Christ Church senior pastor pens open letter on these troubled times
Christ Church Oak Brook, Butterfield Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Daniel Meyer penned an open letter to the church community in the wake of the death of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer and the racial turmoil that has plagued the nation for nearly a week:
Following Jesus in a Troubled Time
As graphic images of rage and carnage fill our screens in the wake of George Floyd's death, I have asked myself, as perhaps you have: As a follower of Jesus, how should I respond? In sitting with that question, the first thoughts to become clear have been about how I should NOT respond. Maybe these reflections will also be useful to you.
• I should NOT be surprised that acts of destruction are occurring.
Many are expressing outrage that burning and looting is going on. A commentator on one of the news outlets I listened to last night ranted about how outrageous and unthinkable the acts of carnage and theft we were witnessing so clearly were. I've often agreed with this analyst, but last night I thought: "Are we on the same planet?"
On one level, of course, I resonated with his shock. Laws are being broken. Bad actors are taking what plainly isn't theirs to steal. Innocent people are suffering. That should upset any moral person. Exactly. The same way we should be horrified at the lawless, stealing of the life of a man, already handcuffed, lying on the ground, pleading for mercy because he could not do the most human and essential of things -- breathe. Yet, despite a crowd of witnesses urging the power over him to relent, George Floyd died.
We all wish it were possible that when heinous wrong was done, it would not be reciprocated. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed in 1963, "Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction."
This, of course, is not an endorsement for this sort of spiral. Far from it. Jesus said, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). A world that gives itself over to an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth mentality will only wind up toothless and blind. But no Christian should be surprised at the anger and destruction we now see. "Do not be deceived," the scriptures teach, "a man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7).
• I should NOT be quick to judge this moment in light of history.
Consider this scenario: A certain people have repeated experiences of being treated unjustly by a more powerful authority. They are not perfect people, but they deserve better. So they protest. They write letters. They mount peaceful demonstrations. They work to reform the circumstances through legal means. And still the injustices continue to occur. Finally, the powder keg of a frustrated, failed search for relief and justice explodes. In the dark of night, a mob of outraged actors commit extreme acts of theft and destruction. We now call that news event, the Boston Tea Party -- a precursor to a very important revolution.
Even Jesus had a moment when he changed his tactics, tempestuously and temporarily. The man whose patience and civility under pressure no one has matched, finally became so outraged over the abuse of power by those left in authority, especially as it impacted the poor, that he overturned the tables of the money changers and lashed their vile operation out of God's temple with a whip of cords (John 2; Matthew 21:12-14).
I'm not excusing the wanton behavior that some opportunists have exercised over these days. Theft is theft and it is particularly heinous when perpetrated against some shop owner who did you no wrong and whose business is needed to strengthen an already beleaguered community.
But I am pondering now the desperation behind the anger and destruction we've been watching. I'm thinking about the disturbingly long list of all the other people whose lives have been violently stolen over these past days, months, and years under circumstances eerily similar to those that befell George Floyd. I remember thinking after each one of those abuses of power, "Surely, our society will fix this now. Clearly, this is the turning point and we'll now establish better training or psychological screening or peer accountability."
But we haven't been able to do it yet. And now people are throwing tea into the harbor and overturning tables and burning buildings. Somehow, we must put more collective weight behind making the needed changes.
• I should NOT think in terms of "us" and "them."
Making the changes we need to make will be especially hard if we can't talk together about what's not working and what needs to be altered. To establish that honest communication requires that I truly listen to other people in fresh ways. The tribalism that has overtaken America makes that an obstacle that needs to be assertively confronted.
There is something about almost any discussion we have today in America that drives us into armed camps. Words like race or justice, privilege or responsibility have become bells guaranteed to send us into our partisan corners or out on the mat with dukes raised. We spend too much time today in echo chambers and talking past one another. The voices in Blue Media and Red Media tell us we are idiots if we don't view "them" as idiotic or evil. And if that was going on when we were actually rubbing shoulders with one another in the workplace and in our communities, what's our vector in the time of COVID-19?
We come by this honestly, of course. We know what it is to be slotted and judged by people who seemed to have no interest in understanding our actual experience, character, or nuanced opinion. We mention a word, speak a phrase, dress or drive a certain way and someone concludes: "Oh, you're one of Them. You're clearly not one of Us."
We have to actively resist that mentality. We have to stop thinking in a binary way. The stakes for our society and the call of Jesus are too high. More than ever, America needs voices who don't view police officers as if they were some monolithic group or black persons as if they were an undiversified collective. The same might be said of how we view evangelical Christians, suburbanites, Muslims, LGBT persons, or name-your-group. The truth about people, problems and solutions much more often lies in observing subtleties, appreciating difference and holding tensions.
This is what I love about Jesus. He regarded each person as an individual to be explored and developed. He was more concerned with what they could become than what their past experience had done to them. Jesus was a leader who cherished and won the loyalty of law enforcement officers (Matthew 8:5-10; 27:54) and the people they policed alike (Mark 3:8; Luke 5:15; John 10:41). For Jesus, there was no us and them. There was only the hope of what we together (by God's grace) can be.
• I should NOT just sit here.
The swirling complexity and turmoil of our times can be so overwhelming and weakening. When I watch the news, I'm tempted to think, "Who am I" to do anything about all of this mess? The answer I keep hearing is, "You are somebody needed in this time and you must do something."
I hope you, like me, care about the emergence of a different world. If so, let's agree about this: Passive spectatorship is no longer an option. One of Dr. Martin Luther King's greatest fears was that if good people did not rise up and do right, the forces of hopelessness would lead to violent revolution.
So, let me offer four ideas for what we CAN DO in this season. If you've got better ideas, I hope you'll write me and let me know.
1. Educate ourselves about the issues underlying today's problems. I highly recommend reading two books: David A. Anderson's "Gracism: The Art of Inclusion" and Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Digest these books and then talk with friends and family about what they kick up for you. The problems in our cities today are deep-seeded and part of a set of systems that need changing if we are to see different outcomes.
2. Build more relationships with people across racial lines. Pick up the phone in this next week and call a couple of people of a different race than you are and tell them that you are feeling very troubled about this time. Ask them, how are you feeling about current events and what do you sense is underlying all of it? What can we do together to build a better world.
3. Talk with some police officers. Every time there is a news event like this one, it makes life for the vast majority of officers who are faithful, hardworking, protectors of the best much harder. Let one of these men or women know that you believe in them and are praying for them. Ask what they sense needs to be done to address our problems.
4. Pray to be filled with God's heart and mind. Stop spending so much time being formed by CNN and Fox News. If you must, commit to watching both of them and trying to assess the bias and blindness that limits both of these perspectives. Ask yourself as you watch these channels: Does the worldview and tone of those who are speaking seem and sound like Jesus? And then, turn the channel to the Gospels and listen to Jesus instead.
Jesus said, "Behold, I am making everything new" (Rev 21:5). It encourages me, and I hope you, that there will come a day when he finishes that work fully. In the meantime, one of our great privileges as his followers is to learn, live, and love in such a way that the New Creation starts to become more visible. Thinking more deeply and reaching toward each other in a time of turmoil that could otherwise tear us apart, is an important part of how we live together in that direction.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-16, 21)
• Dan Meyer is senior pastor of Christ Church Oak Brook, chairman of the board of Fuller Theological Seminary, and a graduate of Yale University and Princeton Seminary.
In mid-March, all Christ Church worship services moved to livestream only. Attendees are gathering online at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. every Sunday at ChristChurch.us/online.
Founded in 1965, Christ Church is a multisite, nondenominational church in the Chicago suburbs with more than 6,000 members. Christ Church features a variety of inspiring worship options including classic, classic communion and contemporary services. All people are offered the opportunity to build life-changing relationships with God and one another with a rich range of spiritual growth resources, and a selection of service ministries aimed at creating positive change in the world. Weekend services are held at the Oak Brook and Butterfield (formerly Downers Grove) locations, as well as via livestream at ChristChurch.us/online. For more information, visit ChristChurch.us