Once again our eyes are focused on difficulty in our nation. Last week the tragic loss of life in Charlotte and Tulsa again brought protests against racial inequality. We grieve with those who lost loved ones and pray for our nation to get onto the solution side of this issue. The incidents in Charlotte and Tulsa, the refusal by many athletes to stand for the national anthem and even this week’s opening of the new Smithsonian exhibit of the National Museum of African American History and Culture all provide the church an opportunity to engage in this conversation and show the love of Christ.
Dr. Michael Henderson serves as Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Church in Matthews, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte, and as Vice President of Converge National Ministries. For years Pastor Henderson has worked closely with city officials, the police department and the African American community to bridge the divides in his community. His consistent, long-term investment in this community, his love for God and his leadership as a local pastor make him uniquely qualified to give perspective of this issue. ― President Scott Ridout
What’s Going On: What Color Are Your Eyes?
A response to the unrest in Charlotte and Oklahoma and the rest of our nation
In 1971, famed R&B singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye released a song that shot up the charts to become a number one hit. The song was “What’s Going On.”
The opening lyrics were both revealing and troubling, as Gaye sang about social unrest in our nation:
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
Gaye was speaking of the then social unrest resulting from racial ignorance and hatred. He also was protesting the Vietnam War as well as other social injustices.
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Gaye’s lyrics seem to suggest that most of the social unrest and injustices were due to a lack of understanding of each racial group’s plight and perspective. Although this song was written in the 1970s, and some tremendous strides have been made, I suggest that decades later we are still seeing some of the same themes reoccurring in our nation.
I believe it all has to do with our perspective. Could it be that the one thing that keeps us from moving forward to make significant change is the very lens or eyes through which we view our nation's unrest? There are very distinct perspectives through which we see our nation’s challenges. Granted, no group is monolithic. However, there are some basic views held by each group.
Through Black Eyes
Black eyes are the perspective of people of color in this nation. Because of the historical context of people of color, it has been an arduous journey. Being brought to this country as slaves and not being able to celebrate certain liberties for hundreds of years has caused a lot of sensitivity in the black community. In fact, to hear the term “equal justice under the law,” and yet often to live another reality, is both disheartening and discouraging to say the least.
The outrage seen in a lot of our cities is demonstrated by millennials from all races who are wondering when the injustices will stop. These young people are the hope of our future, and for them to feel as if justice is only for a certain group, leaves many feeling a sense of hopelessness.
People who feel they have no voice or are not being heard will often resort to extreme measures to be heard. Although I do not condone any violent protest or destruction of property, I do understand wanting to be heard. Protest is designed to be a non-violent, peaceful way to express social resistance to the status quo in order to produce change.
During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. masterfully expressed peaceful non-violent protest to effect change. Mind you, during the time of the civil rights protests Dr. King was hated by a great deal of the country for “not leaving well enough alone.” Through black eyes, there needs to be an understanding of peaceful protest and condemnation of any violent protest. This coupled with a recognition that although the system is not perfect, we must continue to work to perfect it so that it is able to become completely just for all people.
Through White Eyes
White eyes are the eyes of the majority culture in our nation. White eyes are often stunned and surprised by the unrest in response to the senseless shooting of often-innocent people of color. It is not that white eyes do not believe senseless killings are wrong. Their typical position, however, is that if something is being done wrong, then due process should be allowed to take its course.
White eyes see our nation as not perfect, but as great, and have a significant appreciation for the processes in our nation that are often geared toward people who understand the legal, political and judicial systems. They are convinced that anyone who works hard and abides by the law can rise above his or her circumstances.
Often white eyes point to the progress of our nation. After all, we have a black President of the United States and many black elected officials. But the challenges are a lot more complex than what meets the eye. The systems often appear to be geared toward a certain group, giving that group an advantage. For instance, statistically, data shows that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated and are given stiffer sentences for the same crimes committed by their white counterparts. Also, 57 percent of African Americans live at or below the poverty line. There are numerous other instances within the system, which does not appear to be working well for all Americans. This is what’s going on!
Fortunately, many white Americans are seeing the disparities and are starting to speak out. This gives our nation hope for the future. Respectfully, white eyes need to wake up and see as Dr. King suggested that “injustice or disparity anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Through Blue Eyes
Blue eyes are the eyes of law enforcement in our country. I hasten to say that as Americans we have one of the best overall law enforcement processes in the world. I applaud every law-abiding law enforcement official in our nation. They are heroes.
Due to racial generalizations and stereotypes, many blue eyes see people of color, particularly black men, as an immediate threat to them and thus approach situations from a place of fear. Blue eyes often see people of color as dangerous, law-breaking people.
Having said that, I would be remiss if I did not bring us back to the history in our nation of police brutality towards people of color. During the civil rights movement and beyond, law enforcement officers would use brutal tactics to keep people of color in their perceived place. Through the mid-1960s, Jim Crow laws and separate-but-not-equal laws in this country favored the majority race and were negatively biased, to say the least, toward people of color. This has left a distrust of law enforcement in many people in the minority community.
Law enforcement across this country are hired to protect and serve. Unfortunately, this is felt least in the minority communities. This is one major reason why sometimes it is not as simple as “obey the law” when you question if your police stop will be your last.
Every conscientious African American parent has had to have “the talk” with his or her children to train them how to encounter the police. They are told to never question anything, keep your hands visible and just comply. Most police departments purport they are fair, and most are. Nevertheless, there are some bad apples in every department. Those bad apples give the rest a bad name.
Blue eyes need to ask themselves, “If this were my child, how would I want him or her to be treated by someone like me?”
There are generally three sides to every story: my side, your side and what really happened. Only God has the complete story and total perspective. This is the blessed hope that we have as believers, that God is a God of Justice and Mercy according Micah 6:8. He created all of us to be one.
In his eyes there is only one race, the human race, with different cultural expressions. God wants us to celebrate our diversity and not use it as a dividing line to separate us. God is grieved by the fact that as his children we do not interact with each other as though we see each other through his eyes. His eyes see all of us as fearfully and wonderful made in his image (Psalm 139).
His eyes see what Jesus expresses in John 17:21. Jesus prayed, “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” I love the fact that through his eyes every church that is a member of our movement is an expression of what God sees for his people and his church: the diversity of our movement and the celebration of that diversity.
In Rev. 5:9, John records, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” John was allowed to see through the eyes of God what he had in store for his people and their ultimate destiny.
Here is the hope that we have: We are better together. There are no simple solutions to these complex problems, but in the body of Christ we need an understanding of each other’s perspectives so that we can love one another and lovingly challenge each other to see life through his eyes. This will help us when we have challenges such as the recent ones we have experienced in our nation.
Let’s not allow what divides the world to divide the church. We are blessed to have his eyes, through which we can view every incident and every injustice.
I recently was privileged to go to the uptown site of the riots in Charlotte. Along with several other local pastors and chaplains from the Billy Graham Association, I was given the opportunity to offer hope and prayer. We all were of different races and cultures and had the chance to help bring calm to the social unrest in our city. We did not offer the protesters a view from black eyes or white eyes, or even from blue eyes. We gave them the perspective from his eyes. As a result, hope was offered to hundreds of young people protesting for social change. Our challenge and my charge is that we all start seeing more through his eyes.