we can use Galatians 3:28 to shut down difficult conversations about ethnicity (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, so ALL LIVES MATTER!”), then we can use the same verse to shut down difficult conversations about gender (“there is neither male nor female, right?”). Our ethnicities do not affect our standing with God because he created all of them for his glory. Period. However, we live in a fallen world where the color of our skin does tend to impact our standing with fallen people.
The transcendent truth that this world is not our home doesn’t give us an excuse not to engage the hardship in this world. On the contrary: it provides us with the strength and purpose to do so unapologetically, knowing that our God is Lord over each and every complication we face.
Compassion Is Key
“It’s just hard to have meaningful discussions about this,” a friend told me the last time a police shooting made the headlines. “It feels like race baiters are always crying wolf.”
“It’s just hard to have meaningful discussions about this,” a friend told me the last time a police shooting made headlines. “It feels like people just want to stick their head in the sand.”
We hate complexity. We would prefer for these conversations to be simple. On the one side are people who are fatigued with the rigamarole of “race conversations” in the church. Can we focus on something else and not make everything about race? Can people just be people? On the other side are people fatigued with the absurdity of the notion that racism will go away if we ignore it. These issues are here whether we discuss them or not, right? The lines get drawn in the sand: you either support law enforcement or you honor black lives, and never the twain shall meet. And unity becomes a pipe dream.
But believers are called to pursue unity (Ephesians 4:5). That unity won’t be ultimately realized until we reach heaven’s gates — where we’ll also see the beauty and distinction of the ethnicities God has created (Revelation 7:9) — but that should not stop us from pursuing glimpses of it here on earth.
Compassion can characterize these discussions. We must strive to win a brother and not just to expose their perceived ignorance or bias. We need more conversations, and less shouting matches. But we have to be willing to lay down our weapons first.
Jordan Edwards is a fifteen-year-old boy from Dallas and he is lying in a casket. He is someone’s son — he is someone’s brother. There is a police officer who will have to account for his actions. He is someone’s son — he is someone’s brother. And there are believers wrestling with answers to these questions — sons, and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is a family matter and the death of Jordan Edwards is yet another reminder that an honest family meeting to discuss matters of race, ethnicity, and justice is long past due. And we can’t afford to have this discussion half-heartedly or to sweep it under the rug. And we certainly can’t afford to only have conversations with those who already agree with us. We have to be willing to deal with these complexities with patience and compassion, and with sobriety for a world that is groaning for the return of its King (Romans 8:22-23).