They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:14
They were unspeakably evil, those uniformed Nazis who operated the death trains. They herded innocents into overcrowded cattle cars, locked them in without water or restrooms, and shipped them off to faraway death camps for Hitler’s Final Solution. Of course they were monsters. But what about the ordinary citizens who lived along the railroad tracks; who heard the moans and cries for relief, and smelled the odor of caged human beings? When they turned up the volume of their radios to drown out the holocaust, they were just as heartless and calculating.
Who are the innocent bystanders? The question has come to mind time and again as I have thought about the renewed racial tensions here in the USA. Extremist groups like Black Lives Matter have created a false narrative that most police officers leave home every morning gunning for black victims. Most of us reject that slander. We have enormous respect for the men and women who populate that thin blue line between us and savagery. We have seen the stats that prove most police shootings are not racially motivated and are completely justified. But we never talk about the unjustified exceptions, where an unarmed innocent is shot down for no apparent reason. Our silence suggests that in the dangerous world of law enforcement, a certain number of innocent deaths is acceptable. But it’s not-especially if one of those victims is someone you cared about.
I suspect that’s why so many ordinary, law abiding, hard working black Americans still wonder about equality here in America: our silence. A missing white teenager gets a lot more news coverage and conversation that a black teenager shot dead for no apparent reason. It’s not anti-cop to grieve with the families, to ask why this particular injustice happened, or to require an investigation. Neighbors want to know why other neighbors died at the hands of the government. Why do we seem so disinterested….and silent?
The Birth of a Nation is a compelling new film about Nat Turner’s deadly slave uprising in 1831. The movie is painful and jarring: not only because it depicts the demonic brutality of human slavery; but because it refuses to paint all white Virginians with the same broad brush. Many of the white people in Nat Turner’s community treat their own slaves with a certain amount of “decency.” They truly imagine themselves as kind people, even Christians. Their faces clearly register their discomfort when they observe some of the violence inflicted upon the slaves of other plantations. But their silence offers their tacit approval of this very public evil. They become bystanders to some of the worst instances of barbarism. But they are not innocent.
It was apparently legal for first-century Jewish leaders in Israel to stone a woman caught in adultery, even if her male partner was mysteriously missing. Jesus interrupted and challenged his outraged neighbors to examine their hearts and consider their own bias and hypocrisy. If we accept our role as the body of Christ in our generation, we have to accept that prophetic role as well. It’s not enough to pour oil on troubled waters. Victims of injustice can drown beneath all that lovely oil.
Lift up the Cross!