Jordan Edwards, Racism, and the Church: This Is a Family Matter

Jordan Edwards

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.

The Noise

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 Complicated

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.

It’s Simple

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.

Family Matter

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).

If this was encouraging, consider becoming a patron.

17 Responses

  1. Emma
    Reply
    2 May 2017 at 4:40 pm

    This is very sad. I live in the DFW area and I haven’t heard this. I attend a church (majority white) whose leaders try to discuss racial reconciliation regularly, however, the church takes issue with this! You should see the comments on Facebook, people actually threaten to leave the church if the leaders push the issue any harder! This is a large well known church, but most of the people want nothing to do with addressing this issue. Their idea of racial rec is to run up to a new black visitor and act overly friendly or ask one of the few black members to lunch in the name of checking something off a list. Even well known church leaders will give blanket answers like “the Gospel fixes everything” this true, but the “fixing” actually requires identifying the source of the problem, addressing it, figuring out solutions, and then how not to REPEAT the problem!

    • Oscar
      Reply
      2 May 2017 at 8:00 pm

      Emma,

      Does “addressing this issue” include addressing the issue of black fatherlessness, criminality and underachievement, or is it all about blaming whites for blacks’ problems? Because if it’s the latter, that might have something to do with why whites are unwilling to sit through yet another lecture.

      • Bridget
        3 May 2017 at 7:32 pm

        It might include not adding insult to repeated injury by constantly deflecting skin color issues *within* the church. We’re not all fatherless as this article indicates, so why bring it up when Mrs. Holmes is attempting, eloquently as ever, to raise the conversation surrounding the death of a non-“thug”.

        Lord Jesus, help us all.

        Oh, and if you deem this discussion a “lecture”, do you really feel black Christians are your brothers and sisters in Christ or something else…

      • Emma
        4 May 2017 at 2:37 pm

        Oscar,

        First, I am white. Second, Jordan Edwards was not fatherless, a criminal, or underachieving. He had a 3.5 gpa and was a good kid. By addressing issues, I mean addressing that there IS a problem. Isn’t that the first step? Admitting the problem, generally, the most difficult. Third, the blacks in MY church aren’t looking to “lecture” anyone. They have been on panel discussions at my church, because they (a few) were asked by the church leaders to participate in race relations discussions. They are the ones being lectured by whites about how their experiences and feeling aren’t valid, because ‘the Gospel fixes everything.’ Do issues need to be discussed regarding fatherlessness, criminality and ‘underachievement?’ Yes! But that happens in the community of believers i.e. daily living. When is the last time you’ve seen a white family doing well take a young black male under their wing and pray over them and ROOT for them? I have not and I attend a church with plenty of families that do extremely well. People are LEAVING the church because the leaders want to discuss race relations. This should be appalling, but it’s not because people don’t care. The stories that I’ve heard from my black friends are HEARTBREAKING! So, what do you suggest, Oscar? When blacks are asked to talk about issues they face we should ignore it? Because that’s what we are doing.

      • Oscar
        4 May 2017 at 8:21 pm

        Bridget,

        “We’re not all fatherless… ”

        No one said all blacks are fatherless, so that statement is either a red herring or a straw man argument. Please refrain from both as neither is helpful. Furthermore, I’m the father of five black children, so I’m well aware that not all black children grow up without fathers.

        “… so why bring it up… ”

        Because 73% of black children do grow up without fathers, and fatherlessness is the most powerful correlating factor in all kinds of social pathologies. For example, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, “60% of rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long-term prison inmates are men who grew up in fatherless homes. With regard to girls in particular, those raised by single mothers are more than twice as likely to give birth out-of-wedlock, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty for yet another generation.”

        Do you see that as a problem? If not, why not? If so, why are you unwilling to address it?

        “Oh, and if you deem this discussion a ‘lecture’… ”

        I never stated that this conversation is a lecture, so that is yet another red herring or straw man argument. I did state that “conversations” in which people refuse to address issues like black fatherlessness, criminality and underachievement, and instead blame all of blacks’ problems on whites are – in fact – lectures masquerading as “conversations”. Is that what you’re doing?

        “… do you really feel black Christians are your brothers and sisters in Christ or something else… ”

        I don’t “feel” what blacks are. I KNOW all blacks are fully created in God’s image, and therefore fully endowed with moral agency, and therefore fully responsible for the consequences of their actions. Do you believe that blacks are fully created in God’s image, and therefore fully endowed with moral agency, and therefore fully responsible for the consequences of their actions?

      • Oscar
        4 May 2017 at 9:18 pm

        Emma,

        “First, I am white.”

        Okay. Why is that relevant?

        “Second, Jordan Edwards was not fatherless, a criminal, or underachieving.”

        No one said he was.

        “By addressing issues, I mean addressing that there IS a problem. Isn’t that the first step? Admitting the problem, generally, the most difficult.”

        As I pointed out to Bridget, 73% of black children do grow up without fathers, and fatherlessness is the most powerful correlating factor in all kinds of social pathologies. For example, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, “60% of rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long-term prison inmates are men who grew up in fatherless homes. With regard to girls in particular, those raised by single mothers are more than twice as likely to give birth out-of-wedlock, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty for yet another generation.”

        Do you admit that’s a problem? Are you willing to take that step? If not, why not?

        “Third, the blacks in MY church aren’t looking to ‘lecture’ anyone. They have been on panel discussions at my church, because they (a few) were asked by the church leaders to participate in race relations discussions.”

        Did they discuss the fatherlessness rate, crime rates and rates of underachievement among blacks? If not, why not? Are those not problems?

        “When is the last time you’ve seen a white family doing well take a young black male under their wing and pray over them and ROOT for them?”

        Every single day. I’m a Central American immigrant who married a white woman, and together we adopted five black children, one of whom is now a 14-year-old young man.

        “I have not and I attend a church with plenty of families that do extremely well.”

        And what, exactly, are YOU doing about that? How many young blacks have YOU taken under YOUR wing?

        “So, what do you suggest, Oscar?”

        See my previous question.

      • Bridget
        4 May 2017 at 11:02 pm

        Oscar, am I your sister in Christ? Not all blacks, but me the individual?

        Jasmine is addressing a single incident concerning a specific fathered young black man who was killed by a white officer, yet you continue to deflect from the topic of this article and my specific statements.

        No straw men or red herrings, no deflecting either. If you hate your brother (or sister), you’re a liar and the truth is not in you.

        No one is blaming you for this or any other incident or problem.

        Peaceable and easily entreated are hallmarks of the redeemed, the blood bought. You’re exhibiting neither trait, and I’d love to know exactly, specifically why.

        No canned answers to generalized issues, if you please. Why are you so defensive about a real, enduring problem affecting your spiritual family members who happened to be blessed with melanin?

      • Oscar
        5 May 2017 at 10:48 am

        Bridget,

        “Oscar, am I your sister in Christ? Not all blacks, but me the individual?”

        I don’t know you. If you are in Christ, then yes.

        I don’t play the game where I answer all the questions and the person I’m trying to have a conversation with answers none. That’s called a lecture.

        I asked you several questions you evaded. Please extend to me the same courtesy I extended to you and answer the questions I asked you.

  2. Colin
    Reply
    3 May 2017 at 11:28 am

    There’s a big mistake we make. That is to assume that everyone going to church or claiming they are Christians actually belong to Christ.

    There is a day of reconing.

    May God give His people peace in the midst of the strife.

    • Bridget
      Reply
      3 May 2017 at 7:34 pm

      This is so true. Too many “churchians” defaming the name of Jesus. May we all humble ourselves and seek God’s wisdom on this issue.

    • Emma
      Reply
      4 May 2017 at 11:19 pm

      Oscar,

      I mentioned that am white to show different perspectives. To show that I am not a minority, yet I agree and am trying to understand. You mention all of these stats, but what do stats have to do with TREATMENT? Certain minorities should be treated differently, because most don’t have fathers? These articles are about what people experience (situations that actually happen) and feel because of the color of their skin REGARDLESS if they have fathers or if they don’t “perform” well. These are the VERY things Jesus talks about–the LEAST of… You mention that you have black sons. If they told you that they experienced something having to do with the color of their skin is your answer ‘the Gospel fixes everything’ or ‘let’s talk about stats’ certainly not. You would try to understand then work through these issues with him while showing empathy. This is the Gospel lived out. Stats have their time and place, but they aren’t really needed in this discussion.

  3. Robert Brooks
    Reply
    3 May 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Indeed we must grieve when others grieve in these situations. We should yearn desparately in our hearts petitioning God for salvation; and for relief to the suffering and oppression of all, in particular minority people in America. However, we have to not give the enemy a foot-hole in distracting are gaze from a single passion and mission, and that is to win every soul to repent and believe in the Gospel. As a black man who is living for Christ that is the answer. I am not saying that christians should stick our head in the sand; however, I am saying we are to use these incidents as pointers and launching pads to proclaim a need for all to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We must not forget the deadly cancer of man is sin, and satan will even use well attended thinking to try to hinder the administering of the cure – Christ and Him Crucified. However I believe in all things God is Sovereign and His will and purposes will stand. That does not diminish the grief in my heart when I hear of a childhood friend shot-up, to point where the casket must remain close, by other young black men; or another school classmate killed by a peer in an attempted robbery. These incidents grieves my heart because they remind me that sin is in the world; and if not for the Lamb that was slain, I would weep like the Apostle John in the spirit. So yes a conversation must be had; a conversation that leaves people gazing and longing for the hope that is to come in Christ Jesus. Knowing that to enter His kingdom we must endure much tribulation.

  4. Nicole
    Reply
    3 May 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Emma, I’ve also experienced this. I decided to move m my membership after praying for months. It hurt too much to have church leaders ignore this, yet boldly support our officers. It’s important that I know my pastor understands that I could be stopped and judged, even though I’ve never been in trouble. It’s a blessing to believe my pastor and church leaders are praying for me and our officers, rather than ignoring this issue.

    Jasmine, thank you!

    • Emma
      Reply
      4 May 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Nicole,

      I am so sorry you’ve experienced this. This is basically the scenario in my church. Most are quick to defend police and somehow think that because talk about minority experiences and feelings that they are “attacking” the police. I have NEVER heard ONE minority talk badly about police officers. Why can’t church members address BOTH issue?! And people are sadly mistaken when they believe these issues are strictly about minorities vs the police! Blessings!

  5. ys
    Reply
    10 May 2017 at 2:53 pm

    So why is this a family matter for the church? Clearly, the death of an innocent is tragic. But how does this relate to the church? Does the offending officer claim Christ? If he does, that makes this completely different. If not, then one heathen shot someone. While tragic, I fail to see how this is the church’s problem. It is no more the church’s problem than the meth lab a town over that got busted from me (rural midwest). No one would ever say: Rural Midwest Meth Use: Church, We have a problem! Yet, with race relations we see this. It doesn’t add up.

    • 10 May 2017 at 3:47 pm

      It’s a family matter for the church because it brings up an important discussion for people who belong to the church (race relations in the US). And, yes, I would say that a church in the rural Midwest that had people impacted by meth use in their communities should 100% be ready to discuss it. Just like my church here in Mississippi is ready to discuss and address the unique issues in its neighborhood.

      So I see your straw man -and I raise you a challenge: that Christians be ready and willing to discuss and address each worldview concern that arises in their pews. ?

Leave A Reply

* All fields are required