Blood on Our Hands?: When Movements are Scapegoated

To be black in America historically has meant that at any moment your people can and will be held responsible for the actions of a few.

The Tuskegee Airmen knew that if they failed as military pilots that the door would never be opened again to other black folks with the same aspirations.

Jackie Robinson knew that if he cracked under the intense and racist pressure of being the first black MLB player he’d make it unlikely for future black baseball players to be given the chance.

Slaves on plantations knew that if one person ran away from the plantation for freedom that it would be “hell” to pay for those left behind.

1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma a black man who shined shoes on elevators ALLEGEDLY assaulted a white woman. The next morning a newspaper falsely reported that he raped her. The result was a riot and massacre that rivals the September 11th terrorist attacks. White mobs in the surrounding area killed an estimated 3,000 African Americans, destroyed 600 successful black businesses. Among them were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. In two days one of the most affluent black neighborhoods of all-time was in smoke and ashes as a result of ONE mans alleged actions. (watch a full  documentary on this largely unknown event here)

This historical phenomenon of blackness creates in some of us what is called “stereotype threat anxiety“. We are aware that our actions in any moment can be interpreted as criminal, ignorant, lazy, irresponsible, and representing our whole group. Black and other minority groups often take deep sighs of relief when a mass-murderer is not a member of their ethnic group.

This brings me to the awful and senseless murders of the two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.











My heart is extremely heavy over this ATROCIOUS act of violence and tragic loss of life. Based on the reports they were targeted because of the color of their uniform by a man who had made statements via social media that he would avenge the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by putting “pigs in a blanket”. WICKED!!

My condolences and prayers go up for all the family & friends affected by this. As someone who has been targeted over and over again by police because of the color of my skin I empathize (to the best of my ability) with police officers and their families all over this country. My empathy skills in this moment are further strengthened by the fact that my family was struck with a similar tragedy when a cousin who was a police officer was randomly shot and killed by a man while sitting in his patrol car in ’07.

HarrisonIt was a very SHOCKING moment for my family. I remember the very painful questions that ran through my mind after the tragedy. Why did this happen? Could it have been avoided? Was this man, who was white, racially motivated in his violence? My family will never really know. The man who murdered my cousin was killed shortly afterwards in a shootout with police.


The NYPD police officer killings are a horrible tragedy that black folks en masse (including Eric Garner’s family) have publicly condemned and mourned. However, across the nation there are those that are blaming the actions of one MENTALLY ILL man (who a month earlier attempted to hang himself, and the morning of the incident shot and severely wounded his ex-girlfriend) on people who have PEACEFULLY protested what they believe to be senseless killings of black folks by police. It’s being said that that blood is on the hands of those who “who incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest” and “tried to tear down what NYPD officers did every day.” These are very strong words that are hard to swallow. For one, they suggest that the motive of protestors was not to fight for a more just society, but to stir up violence. These words ignore the fact that many protesters are Christians and MOST are practitioners of a non-violent tradition of civil disobedience that has had the moral fortitude to only bear the arms of love and truth in the face of racial terrorism.

Much of this blame game is fueled by ungodly political agendas. Conservative right media has an invested interest in denying and discounting claims of systemic, structural, and interpersonal racism in America. Like a moth to a flame they are attracted to any and every news story that has the potential to derail the growing conversations around racial injustice in our nation. In a twist of irony, the two cops who were murdered are a part of minority groups that are frequently victims of injustice. Its hard to imagine “Faux News” being on Officer Ramos’s (a Christian man who attended a multi ethnic church)  son’s side had he been one of the thousands that are racially profiled through the ineffective and dehumanizing policing tactic called “stop and frisk” in the very same precinct. As this piece makes crystal clear, black and brown police officers are just as susceptible to the same treatment when their blue uniform is off.

My questions for those who blame us for this tragedy are simple. What should we have done? Would it have been right to be silent in the face of the killings of God’s image bearers. Were we to trust the legal process of a nation that for 85% of its history has “legally” discriminated and marginalized black folks? Would it have been right to discredit the cause of Fredrick Douglas and other non-violent abolitionists in the 1800s because Nat Turner responded to the same oppression with violence? If the “Black Lives Matter” movement is responsible for the NYPD officers death, is the Tea Party responsible for the execution style killings of 2 Las Vegas police done by a couple who draped themselves in the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag  that has symbolized its movement. Are we willing to employ the same logic? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of protests and protesters have not been violent and have not contained “anti-cop” rhetoric. To make that claim is dishonest. You can be anti-police brutality and injustice while valuing, affirming, and loving police. Just as one can be anti-bad teachING while valuing, supporting, & affirming teachERS. Which is precisely why we refuse to dehumanize ANYONE. Even those who are a part of systems that dehumanize. This is the Way of Jesus & the legacy of Christian lead Civil Rights Movement. This is the responsibility of prophetic witnesses: to hate injustice but love people.

Let us not be fooled by the 400 year long tactic of scapegoating black folks for problems that find their social roots in anti-black racism. We must reject any unfounded transfer of guilt onto the bodies of black people and continue clinging to the Cross of the Lamb who “became sin” so that the world might be reconciled to God.  All of Creation groans and eagerly awaits for the revealing of a New Humanity that is uncontaminated by the hazardous germ of racism. One day, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom” and the glory of this New Humanity. In other words, our universe is  on a course towards liberation and justice in Christ and the Church is called to labor to this end!

That said, “Black Lives STILL Matter” and “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!”



What’s Next?: 6 Ways to Walk In Solidarity AFTER “Solidarity Sunday”



This past Sunday churches across color, culture, class, and denominational lines participated in what was called “Solidarity Sunday”. The purpose of Solidarity Sunday was to bear witness to the theological truth that Black Lives Matter because they are made in the image of God. After non-indictments of white police officers in the cases  of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and John Crawford many have awakened to the reality that black folks are the “disposables” of our society. This was in no way an attempt to say that other lives don’t matter. Rather, it was a needed emphasis in a country, and more specifically in a “Christian” context that has devalued, dehumanized, and destroyed black lives for most of its history. It was a call to protest against the horror of racism and a prayer for its end in our hearts, homes, court houses, & houses of worship.  For the black church this was nothing new. Protest has been in the blood stream of African-American Christianity from its inception. A seamless blend of unbridled praise, unwavering prayer, uncensored prophetic speech, and undaunted protest in the face of grave opposition is in the very DNA of the black church at its best. However, for many white and multi-ethnic churches this was an uncomfortable baby step. I use the term “baby step” not to demean the action, but to underscore this as the infancy stages (beginning) of such actions for many (not all) in evangelical spaces. To be clear, it was absolutely AMAZING to see and hear reports from all over the country of white brothers and sisters in Jesus wearing all black, “hash tagging” #BlackLivesMatter, interceding for justice and hope in the black community, and wrestling with how the America they have experienced is quite different from black folks AND brown folks like Luis Rodriguez.

I’m extremely grateful for that. But in my gratitude there is a passion to see the Church be all it can and should be. The reality is that many of the churches and denominations that made strides yesterday have been on the wrong side of history in previous pivotal moments. Yes, there have been public acts of repentance and reconciliation services but you don’t unlearn racism and undo its affects by “hug-a-thons” and a few Martin Luther King quotes. You certainly can’t cultivate prophetic perspective and mature activism by osmosis in a world that constantly reinforces racial stereotypes and numbs us to the pain and plight of “the other”. That said, there are many of us who are praying and believing that this “moment” will become a Spirit-empowered “movement”. I want to see last Sunday’s sincere gestures of solidarity turn into sustained efforts to heal the festered wounds of racial injustice and division. Because “solidarity is not mere sympathy”. [i] It cannot be relegated to a “special Sunday”. It is not cheap. It is not without pain. It is the supernatural work and fruit of Christ’s Spirit active in submitted souls and bodies in the beloved community. The Church’s unity in the heat of racial division and tension is an evangelistic apologetic according to Jesus. Our prophetic witness as God’s salt & light is key for renewal, justice, and reconciliation in the earth.

Biblical Unity comes as a result of prayer, prophetic truth telling, public dialogue, forgiveness, and comprehensive repentance. Unity in the kingdom goes against the grain of what the world has taught us. At times it is awkward & uncomfortable, yet it is beautiful & redemptive. Real solidarity is often counterintuitive. I believe God’s Spirit has used the chaotic void of the last few months to create a hunger in many hearts for authentic solidarity. I want to offer 6 practical, but deeply spiritual ways that individuals and institutions can work to that end. Each of them deserves a separate blog, but I’ll briefly try to make a case for their importance below.

  1. Listen- (James 1:19) Be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to anger. By God’s Spirit you must resist the urge to immediately discount the views of your brothers and sisters. From a place of compassion you must seek to understand what people are trying to communicate. Listening is a deeply spiritual practice. So often these conversations go absolutely no where because people approach them “to defend their position” and privilege rather than to love and HEAR their sister and brother in Christ.

2. Lament- (Romans 12:15, Nehemiah 1:4-7) Enter the story. Feel the pain. Weep with those who weep. Evangelicals must stop trying to “police” and sanitize human emotions in these moments.  Lament is a biblical form of worship and prayer. Scripture tells us that “godly sorrow” leads to repentance but so often we try to circumvent this important part of the process. We need to allow sorrow to run its course through our souls as we repent for personal and corporate sin and apathy.

 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—  yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done….  (1 corinthians 2:7:8-11)

(For a powerful example of lament check out my friend and fellow CCDA Leadership Cohort #5 member Brandon Wrencher’s piece here!)



3. Learn Cross-Culturally- (1 Cor. 9:19-23) We all have a habit of constructing echo chambers where the voices we listen to see it “our way”. We must resist the urge of running to our homogenous huddles to debrief issues of race and begin long-term learning from folks with different perspectives. How many books have you read by people of color? How many non-aculturated minorities have mentored you? How deeply have you immersed yourself in environments that you are not the majority and that your social, theological, and political views are the minority. Resist the urge to find “safe” people of color who “parrot” the views you already have. (Bonus: Diversify your news media sources. As this article points out, some networks are masterful at misdirection and misinformation.)

4. Lift the Voices- (Isaiah 58:1, Acts 2:17-18) MLK Jr. once said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” At some point we must be willing to bear our crosses and lift our voices against racism. We must do so in a way that helps amplify the voice of God in unheard people groups. We don’t give people voices. We simply honor and give space for the voice that already exists. You are not called to be a “savior” of helpless black folks. You are called to solidarity.


5. “Levelization”- (Isaiah 58:6, Galatians 3:28) Not a “real word” but I’m trying to get at the fact that racial injustice has created uneven “playing fields” in our country & in the Body of Christ. If the Church is called to “love mercy” and “do justice” it must participate with God in undoing oppression & inequity. Doing justice is the work of bringing “equity” (not equality) for those who have endured the brunt of oppression. (see pic to left) Don’t settle for charity work that ignores the root causes of oppression. Sign a petition, join a protest, support those who engage issues of policies, stick your neck out when you see injustice in your spheres of influence. If you believe ALL people stand on level ground at the foot of the cross let ACTION accompany that faith. When the implications of the Gospel take root in a community it causes a “social inversion”. Christ’s death takes us beyond tokenism and tolerance into honor and loving acceptance. Diversity by itself is disastrous. Diversity MINUS inclusion and solidarity equals implosion. Diversity PLUS inclusion and solidarity equals an explosion of God’s glory and influence. Working towards this type of radical oneness & witness gives us the credibility & “the chops” to be salt and light change agents in our city.

  1. LOVE- (1 Corinthians 13) If we eloquently speak the language of diversity without love we are only “a resounding gong or clanging cymbal”. If we speak prophetic truth to power and by faith move the mountains of historic injustice without love, we are nothing. If we put ourselves on the frontlines to be hated and martyred for our stance against racial disunity without love, we gain nothing.


[i] Allan Aubrey BoesakCurtiss Paul DeYoungRadical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism (Maryknoll, New York;  Orbis Books 2012).