I took a walk this week, downtown.
I walked with about three hundred people who were protesting police brutality. This protest was only one of the thousands that are sweeping the globe right now.
If you’ve watched the news, then you’ve seen the riots and destruction that are often associated with these protests. If you’ve paid attention, then you’ve also seen moments of tremendous unity, love, and hope associated with these protests.
The protest in Vero was peaceful. The police force did an admirable job making the protest possible by blocking intersections and walking with us as we went. The police chief clearly and compassionately communicated his goal to protect our community, which included the protesters. He was also clear about the department’s support and willingness to stand against police brutality in every possible way.
Once again, as a citizen of Vero Beach, I was proud of our police department and proud of our community.
Later on in the evening, I joined a Justice for George Floyd rally in our town. A rally hosted by the Vero Beach Police Department.
During the rally, I heard a local officer, a black man – one I’ve come to admire – named Darryl Rivers, discuss how it feels to be black and wear a badge. His testimony was moving.
The rally ended with an open-mic which allowed citizens to express their anger, distrust, and desire for change. It was also a time for some to say thank you to our local police force and offer support to their work in our community.
As a minister in our community, I believe it was important for me to be present at both of these events. Marching in the Black Lives Matters protest was, candidly, difficult for me. I found some of the signs (posters) disturbing and the chants disconcerting. I have spent a small amount of time researching the national organization. I am suspicious of the answers they are proposing while at the same time appreciative of the questions they are asking.
So, marching in a protest sponsored by a movement with which I am in disagreement on many issues, was very difficult. And, though I found it difficult, I also found it to be a meaningful experience.
I’ve noted a couple of the reasons why I found it meaningful above in relation to our police force and the citizens of this great community. One I’ve not yet mentioned is the subtle tension I felt as a follower of Christ (there were likely dozens of such followers in this march) supporting a specific cause while recognizing that the answers and resources of the group I am marching with (in this case, BLM) are going to fall short and leave us wanting more.
In that place of tension, I also sensed hope: hope that the resources of Christ’s love are more than ample to meet the need of this desperate hour.
The resources of Christ’s love, however, are designed to be displayed through the presence of His Church – His people. All too often the church has been silent and her presence absent, or antagonistic, in moments such as these.
I was struck with how different every protest might be if people committed to sharing the love of Christ could walk with those who have never heard of such love, rejected such love, or simply cannot believe such love to be true!
While there are more reasons for why I walked in the protest and participated in the rally, I am going to close by listing the things I’ve learned or reflections I’ve gathered from the experience. The reflections are designed as ways to encourage the church – God’s people – to step into the midst of this current chaos and be agents of God’s will.
- Process Constructively. It’s time to process what’s going on around us in constructive and unbiased (as much as that is possible) ways. Too many of us (I am primarily speaking to the white, middle/upper-class church) simply don’t understand the feelings and emotions that are being expressed and experienced by our black brothers and sisters. And, yes, they are our brothers and sisters. They worship Christ as King just down the street from us. They gather in South Vero, Wabasso, Gifford, and all the surrounding areas of our community. We share true allegiance with them. An allegiance that demands more than any other allegiance we know – particularly our misplaced allegiances to our political parties and cultural sensitivities. One way we can begin processing all that’s going on around us by educating rather than insulating ourselves.
- Pray Intentionally. It’s time to pray for God’s good to come through us and extend to the least-of-these in our world. God cares about all of us and He is against injustice and brutality in all its forms. Our prayers should absorb this heart of our Lord when we call upon His name. Lest we forget, Jesus taught us a prayer that is a fundamentally subversive prayer. The first request of the Lord’s prayer is that God’s Kingdom would topple all false kingdoms and His reign and rule be expressed over all the earth.
- Prepare Congregationally and Communally by Cross-Cultural Bridge Building. It’s time to prepare our congregations and communities by seeking to befriend those less fortunate than us or those who are culturally different from us. Our hearts break naturally when we are intimately aware of the pain and suffering a friend or loved one is going through. Building relationships that cross the many divides we experience in our world is vital to the on-going health of our congregations, community, and country. I spent a year meeting with the Pastors Association of Indian River County. This group is primarily composed of African American pastors in the Gifford/Wabasso area. As I got to know these men and women, I began to realize that we share many things in common even as we have vastly different experiences.
As I continue to process and reflect on my experience, I am incorporating a handful of questions to ask myself daily:
- Am I willing to listen and learn what I don’t know rather than proclaim and defend what I think I do?
- Will I examine my heart in order to expose any personal prejudice and bias that may rest within?
- Will I pray for justice and mercy to flow and for God’s good to be revealed to those most in need?
- Will I befriend someone who has a culturally, socially, and economically different experience than my own?
Just a few reflections and thoughts on my experience with a few questions to explore.
For now, that is the right place for me to be as I hope and pray they will lead me into what is yet to come!
And, while I do not pretend to know how the church should move forward, any more than I intended to speak on behalf of the church, I believe that if local congregations begin to:
- Process These Events Constructively.
- Pray Intentional for God’s Kingdom to Come.
- Prepare Congregationally by Cross-Cultural Bridge Building.
we may, in the midst of the chaos around us, be positioned to offer the life-giving hope of the Gospel of the Kingdom!
Grace and peace,