Search this blog

It’s a terrible and predictable pattern: A young black male, often unarmed, is killed by a police officer. After much public outcry and controversy, a grand jury decides against prosecuting the law enforcement officer. Social media explodes. Sadness, hurt, and anger overflow.

Many African-Americans and those on the social justice left are outraged. How can we let this keep happening? When we will address police brutality? Why aren’t body cameras mandatory? Who will speak out against the systemic injustice that plagues our judicial process? This is Jim Crow all over again. Black Lives Matter.

Meanwhile, many whites and those on the conservative end of the spectrum are outraged by the outrage. Why are we turning police officers into the bad guys? How are they to know someone resisting arrest or waving a real looking gun isn’t a dangerous threat? Who will speak up for the men and women risking their necks to protect us? This is political correctness all over again. All Lives Matter.

How can we bridge this deep divide?

The short answer is: I don’t know. The slightly longer answer is that we can start by trying to understand what things look like from both sides. And by “sides” in this case, I mean the law enforcement community and the African American community.

It was surprising to me when I first heard–and have now consistently heard–from my African American friends that the one thing they knew they never wanted to be when they grew up was a cop. My mom told me I could be anything except a boxer (too violent) or a magician (David Copperfield had just floated across the Grand Canyon). Although my family has no history of police work that I’m aware of, and although my parents probably would have worried for my safety if I had chosen that profession, I have no doubt they would have considered police work a brave and honorable choice. I’ve had virtually no interaction with the police in my life, and what interactions I’ve had–at neighborhood picnics, at public events, even getting pulled over and given a warning for speeding–have all been positive. In my book, law enforcement officers are honest men and women, doing a hard and dangerous job to make sure people follow the rules and the streets are safe.

But that’s not everyone’s personal history, not everyone’s default position, and I want to understand why as best I can.

Which is why I was helped (and moved) by the chapter “Across the Racial Divide” in David Kennedy’s book Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America. Kennedy is white, with a background that is quintessentially liberal–raging against Vietnam, hating Nixon, reading Gandhi, going to Swarthmore, organizing anti-apartheid boycotts, and working at Harvard (5). I imagine his current religious, cultural, and political convictions differ from many of the people reading this blog. But Don’t Shoot, which is part memoir and part policy prescription, is unflinchingly honest and relentlessly focused on what works (rather than on what scores political points). What makes the book worth reading is that Kennedy, the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor of criminal justice, obviously knows and cares about police officers and obviously knows and cares about the inner-city communities he’s been working in and working with for twenty-five years.

It may seem uncouth for a white pastor to write about another white man’s experience with African American communities. I understand that posts like this are fraught with danger. But the alternative–for white evangelicals to refuse to think critically and refuse to speak about race-related issues, hardly seems like a healthy option. Caution, yes. Difference, yes. Complete silence, less helpful. I wouldn’t have picked up Don’t Shoot except that Ed Copeland, an African American pastor in Rockford, Illinois and a fellow council member of The Gospel Coalition, encouraged me to read the book in a private conversation a little over a year ago. Ed provided a formal endorsement for the book, and Ed himself is even quoted in the pages I’m about to summarize. I only mention this connection to make clear that Don’t Shoot isn’t just a “white person’s” book.

While I may not agree with every jot and tittle of his analysis, on the whole what Kennedy writes makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know enough to know if his description resonates with other insiders, but for this outsider–an outsider to the African American community, and an outsider to the law enforcement community, and an outsider to the inner-city community–I found his description of the race divide realistic, sympathetic, and illuminating.

Let me try to explain.

Starting with the Summary

Here’s Kennedy’s conclusion, which he states at the beginning of powerful 16-page section (139-155) on race relations and the police.

The real issue was, the police thought the community was completely corrupt, from top to bottom.

The real issue was, the community thought the police were predators deliberately doing them horrendous harm.

The real issue was the way the relationship between the police and community was being poisoned by toxic racial narratives.

Here, things get real ugly. (139)

Kennedy then tries to explain what he’s learned by working closely for many years with African American communities and with police officers.

Listening to African American Communities

“Let’s start with the fact,” Kennedy begins, “that the idea, common currency in these neighborhoods, that the government is running a carefully organized racial conspiracy [e.g., introducing crack into the inner city so that blacks can be arrested and whites can have good jobs in jails and in police departments] against black America is not as crazy as it sounds” (140). We have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that Jim Crow and separate but equal were legal, and even more recent that all sorts of illegal injustices (like lynchings) were overlooked by law enforcement agencies in cahoots with the KKK. “This was America, our America. Whites tend barely to know it, or to diminish it, or to set it aside as then against whatever it is that now begins.” (141). But in living memory for many in the black community, and in the collective memory of many more, are remembrances of police dogs and fire hoses set against peaceful demonstrators, of Bloody Sunday, of Klan-directed terrorism, of real racial injustices in our judicial system that most of us would find cringe-worthy and cruel. This may all seem like a long time ago, but not when it happened to your grandma or to your pastor.

Furthermore, according to Kennedy, illegal police activities still persist in our inner cities, like “clearing corners,” going beyond the allowable pat-down without probable cause, and arresting everybody at a crime scene as a material witness (143). All of this is so routine in our inner cities, says Kennedy, that “Officers forget it’s even crossing a line” (143).

I was on the street with drug cops not long ago. Where isn’t the point, they’re not the point–they’re good guys, I liked them–the point is this is what goes on. They stopped a group of young black men, held them, got ID, called in to dispatch to check wants and warrants. The young black men had been through this before, knew their part, waited. One was respectful, contained, and very, very angry. After half and hour or so the radio check came back–nothing. The unit’s supervising officer told them that they could move on. There was no explanation or apology or word of thanks. There almost never is. The angry one–still civil and respectful, but furious–said, I live here. My house is on the next block. All I was doing was going home. Then stay in front of your house, the officer said. This is a drug area. You know what’s going to happen. (143-44)

What happens when the narcotics officers go in to a suspected drug house is worse. Everybody is shouted down, put on the floor, and cuffed. The place is turned upside down. Drawers pulled out and dumped on the floor. Beds upended and mattresses slit. Everything is torn to pieces. The guys in armor are hoping they don’t get shot, but they still stomp around and tear the place apart. The community hears the stories and repeats the stories. It’s another example of the outside world not caring about what happens in our world. It’s another cautionary tale of what might happen to you just because you’re black and don’t get to live in the suburbs or in the hip, foodie part of town.

And then add to this lethal concoction the epidemic of mass incarceration. Let’s set aside whether each arrest and imprisonment was fair or not, Kennedy suggests. Let’s suppose that each crime is real, each arrest and prosecution is fair, and each sentence is statutory. That still doesn’t undo the damage. One in nine: that’s the number of black men, twenty to thirty-four years old, in prison. Kennedy isn’t arguing about criminal justice reform at this point. What he’s emphasizing is the cultural and psychological effect of such widespread imprisonment: “People who know someone who’s been imprisoned tend to think that criminal justice authorities are racist, are less likely to call the police when they need help, are less likely to support community standards and actions against crime” (148).

It’s no surprise that many in these communities are so adamantly opposed to snitching and so reticent to cooperate with law enforcement officials. They just don’t trust that the police are on their side. “Given the truth of our American history, it is all too easy for angry black communities to believe that this is not just incapacity: that it is malign….It becomes not so hard to understand why conspiracy might seem a live option. Overseer, slave catcher, Ku Klux Klan, cop, DEA–all seamless” (149). Of course, there is no conspiracy. Kennedy doesn’t even think racism in the police force is the problem. “But if we were trying to play to the idea that there is, we could hardly do a better job. To a people that has suffered systematic abuse under color of law, that has not been accorded equal protection under the law, that has been deprived of economic opportunity, that has in cold fact been abused in long and terrible ways, it is no stretch to imagine outcomes today are the result of similar things done and left undone” (150).

Listening to the Police

So what do they think on the law enforcement side? That’s pretty simple, Kennedy says. “They think the community likes what’s going on, or at least doesn’t care enough to stop it” (150). Many people in law enforcement, both black and white, come from pretty gritty backgrounds themselves and are apt to think, My parents taught me right from wrong. I worked hard. I stayed out of trouble. I took responsibility when I made mistakes. Why don’t people try raising their own kids and stop looking for someone else to blame? Whether that’s a fair indictment of those in the inner-city, or whether it takes into account the problems inherent in rampant fatherlessness and imprisonment, the fact is that many in the police force see a community they are supposed to serve that doesn’t give a rip about its own problems (150-51).

While Kennedy doesn’t think this is an accurate assessment, he understands why the cops feel the way they do.

They’re right that there’s no consistent community voice against violence, against the dealing, against getting arrested over and over, against going to prison. They’re right that black men are killing each other but that nearly all the open community outrage is against the police. They’re right that the kids are working the corners and dropping out of school and the community voice says: racism. The big open meetings–The precinct commander will address crime in the neighborhood and discuss police/community relations–are hopeless. The cops sit at the head table and take a hail of fury. (151)

Kennedy’s been to many meetings like this. Too many. After being accused in one open meeting in Baltimore of not really caring about black people and only getting into this line of work for the money, Kennedy made a vow (that he’s been unable to keep) never to attend these police-community meetings. The cops, for their part, don’t understand the anger. They see excuses and victimhood. Kennedy says the police get tangled up in specifics, trying to explain standard police procedure, explaining how to file a complaint, promising to look into a particular case of alleged wrongdoing. They “miss the raging subtext: Why do you treat us like this?” (152).

The police wonder why the community is silent about the criminal behavior in their midst. “They’re your sons, what are you doing about it,” they think. The community is reticent to stand against guns and drugs and violence when that means standing on the same side as your race enemy. And so, in too many communities there is silence–at least publicly, privately is a different matter. The police hear the silence and interpret it as complicity and corruption (153). They don’t hear how much the community hates whats happening, how much they want the violence to stop, how much it hurts to lose a son or daughter to drugs, or to prison, or to gang violence. They don’t hear how much the community hates that too many people assume all blacks are “that way.” Perhaps, Kennedy suggests, there is too little awareness for how routinely aggressive policing, even from good people risking their lives day in and day out, can add more fear and mistrust in a community already filled with both.

Here is the perfect, awful, searing symmetry of it. Both sides look at the other and say, You want this. You are corrupt and hollow and beyond hope.

They’re both wrong. It’s infinitely complicated, but it’s also at its heart very, very simple. Both these core ideas are wrong. Law enforcement is not indifferent, is not deliberately implementing a genocidal conspiracy. Troubled black communities are not all living off drug money, do not support violence, are not filled with sociopaths.

Not true. (154)

It’s a classic case of the worst suspicions being confirmed every day. Except that the suspicions are wrong and the confirmation bias is real.

What About Racism?

So here’s the big, provocative question in most people’s minds (at least those inhabiting the Twitterverse): Is racism the main issue?

Not really, says Kennedy, at least not very much. He believes there is disproportionate treatment of blacks all the way through the system and that this treatment is evil and wrong. But he doesn’t think racism is the driving force. “I’ve never heard a racist word spoken in all my years with cops–never” (154). Kennedy doesn’t discount the presence of unconscious stereotyping, but he doesn’t think cops are motivated by racial animus. The police have not written off black people; they’ve written off certain neighborhoods. “It’s why what many hoped would change these dynamics, having more black cops, hasn’t. Black cops don’t hate black people. This isn’t about black and white. It’s about the community of the cops and the community of the neighborhoods. The first has given up on the second” (154). And the second doesn’t trust the first.

Racism may not be the driving problem, but the whole problem is soaked in race. “The racist history, the long trauma of black America, makes relations between cops and black neighborhoods especially jagged, especially hurtful, especially explosive. It shapes them, gives them different meanings” (154-55). Which is why whenever a Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice dies at the hands of the police, we end up arguing about much more than the particularities of a given incident. We are arguing about the Big Picture and lamenting that the other side just doesn’t get it.

I imagine there are parts of Kennedy’s analysis you like and parts you don’t like. What about the systemic racism I’ve faced? What about the ways I’ve seen the tough on crime policies of the 90s make my city safer and its urban core revitalized? What about all that black leaders have done in my city to speak out against drugs and gang violence? Maybe Kennedy has not described your experience with the inner-city or your experience in law enforcement. Maybe you think he’s out of his element trying to summarize either. I found his analysis helpful not because I presume it’s true everywhere all the time, but because it makes sense of wildly different and equally plausible narratives–competing narratives I’ve heard from people I respect on both sides of this issue.

Does any of this help solve the problem? Perhaps not. But if it helps us understand–or at least begin to strain to try to understand–why brothers and sisters in Christ who agree on so much precious doctrine can see these incidents so differently, maybe that’s worth something.

Get to Know Me

One last thought in an already way too long blog post. I’m reminded of Rod Dreher’s poignant piece from last summer on why he loves the South, even though he abhors aspects of its history. This was the money paragraph for me:

At the same time [i.e., facing the full moral horror of what his white Southern ancestors did], the moral preening and hypocrisy of many Northerners is extremely hard to take. Just about every white Southerner who has lived outside of the South for any time has had to deal with it. It's as if there were nothing to know or to be said about the South except slavery and segregation. Many of us Southerners who agree that the violent, racist legacy of our region is an indelible stain on our history, and who agree that we whites have not fully dealt with that legacy, either in public or in our hearts, can easily get our backs up when some fat-mouthing Yankee scold presumes to lecture us on our wicked, wicked ways, without knowing the first thing about us.

Isn’t this what makes seemingly intractable problems even worse–hectoring someone or some group of people without knowing the first thing about them? Isn’t this why evangelicals get upset when those in the mainstream media think they are in a position to lecture us about doctrines they don’t believe? Isn’t this why African Americans get so frustrated when the response to the loss of another innocent black life is to talk about abortion rates or homicide statistics? Isn’t this why you’ll complain about your own family and then defend them to the death if someone else tries to do the same?  Listen to me, we want to say. Try to understand–at least a little. Get to know me first, just as you’d want someone to know the first thing about you and your hurt and your history and your heart.

Love as you want to be loved. That’s not the only answer. But I think Jesus would say that’s a start.

View Comments


29 thoughts on “Across the Race Divide”

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    Kennedy wrote:

    “…He believes there is disproportionate treatment of blacks all the way through the system and that this treatment is evil and wrong. But he doesn’t think racism is the driving force…”

    I think you should read a book by a black guy next time.

  2. Trillia says:

    You wrote: “I understand that posts like this are fraught with danger. But the alternative–for white evangelicals to refuse to think critically and refuse to speak about race-related issues, hardly seems like a healthy option. Caution, yes. Difference, yes. Complete silence, less helpful.”

    There is greater danger is the Christian community with apathy and silence than with speaking. So, thank you for writing and sharing. I’d love to see more of my white brothers sharing like this (white conservative reformed, that is). This builds my faith and is encouraging to read!

    I have several thoughts but I did want to share that racism isn’t always spoken. I believe I read that he said he never “heard” a racist word, etc. I live in the south (love where I live) but have thought that someone wasn’t racist because they never said anything yet only to find out later, when placed in certain situations or a change of circumstances, that wasn’t at all the case. I’m NOT saying that his analysis is incorrect for those he worked with, I’m simply saying that it’s not necessarily the best way to determine if someone has a HEART problem of racism. If that makes sense.

    Grateful, Kevin!

  3. Curt Day says:

    I very much appreciate Kevin writing on this subject. And some of what he wrote is good. The weakness of this article, however, is too much reliance on one source. He needs to do further research and read a variety of sources because the groups were are dealing with here are not monolithic. Racism is sometimes the issue in how some police treat the public. But it isn’t always the issue.

    What we should note is that we are often forced into a tribal mentality regarding police conduct toward Blacks–and that just doesn’t pertain to innern city communities. Thus, you are told to choose between supporting Blacks or supporting the police. And if we buy into that mentality, we end up beiieving that what is right or wrong depends on who does what to whom. And the more threatened one feels, the prone one is to rely on a tribal mentality. So as Kennedy did in his book, he listened to both sides. And that is what is needed here. The Black communities and police officers must sit down and listen to each other. And the result of that listening to each other is that both must become more pro-justice rather than being tribal.

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Very fair point, Trillia. Thanks for that reminder.

  5. Josh Deng says:

    Thanks for sharing Kevin. I agree with everything Trillia said.

  6. Tim Cooper says:

    Kevin, the basic premise of your post is flawed. You start out by justifying the outrage of “whites” who are outraged by the outrage of African Americans at the unjust killing of unarmed human beings created in the image of God. How strange.

    “Why are we turning police officers into the bad guys? How are they to know someone resisting arrest or waving a real looking gun isn’t a dangerous threat? Who will speak up for the men and women risking their necks to protect us? This is political correctness all over again. All Lives Matter.”

    Who in the African American community or the BLM movement is turning all police officers into “bad guys.” Any white person who is outraged by that idea is outraged about a reality which does not exist. Why should protests about the unjust killings of African Americans automatically be made into “turning all police officers into bad guys”. Most African Americans are happy about the presence of the police in their communities. They are also just justifiably outraged at police injustice.

    If you wanted to understand how to bridge the racial divide. Stop justifying the unjustifiable outrage of the white people you write about and start being outraged by the unjust killing of your neighbors. Making the outrage of the white people you write about equal to the outrage of African Americans at the killing of innocent people is really strange. Maybe you can’t come up with meaningful answers to the “race problem” because you’re not advocating the unrestricted love of your neighbor.

    Again you say that some “whites” are outraged because “How are they to know someone resisting arrest or waving a real looking gun isn’t a dangerous threat?” Are you serious? Do you really hope to be taken seriously in this generation by justifying the outrage of people who don’t hold the police to the highest standard when it comes to killing people. Are you really justifying the killing of a child who was waving a toy gun, or a man who was shot in the back while running away.

    Again you write about the outrage of whites who say “Who will speak up for the men and women risking their necks to protect us?” So all the families of African American police officers are not speaking up for the rights of their loved ones. Those black people and many whites don’t seem to be outraged by the focus on the killing of unarmed civilians. It is only the outraged “white” people you so desperately want to justify.

    Finally you say that some white people are justifiably outraged because they think “This is political correctness all over again. All Lives Matter.” I’m shocked that someone who claims to be thinking biblically about race and American society would justify the outrage of white people who think this way. When is it ever just “political correctness” to be outraged at the killing of innocent people. Why does the idea that Black Lives Matter, when understood in the context of American history and number of police killings, become an idea to be outraged about.

    So here we have an example of why this brand of Christianity is failing to reach the masses. A man who claims to be extolling the love of Jesus, the love of neighbor, and to be thinking biblically about race tries to tell us that the outrage of certain white people at the outrage of African Americans about the unjust killing of African Americans is justified. He is trying to hijack the effort to point out injustice by making the feelings of white people more important than the pursuit of justice.

    This is exactly why so few black people engage with reformed theology and gospel coalition types. In every discussion about race, justice is never the main focus. No, African Americans have to be more concerned that they don’t outrage the tender feelings of the “white people” Kevin wants to defend. God ford that white people would ever be challenged about social structures that perpetuate injustice. If you do we’re told they will feel outraged, and in the land of the Gospel Coalition outraging white people is the worst thing any African American can do.

  7. Matthew Beech says:

    Hi Tim! I think you are misunderstanding what Kevin in saying about white people’s reactions.

    He isn’t justifying it himself, he is saying what “those many whites” are saying to justify it to themselves. I don’t think it should be seen as an endorsement of that view anymore than his statements in the paragraph above are an endorsement of the views from “the other side.”

    I suppose I should let Kevin defend himself, but I felt it was unfair to state that he believes that way.

    Quite frankly, black or white, there is an injustice and I don’t know any Christians in my circle (which is admittedly a small, reform minded circle) who believe that there isn’t a grave injustice and at least a good deal of racism involved in many, if not all, of these killings.

  8. Andrew Webber says:

    I read Benjamin Watson’s “Under Our Skin” recently and found it to be very thought provoking and helpful. It sounds to me like Kennedy’s book would be a great one to read along with Watson’s. This way you are getting two slightly differing perspectives, from men who share the same desires and goals as Christians on this issue.

  9. Jason Daugherty says:

    Excellent article…if I were to summarize this lengthy, albeit excellent article, it’d be the primary problem is understanding. All the rage i’ve experienced (and expressed) can be quelled by understanding the other side. Putting oneself in the others shoes seems simple enough in concept but in practice is quite troublesome. As a newly reformed white man, this article at the very least helped me to see the justifiable anger of the black community. Thank you

  10. I have wrestled with what to actually DO about this myself and, 6 months ago, I got an idea. My idea is simple and not very big, but maybe that’s what makes it strong. I wanted to use my platform as a writer to get as many churches of as many racial makeups as possible to all study Acts at the same time. I know it’s not enough, but maybe the Holy Spirit will use it to do something big. We can’t easily fix the economic issues and complex social histories that separate us by race on Sunday mornings, but we can all study the same thing at the same time. Maybe that’s the mystical first step: unite together over our shared love of Scripture. So, I gathered some resources that we could giveaway for free and I put together a panel video with Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Aaron Son, Dr. Scott Maze, and church planter Lazaro Chappa. In the panel, we moved point-by-point through moments in the book of Acts in which racial reconciliation happened as a result of the Holy Spirit’s move. The results are pretty good and I’m optimistic. The whole panel video should be live at in the next couple of days. God bless you all.

  11. Tim Cooper says:

    Matthew. My point is the outrage the “white” people he mentions may feel is actually an outrage about African Americans being outraged by structural injustice. This is not an attempt to bridge a divide between races, it is, at least in part, an attempt to justify white “outrage” over the African American response to structural injustice.

    This game has been played for years in America. Instead of coming alongside our neighbors and saying “your reaction to structural injustice is good and godly” we invent a chasm between us and them by defending people who feel threatened by efforts to expose injustice.

    If you want to bridge the racial divide, don’t tell me what the people who don’t experience racial injustice may feel. Simply begin to teach that people unjustly killed by the police were image bearers, and any Christian who feels threatened by the protests against their murder needs to rethink their theology.

    The bridge across the racial divide is built upon affirming as reasonable, not the hurt feelings of those who feel threatened by calls for justice, but our ability to see our own children in the face of Tamir Rice.

  12. I hesitated to post on this issue, but sometimes its helpful when ur not a US citizen. Being from Australia we also have race motivated crime and discrimination. Often enough ending in death including Police using excessive force. We dont have the gun crime the US suffers from and I dont envy US Law Enforcement having to manage interaction with suspects considering the proliferation of hand guns. What is wrong at all times is racial profiling which leads to wrong choices and then excessive force. Only a year ago or so Australians watched in horror as 12 Police tasered to death a Brazilian tourist, based on very wrong intelligence. The hardest thing is ensuring justice is done when the wrong thing is done. I would also suggest if a Pastor wants to understand what is happening out on the streets then become a Police Chaplain or similar. You will get to minister to Law Enforcement and Victims and families. Its something I did although not in Law Enforcement but heavy industry and got help people dying, losing their jobs and families, helping families after losing members to violent deaths etc. Its worth considering.

  13. Neville Briggs says:

    “How can we bridge this deep divide” asks Mr DeYoung and astonishingly he answers ” the short answer is I don’t know”
    How is it possible for a minister of the Gospel to say such a thing. Reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel, the good in the good news.
    There is a problem proclaiming the good news though and I suspect that it is that the church to a great extent does not exhibit reconciliation in action, the church is apparently so deeply divided.
    We have churches separated into congregations of ethnic identity, we have congregations with a division between the role of men and the role of women, division between the special clergy class and the ordinary class, division over dogma, division over money and property.
    Why should the wider community listen to anything the church has to say about bridging divisions.
    Maybe something can be done, maybe the starting point is for the church to put its own house in order and exhibit the reconciliation of the gospel. Didn’t Jesus say ” by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another ” if the world sees that the church is divided one against another, they are entitled to be sceptical about claims to be Christ’s disciples. You see, Jesus didn’t say that it was about our sermons or books, he said it was about what we exhibit in our behaviour.

    I suppose there is helpful literature out there on social issues, but I wonder if the starting point to put into practice is the scripture where Paul writes that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free man, male or female.

    There are difficult social problems, but shouldn’t we place our faith in the power of the Gospel .
    Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God says ” Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me ? “

  14. DonJones says:

    @woundedego – not sure that can be answered (“would they still be alive”). Responses are changing in regard to law enforcement and reactions. When a section of Baltimore was burned and looted I don’t believe anyone (black or white or any other color) was killed as a result of that. Not speaking to the rightness or wrongness of the militia’s actions, but I don’t believe they have destroyed property — at least at this point. That question itself seems to demonstrate the racial divide to which this article is attempting to start a conversation about. I think it illustrates what this article is trying to address. Obviously, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on “both / all sides.” Shalom

  15. Jacob says:

    So, according to the quotes from this book, (in general) the inner-city neighborhoods blame everything on racism, and consequently refuse to do anything to help themselves––while the police, who rarely if ever demonstrate actual racism, bend over backwards to try to help people who hate them.
    It sounds like all the cries of “racism” are the problem in these communities.
    Take away the fatalistic assumption (or excuse) that “nothing will ever change because ‘the man’ is racist, and therefore I can’t help myself or my community”, and it seems the majority of this problem would be solved.

    The other part of the problem (the part for which Police need to be held accountable) is unwarranted and unjust police brutality and mistreatment––REGARDLESS of race. Police not only should be held to the same standards as everyone else (if they murder an innocent person, they should be prosecuted and punished), but they should be held to a *higher* standard––that’s why we hold them in higher honor. Everyone should be disgusted by a policeman murdering an unarmed victim laying on the ground, by shooting him 16 times––regardless of his race. Everyone should be disgusted by police departments and judicial systems which cover up evidence and refuse to execute justice against “one of their own”––regardless of race.

    In sum,
    1) Let’s shut our mouths about “racism” except where is actually and explicitly raises it’s ugly head.
    2) Let’s demand that police be held to the STRICTEST standards of justice––not for the sake of “racial relations”––but for the sake of justice FOR ALL.

  16. Ron Nordin says:

    Jacob kept it short and made a great point.

    The issue is rooted in sin. All of us, white or black are afflicted. The American evangelical church is starting to appear crippled in its reasoning, and unable to make clear statements that will both encourage and convict black, white or any race with the truth of the gospel, and yes, truth spoken that angers may be an expression of love. We appear to be succumbing to political correctness in the name of finding a solution that cannot be gained from such thinking, and as my wife says, it sounds Marxist, and that’s from someone who has studied Marxism. Maybe that’s why the author indicates he doesn’t know the answer, for Marxism has no place in Christian thought.

    There are black pastors denouncing BLM and trying to encourage blacks to be responsible (I’m not saying Mr. DeYoung is sympathetic to BLM, but it is the elephant in the room these days). Why not exemplify these black pastors? Instead white evangelicals appear perplexed and seem to think showing sympathy to the warped actions of certain groups such as BLM might get us to some place of understanding. BLM has no merit – just look at their tactics, just as a blanket statement that all cops must be good doesn’t either.

    Now or never is it a time to be cowards, and what appears in the surface to be thoughtful consideration, really sounds the capitulation in the worst sense.

  17. Tim Cooper says:

    So there it is. We’ve reached the final conclusion of all such discussions. Despite the endemic structural and institutional racism in America, the real problem is all the African Americans who cry wolf when they say they’re experiencing injustice.

    We started out with Kevin justifying the spurious outrage of “white people” who dislike calls for justice, and we end up with Jacob telling us that all the “cries of racism” are the real problem and Don saying that armed militia members occupying federal land and threatening violence are not the same as a few unarmed kids looting one store.

    This is why I said reformed, gospel coalition types are out of touch with reality in America. We talk about how Jesus entered our world and suffered with us for our redemption, claiming that the cross changes everything. Yet we blithely close our eyes to the real injustices our neighbors face.

    If only for one day we could walk in the shoes of a poor black person who lives in America.

  18. Ron Nordin says:

    Tim, I don’t think anyone is saying the problem will be resolved just by black people straightening up, and I agree with you that the reformed evangelical crowd is showing itself somewhat out of step, but does that mean BLM is valid in it’s methods? Hardly. The fact is the abusive police need to repent and turn from their wicked ways or be punished (and some would say it’s an institutional fact that punishment doesn’t happen, but I doubt anyone here can speak with authority on that). And blacks (or anyone) who think chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” is a valid way of expressing a point should be dismissed as trouble makers, and not serious for reform. You could also think about walking in the shoes of a cop who has never wrongly abused his authority hearing that hate.

    As for the militants in Oregon, I was speaking the other day to some friends and we all agreed that even if they have a point they are using the world’s way of resolving issues, not a Christians. I see BLM the same way.

    All of the analysis and accusations coming from both sides really does not matter until there’s a conviction of sin and a change of heart. As it is it seems the response to sin, is sin, and Jesus says no to such thinking. Mt. 5:39. But that doesn’t seem to suit the narrative much these days.

  19. Tim Cooper says:

    Ron. Abusive police repenting and turning away from their sin is not the answer. That’s not the way institutions work.

    We as Christians, in sympathy with our neighbors, need to first recognize that institutional injustice is endemic. We need to call it out, and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. I don’t deny that it’s immoral, and illegal, for protestors to harass the police but that is not the problem.

    The real problem is we gospel-centered Christians have been silent about the institutional injustice in our neighborhoods. The climate of “benign indifference” to the unjust killing of our neighbors is appalling to the very black people we are supposed to love like ourselves.

    America as a country has devalued black lives for centuries. We Christians have turned a blind eye to the brutality perpetuated by institutions and then wondered why black people laugh at our claims of gospel centricity. Why can’t we just acknowledge the toxic stew that our indifference has helped create.

    If we really want to bridge the racial divide we have to be honest about the reality our neighbors experience. Incarnate in the world the black people we’re so curiously outraged at live in. Do you know that posts like this were written during the civil rights movement when white people were outraged by Dr. King?

    The author begins by claiming to build a bridge between two racial groups. He briefly mentions the injustice one group faces then spends the rest of his time defending the reaction of a privileged group (privileged in the sense that they don’t experience institutional racial injustice) to the complaints of those experiencing injustice.

    Police officers get shot, they get spat on, their job is not easy. We love them for what they do, but their struggle is not the issue here. Bringing it up trivializes the whole discussion because many white people disrespect the police in much the same way.

    If you want to build a bridge start by incarnating in the world of your neighbor. I’m not a bearded white guy, in Oregon, who loves to shoot things, and believes President Obama is an enemy of the constitution. I’m not that person, but I understand why those people are doing what they’re doing. I can feel their pain. Can you feel the pain of your African American brothers

  20. D.A. Horton says:

    I appreciate your article and praise God you, as a White-Evangelical leader, are willing to address this in public, on a well-respected Evangelical website. As an ethnic minority, I want to say thank you.

    I would like to address one quote from your piece:

    “It may seem uncouth for a white pastor to write about another white man’s experience with African American communities. I understand that posts like this are fraught with danger. But the alternative–for white evangelicals to refuse to think critically and refuse to speak about race-related issues, hardly seems like a healthy option. Caution, yes. Difference, yes. Complete silence, less helpful.”

    I feel like there is one oversight I would like to suggest to you and all my White-Evangelical brothers and sisters who read my comment: please consider reading Ethnic Minority authors, consider their arguments, and engage their work in public to help shape culture inside of Evangelicalism. Specifically when dealing with “race”, “ethnicity”, “systemic oppression in society” and “Systemic segregation” in our churches. In doing this, Evangelicals will now have greater ability to think critically. Without reading ethnic minorities (both saved an unsaved) how can my White-Evangelical brothers and sisters truly begin to think critically when its their own assessments being tossed around?

    Ethnic Minority voices inside of Evangelicalism face an ironic quandary: we’re limited on what we’re called to speak/teach on (i.e. “race” and “urban”) yet, when we speak on this from the vantage point we’re indigenous to, we’re rejected and not considered to be “safe voices” anymore.

    By reading and engaging with ethnic minority authors (both saved and unsaved) in public, White-Evangelicals leaders (as yourself and other TGC leaders) will introduce competent and credentialed voices to the conversations, thus allowing our White-Evangelical brothers and sisters have greater potential to now think critically.

    In closing, I’d like to suggest a few books to consider reading that may assist in the unpacking of the issues I sited in my first paragraph after your quote:

    1. Aliens in a Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions by Anthony Bradley
    2. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Captivity by Soon-Chan Rah
    3. Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective by Justo L. Gonzalez
    4. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
    5. One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis William and Thomas Schreiner
    6. On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African-American Christian Experience
    7. Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
    8. When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor by William Julius Williams
    9. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City by Elijah Anderson
    10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    I pray these help you in your research regarding a holistic approach we as believers can have regarding thinking critically all the while mobilizing towards leveraging the gospel as our response to the tension you address in your piece.

    Lord bless you bro,
    D.A. Horton

  21. Ron Nordin says:

    I understand anger. I understand why blacks feel pain. I understand why the guys in Oregon are angry, but that does not predispose me to think either one of them are acting in righteousness.

    I can feel the pain of blacks inasmuch as I can imagine it. No white person can fully empathize, and it’s abhorrent when a white person claims that knowledge, and worse still when they promote themselves as feeling their pain through hypocritical words. And as much as I hate racism, I’m limited in how I can respond to you other than I agree that the history of injustice towards blacks has been a terrible sin and shame upon us. As for injustice or hateful action, it is wrong whether you commit it as a abusive minority or an abusive authority figure. The scripture provides no defense for either, and your concurrent admission of disrespecting police, and dismissing it as not applicable to the current situation is does not help. Until the seriousness and wrongness of both abuse from authority and disrespect of it can be admitted the prospect of resolution is diminished.

    A final note. I’ve wondered why I have such great appreciation of black spiritual music whether through it’s expression of suffering or great hope (besides the fact that most Christian music in Evangelical churches is seriously lacking) the gift to share with them the great wonder of how we are made more Christlike through suffering (Rom. 5). It produces awe in me when I consider what black slaves endured and yet could sing with great hope. They both humble me and uplift me. Not the ones who curse, obstruct and destroy property. In the end, those who endured great suffering at the hands of injustice without cursing or raising a fist will be remembered. That’s how I remember Dr. King and those who where righteous in their cause and actions..

  22. WB says:

    So what if you don’t believe the country is full of structural, institutional racism – are you now out of step with Gospel in some way? Because while I believe that racism and bigotry are real and can reveal themselves in awful ways, I don’t believe there’s an inherit injustice at work in this country – unless you want to indict urban school systems and city council, labor unions, etc. Then we might can talk.

  23. Phil says:

    D.A., I really appreciate your comment. I think you’ve added a lot of insight to this thread. I’ve made a note of the books you referenced and will certainly check them out. Thanks!

  24. WB says:

    As for the recommendation that we read and digest Ta-Nehasi Coates’ polemics, I would instead offer Christopher Caldwell’s review:

  25. D.A. Horton says:

    Phil: Its a joy to see Pastor Kevin’s post. I praise God for you reading my comment. Lord bless you fam.


  26. When its all said and done Christ Himself told his disciples go find the person of peace and dwell with them, sharing Christs grace with them. If every believer did that we would see revival in many small pockets which would spread. Think of the Weslie revivals in Wales a couple centuries ago, the entire social structure changed, crime virtually disappeared, governments were converted, brothels closed. The onlly answer I see to this mess is Christ in us being shared in word and deed with those we know and strangers (persons of peace). Change from the grass roots up is the only real solution I see. Everything else tried has not worked.

  27. A compelling post on a difficult issue….. I responded to Pr DeYoung’s thoughts on my podcast here: (commentary on the blogpost starts at about 12:10 (12 minutes 10 seconds) My main point in the matter is a question of vocation, especially as we Evangelicals address and approach the vocations of “father” and “husband”/ “wife” and “child”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


Kevin DeYoung photo

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kevin DeYoung's Books