Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” Genesis 4:9-10
Last week was a week of fire and tremendous turbulence in our country. Today begins a new week. The name of George Floyd has reached around the world, and his death at the hands of bigots has again ignited not only the cry for justice, but the demand for me to examine myself and my place in a culture that maintains systems of oppression. Why? Because God says, “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!”
NUCC is a church that expects its leaders to be open and honest in their leadership, and to be willing to be vulnerable in sharing the uncomfortable realities of being a follower of Christ, especially in our human faults and frailties. I believe that’s what’s expected of me.
I was an eleven-year-old child living in a white suburb northeast of Los Angeles in 1965 when Marquette Frye was pulled over by police. An escalation occurred, followed by six days of civil unrest that came to be known as the Watts riots. It was on the news. It was scary and unsettling. One year later I found myself in Middle School, and for the first time in my life I was a fellow student with Black, Hispanic, and Asian students. Even then I felt the anger of young people aligned with Black Panthers and LaRaza who were much more aware of our social fabric of inequity and injustice than I was. I was naïve. And I was frightened by the underlying suggestion of violence.
I didn’t know anything about police violence back then. I didn’t know anything about the silent, hidden, dehumanizing violence that was meted out to people because of skin color or economic status or immigration status. I didn’t know I was privileged to have a home, food, clothes, and opportunity. I didn’t know that the color of my skin afforded me safety and opportunity that was denied to others.
Over the years I have had many friends of various races, various backgrounds, various occupations. That fact would suggest to me that I’m not racist, homophobic, or a bigot. On the other hand, every time I see a person who is different than me by color, shape, size, dress, or hairstyle and subconsciously or consciously conclude that there is something wrong or dangerous without ever knowing them, then racism and bigotry and fear exists in me. My life in Christ means that I have to be cognizant of that ugly part of my soul, and to maintain a commitment to risk loving and welcoming persons, knowing that my eyes will deceive me and my assumptions will lie to me if I so allow it. Love and fear can’t exist together in my soul or in my actions.
Some want riots and demonstrations to end, for things to go back to normal, the way they were. But the old normal doesn’t work except for those on the top who hold power. May the church join with the oppressed to build a preferred normal, where we are indeed “our brothers’ keepers.”
Rev. Dr. David Kaiser-Cross
For the Church:
God of mercy, be with us as we face ourselves and try to follow the ways of Jesus. Amen.