The following letter from Pastor & TCTN Interim Executive Director Sean Cordell was shared with his congregation at Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, NC in July of this year while he was on sabbatical. We reprint it here as part of TCTN’s passionate desire for ethnic harmony and tangible unity flowing from the beauty of the Gospel.
10 Ways to Respond to the Recent Atrocities
Things have been so tumultuous in recent days I thought I would write something even though I’m on sabbatical.
For the past several days my heart has been so heavy and I’ve been at a loss for words. But at a time, when, if you are removed from the cities in which these tragedies occurred, you can slip into life as normal, I pray we respond. Here are ten ways we can respond to these most recent atrocities.
1. Know the Victims’ Names
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were the two black men killed by police officers on July 6 and 7.
Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith–these are the Dallas police officers killed in the line of duty early on July 8 by a sniper.
These men are people. They have families. They have lives. Do you catch yourself grieving more for one group over another? The loss of life is a tragedy. These people’s lives were tragically cut short. Some of you don’t want to know the details or see the images. Don’t be intentionally ignorant. Ignorance doesn’t change the reality; it just helps you be indifferent. Know their names because we were meant to feel in moments like these.
2. Grieve Over Injustice
Don’t wait for more details. Don’t explain it away. Grieve as if it were your friend who was killed. “Weep with those who weep…”(Romans 12:15). And in your sadness remember you are not alone in your weeping. Psalm 6:6-9 speaks to us, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Take your grief to the Lord.
Prayer is not the passive man’s response. Prayer is what desperate people, helpless people, do and that’s who we are. It’s been through prayer alone where some of the hardest of hearts have changed, where great awakenings of the Spirit of God have come to cities and nations, and where peace has come to seemingly insurmountable hostility. This issue will not first be solved through protests, gun control, legislation, and especially not through revenge because this battle is not first an external issue but an internal one.
Anthony Carter, a black pastor said, “When sin is the problem (and it always is) the answer is always Jesus Christ. This is what makes the church relevant. Sin is senseless… The only answer to the senselessness of sin is and will always be Jesus Christ.” It is the sin sickness of the heart that is the greatest problem in our nation. Therefore the greatest blow to the schemes of the devil to disrupt unity, expand racism, stir up violence, and crush people’s faith will come through the proclamation of the word and the weapon of prayer. We must remember it was at the time of the greatest tragedy in the history of the world- the death of Jesus- when He called his followers to be a people of prayer (Matthew 26:36). Pray for God’s heart to be yours. Pray for his name to be hallowed. Pray for “his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
4. Meditate on What This Teaches Us about God
God must be our first consideration. In suffering, Paul says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). All tragedies that punch us in the gut are meant to draw our eyes upward with the clear reminder that God is our greatest treasure, our most consistent friend, our deepest comfort, and the one to be trusted even when we are in deep pain and unsure of why the tragedy exists. If God is not a part of your thinking, sin is distorting your wisdom, your counsel, your speech, your grief and your actions. In this tragedy, we hurt, we grieve, we have anger, and we love because these are shadows of God’s pure weeping (Luke 19:41), holy grief (Isaiah 54:6; 63:10), just anger (Mark 3:5), and steadfast love (Mark 10:21, John 3:16). Meditate on the greatness of our God that we can behold in these days.
5. Be Angry and Do Not Sin
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,…. (Ephesians 4:26)
Here in Ephesians 4, Paul is referencing Psalm 37 where he commands righteous indignation, that is, hatred for what God hates. It is appropriate to hate the evil, to hate the oppression that stifles human flourishing, to hate the callousness or indifference, to hate the racism, to hate the disregard for human life, to hate the violence. It is appropriate because these are mocking God’s glory, disregarding His creation, and spitting on His purposes. So the Lord joins you in anger. “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5).
Therefore, be angry over injustice, but in your anger do not sin. In Psalm 37, “be angry and do not sin” means, be angry at the disregard for God by the wicked but don’t let your anger pull you away from trusting Him. The faithful are to wait on the Lord to make all wrongs right. Your anger is to lead to action but not to revenge. It’s to lead to broken-hearted actions of love, to forgiveness for the repentant, and to resolve against injustice while trusting God to bring about His righteous judgment in his time. The gospel of Jesus sets us free from seeking revenge and because we stand in His mercy and not receiving the punishment we deserve, we can choose anger but not bitterness, revenge, or violence. As Psalm 37 encourages us, don’t let your anger pull you away from “delighting yourself in the Lord and committing your ways to him…” (Psalm 37:4,5).
6. Talk to Your Kids
Where it is age appropriate, dialogue with your kids. Take this time to have a conversation about the major themes of these shootings- themes of equality, where is God in suffering, God’s love for all the ethne (all peoples), what is authority and how does one respect it, themes of abuse of power, desire for revenge, fear, mistreatment and oppression. If you have black kids, as I do, especially black males, you should also take the time to discuss what to do if they have traffic stops or interaction with law enforcement. Although there are many great police officers, there are some that abuse their authority and do so with a critical eye towards blacks. Therefore the conversation must be more than just have common respect for the police that all should have. It also must factor in extra caution. Here is an article in USA Today that seems common sense but must be said.
7. Don’t Let the Actions of a Few Determine Your Disposition toward All
To avoid this error make cross-cultural relationships.
My Twitter inbox is flooded with many people, White, Black, Hispanic and Asian, hating the loss of life and the injustice in all these shootings. Don’t allow the poisonous actions of a few to distort your view of an entire group of people. The devil wants to destroy unity and to pervert reality. He is the father of lies. These trials, as they have done for centuries will expose the silent racists, but it will also bring to light that blacks are not alone in their hatred of injustice. There are many people across mutilple ethnic groups, who are appalled, grieved, and ready to respond with actions of justice and mercy. We cannot fall prey to the devil’s desires by letting a few bad apples destroy our views of all police officers or of all blacks. Judge people based upon their actions. You would hate to be made guilty for the actions of another. Don’t do it to others. Therefore the only way not to make blanket statements about certain ethnic groups or professions is to make relationships across ethnic lines. When you worship, eat, play, talk, pray, and work together, really seeking to listen and learn from one another, you will see that a person’s ethnicity doesn’t describe their heart. It’s a part of their story but not everything. Spending time in relationship will help us humanize the struggles. Faces and stories will replace cold judgment and depersonalized ideas. This will prepare us all better for the worship of heaven and will expose us to areas of cultural blindness- what is ours by hard work and what is ours through upbringing and privilege.
8. If You are White, Use Your Privilege to Love
Privilege means you have access to certain things that not everyone does- not because of hard work but because of social standing. Many want to argue that it was because of their hard work that they have access to certain privileges. Some of that is true. However having 2 parents at home, or getting to go on vacations, or learning to swim, or being encouraged to read, or experiencing many positive words at home, or not being poor, or being taught the Bible, or living in a home that your family owned, or being in middle to high performing schools, or being able to experience life outside of your few block neighborhood, or seeing a doctor and saying that’s possible for me, or seeing high performing, hard working parents who pushed you excel in what you want, or not getting a skeptical eye from people as you walk by, or almost always being the majority ethnicity when you walk in a room- for many whites, these were opportunities that many blacks, especially low-income blacks, have not had equal access to. If you’ve experienced any of these, it was not because you were good but because you were graced and you’ve been afforded privileges that many in the world do not have. Right now, I sit in Tennessee at a home that faces the Smokey Mountains on my sabbatical. Yes this was a massive answer to prayer as the circumstances around it make crystal clear. However I sit here in part because my family was connected to people who have owned land- land that for centuries was able to be owned by whites and not by blacks. I have access that others do not. We must become aware of the water of privilege we as whites swim in as a majority culture. Access is not something to be embarrassed about or to feel guilty over but access is something to be seen as a grace and it’s something to be shared.
Castile’s death, especially, thrusts white faces into a reality that they would rather not look at or face because it doesn’t effect them if they turn their eyes. However it’s a snapshot of the difference that blacks have been facing for centuries. “Love our neighbor as ourselves” means we cannot turn our eyes away any longer. We must show mercy to our neighbor (Luke 10). To acknowledge these facts doesn’t mean you are saying every cop is a racist and it doesn’t mean that every black person that is arrested by the cops is innocent. But as we stare at this pattern over and over, we have to come to grips with the Scriptures. What does God mean when he calls his people to repentance by saying, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16-17). If “seek justice” and “correct oppression” and “bring justice” to the poor don’t apply here, then when do they? If He isn’t calling his people of all races to act with humility yet boldness for the sake of His name and for the sake of each other, what is He doing? This is not in antithesis to the gospel. Loving your neighbor confirms the gospel roots are in the heart (Matthew 25:40). Although much progress has been made in many areas, which we celebrate, these shootings are shocking displays of inequality, unnecessary fear, and violent hatred that still persist in many of our communities around this country. So with the privilege of being a part of the majority culture, we must love. Love means seeking justice…seeking to engage where you can be helpful and praying for relief, comfort, equality, and opportunity.
I was talking with one friend, who is a black leader in the community, and when I asked how he thinks the church, especially the majority culture in the church, can best respond in love toward the low-income, specifically the blacks and Hispanics in my immediate community, he said, “We don’t need their money. What we need is their access. We as black people need equal opportunity.”
The gospel is the only means for changing the human heart which is the greatest need in our day. But God’s people filled with His gospel love should spread his love through their specific gifts and experiences. This means the majority culture must use their unique position to understand their giftings and privileges, to study and listen to the needs around them, and then incorporate God’s commands here in Isaiah as a part of loving their neighbor. Edmund Burke says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He also said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” May we not make this mistake or participate in the sin of indifference and inactivity. God help us love.
9. If You are Black, Own Your Responsibility
Don’t pour hate and racism on other people’s hate and racism. Don’t overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Violence doesn’t solve anything. Trusting God to bring the justice in His way and in His time is always best. As we all fight for equal opportunity, as many have been doing, blacks need to seize those opportunities through boldness with humility, hard work with respect, education through diligent study, and resolve to do good when oppression rears its ugly head and tries to knock them down.
Frederick Douglas, when asked by a group of white abolitionists what they can do to help the blacks coming out of slavery, responded this way, “‘What should abolitionists do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall… And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!” (emphasis added). In his book, Please Stop Helping Us, Jason Riley, a black author, uses this quote by Douglas to encourage the black community, “Douglas was stressing the primacy of group self-development, …” p4-5. He was stressing that throughout history when blacks were knocked down they responded with resolve, a greater work ethic, a hunger for education, a closer unity of community and many times singing to an Almighty God as they went. There is no doubt that humble submission to Christ is the need for every culture at every time. “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) is the command for every person on the planet to experience true biblical human flourishing. It’s the invitation for all to experience the joy of the presence of God. However this is a unique moment in American history where blacks should own their responsibility. With increased access and opportunity there also comes the need for increased responsibility. Blacks will need to seize these moments and “stand” as Douglas said- stand and act with the same responsibility that has brought them through such turmoil for centuries.
Jason Riley states this, “Black boys without a father were 68% more likely to be incarcerated than those with a father.” He goes on to quote, James Q. Wilson, who states this,
“If crime is to a significant degree caused by weak character, if weak character is more likely among the children of unmarried mothers; if there are no fathers who will help raise their children, acquire jobs and protect their neighborhoods (physically and morally); if boys become young men with no preparation for work; if school achievement is regarded as a sign of having ‘sold out’ to a dominant white culture; if powerful gangs are replacing weak families- if all these things are true, then the chances of reducing by plan and in the near future the crime rate of low-income blacks are slim” p83.
This is a clarion call away from violence and revenge and toward responsibility, hard work and humility. This is the need for every culture and may blacks by the thousands step into access and opportunity that are coming and humbly yet boldly own, I pray with faith in Jesus, their responsibility to live faithfully and responsibly in this country.
10. Don’t Fear; Worship
The evil one wants a people who fear. Yet Jesus says, “So have no fear of them (oppressors), for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known….28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:26, 28). One of the most freeing things biblically and historically for a people experiencing injustice is to walk in love and not fear. Fear God not people. Trust him. Worship Him. Know that He is your protector. Walk uprightly and walk in love. But don’t succumb to fear. I say this not because I’m in a place of privilege and ease, but because my God says despite the degree of oppression, “If God is for us who can (ultimately) be against us. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him over for us all- how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
So son’t fear this world. Grieve but don’t fear. Be wise but don’t fear.
Paul had a category of being able to “be sorrowful” yet at the same time “always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). We are horribly sad over these events. We pray that God will draw to Himself those in Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas, and around this nation and that He would profoundly comfort the grieving. However in our sorrow we can rejoice in our salvation. We can rejoice that today people are asking questions of life and death that they have not asked before this tragedy. We rejoice because faithful churches have a platform to shine Christ’s light of love into really dark situations. We rejoice because Christ has won the victory through His resurrection from the dead and one day he will right all wrongs. Justice will be paid in full, if not on this world, definitely in the next. The new heavens and the new earth will be a perfect. It will be a gathering of peoples from every nation, tribe and tongue, in ethnic harmony, worshipping one person- the radiant Christ who through his blood ransomed anyone who would trust in his name. We don’t fear because we know how the story ends. So we pray for strength today in the midst of this tragedy and as we go from day to day and we cry out in confidence for our Savior to come quickly bringing with him perfect love, justice, and mercy.
The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!…
The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!
Author: Sean Cordell, TCTN Interim Executive Director and Pastor of Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, NC. Sean graduated with a Masters degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The Bethlehem Institute for Theology and Missions. He is author of the chapter The Gospel and Social Responsibility in a book entitled Theology and Practice of Mission by Bruce Ashford.