In the Laquan McDonald case we’ve received another warning against uncritical support for and unaccountable uses of authority.
It’s another shooting ruled a murder by officials that would have gone unchallenged and unaddressed were it not for video evidence to the contrary. Prosecutors have rightly moved to press charges against officer Van Dyke for the shooting. At this writing, it’s unclear whether the other officers who witnessed the shooting and participated in a false police report alleging McDonald “lunged at” officers will face any charges.
Here’s what’s clear to this pastor: Nothing will change for the better unless people of sound judgment and good character act.
I have to believe that among those of sound judgment and good character Christian pastors must be at the forefront. Our Bibles call us to be examples to the flock in virtue and practical living. Nowhere is our virtue more tested and our people in need of not only good teaching but good examples than in the real world travesties and tragedies like the shooting of Laquan McDonald. And at no time is our example and leadership more urgent than when such travesties and tragedies are ubiquitous, everywhere, seemingly all the time. How do we think our people will pursue justice if their leaders won’t?
After watching the video of McDonald being slayed by a uniformed officer, I tried to get clear in my own heart and head what I was for and against as a pastor. Here’s my short list of affirmations and denials:
- The Bible.
I believe the Bible to be sufficient and authoritative in matters of justice.
I deny the notion that the Bible is silent, insufficient or unconcerned with justice in human societies.
- Christian Discipleship.
I believe justice, mercy and faithfulness are weightier matters of the law and integral to Christian discipleship; they are to not simply be espoused but practiced in ecclesial and secular community with others.
I deny the notion that justice concerns are necessarily “liberal,” “progressive,” or “social gospel” aberrations or are ancillary to Christian discipleship.
- Pastoral Responsibility.
I believe pastors have a moral responsibility to convey hope to suffering and marginalized people—and such hope cannot be abstracted from the sufferer’s context lest it become escapism and empty hope.
I deny the notion that a pastor’s only responsibility before God is to preach the word, as if the pastor is not more fundamentally a disciple who also has to bear faithful witness in seeking justice in submission to the Lord.
- The Church.
I believe the local church is absolutely vital for both the evangelizing—disciple-making mission of God and for the mercy—good works ethics of the kingdom.
I deny that teaching which makes the mission of the church exclusively “spiritual” as if a spiritual mission has no real world consequences or imperatives and I deny that one could be considered a faithful Christian or Christian church while divorcing the truth of scripture from the practice of that truth.
- Public Policy.
I believe biblical, Christian witness in matters of public policy is both a freedom granted to all U.S. Christians and a necessary beneficial calling/vocation for some.
I deny the notion that Christians should retreat from the public policy arena.
- Possible Progress.
I believe significant progress in racial justice is possible in our lifetimes and that such progress is already evident in the advances earned by so many over the centuries.
I deny that Christians have reason to give in to that despair, despondency and unbelief which trusts neither God’s good providence nor the ability of people made in His image to do genuine good to and for one another.
I believe that the greatest of all virtues is love, which if faith’s highest expression, covers over a multitude of sin, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, does no harm to its neighbor, is redemptive and transformative, and must be shown not only in words but in deeds.
I deny the possibility that one can be loving and sit idly by while known injustice continues, forsake the aid of brethren in the faith who are in distress, or abandon society to its corruptions without calling men everywhere to repent, believe the gospel, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ in the obedience that comes from faith.
Of course, pastors trade in affirmations and denials all the time. It’s our stock and trade. And we can so easily hollow the words of any action. So in addition to affirmations and denials, I tried very earnestly to think of what I could do to contribute to an end to police brutality and the war on drugs and foster a genuinely just system of police enforcement and criminal procedure. So here are my very broad commitments:
- Finding ways to foster meaningful discussions that build neighborhoods.
- Investigating claims of injustice so that I might be educated and prepared for sound action.
- Demonstrating against injustice.
- Advocating for public accountability
- Bringing moral pressure to bear on justice issues–especially the end of police brutality, misconduct and the war on drugs.
- Brokering solutions and strategies for resolving pressing injustices.
There’s a lot of “how” to work out in all of this. I don’t pretend to have magic answers that everyone else in the world lacks. I simply feel the need to join what I pray is the growing number of citizens and people of faith who see the need for massive reform in order to protect life.
Here’s my question for you, especially if you’re a pastor: Would you join me in these basic affirmations, denials and commitments? Would you be willing to work together to build a network of evangelical pastors to end mass incarceration and police misconduct?