As I sat down to write about Alton Sterling and the response of white conservative Christians, I had to stop and weep. Another video of another police shooting began trending on social media.
Honestly, I need to do more listening than talking during moments like this, but I also need to write to process. And I can’t help but feel my silence would be louder and more hurtful than any stumbling attempt to work through it.
Philando Castile was shot in his car, in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter. He died later at the hospital.
There are still numerous facts and information that will come out over the next few days that will hopefully provide greater clarity to the events surrounding these now two shootings involving police officers and black men.
I don’t know those facts and neither do most others, but I don’t have to wait for facts to grieve with those who are grieving and seek to share their burden with them.
Neither are the facts of each individual case necessary to evaluate our initial reactions to those tragic deaths.
Think back to the Orlando night club shooting. Most Christians that I saw attempted to simply mourn with the gay community. This wasn’t the time to argue about marriage. It was time to reaffirm the image of God in those victims.
Yet, too often in the shooting of black men at the hands of police, many immediately begin searching for a way to cast the victim in the worst possible light. “He was a thug.” “He had a criminal record.”
But what about the imago Dei there? That does not disappear because you are selling CDs outside of a store or driving around with a busted tail light.
Think back to the FBI announcing that Hillary Clinton would not be charged with any crime. Most conservative Christians saw that as someone using privilege to escape prosecution. The justice system failed.
I saw numerous comments impugning the motives and characters of everyone at the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department and the White House. The inaction meant that clearly someone abused the power they possessed.
Yet, when these police shootings happen, many seem incapable of believing the justice system could be anything but fair and accurate. Suddenly, those in law enforcement should be given every benefit of the doubt because they possess more information than we do.
We can simultaneously thank police officers for their sacrifices and risking their lives on a daily basis and believe they should be held to a high standard with the use of their firearm.
We can and should praise those good and decent officers who truly serve their community, while also believing that those who fatally shoot someone else should face justice like anyone else.
But when we instantly downplay the humanity of the victims involved in police shootings, we speak loudly to our Christian brothers and sisters in the minority community.
They notice when we give the benefit of the doubt to a police officer using deadly force, but not the FBI over an email scandal.
That doesn’t mean treating classified emails carelessly (at the very least) is unimportant, but a human life is always more important.
Minority brothers and sisters see when we automatically defend gun owners’ Second Amendment rights, except for when the gun owner is a black man shot by police.
If you believe in protecting an individual’s right to bear arms, why would you use that against them as proof they deserved to be shot?
Again, I’m not saying we know all the facts. I’m simply saying our immediate responses often reveal more than we’d like to admit about our principles.
Why are many conservative white Christians afraid of government overreach from a federal government they never see, but never questioning the militarization of the local police department in their backyards?
Why do we acknowledge that the justice system can be unfairly tilted toward someone because of name and connections, but refuse to accept the possibility that it might be unfairly tilted away from someone because of the color of their skin?
If we truly believe that all lives matter, why would we react negatively to someone saying that black lives matter?
As the church in America has increasingly looked to politics as the primary solution for culture, we have allowed that perspective to color everything.
As individual Christians, we should also be thinking through how often our principles shift depending on the circumstances and those involved.
These shootings and the reactions become political. We view it as an “us versus them” situation, instead of treating it as an “us” situation—an attack on human dignity.
The church has to be better. Christians have to be better.
As of now, our main priority should be to weep with those who weep and pray for justice to be served. People are hurting and scared. In those moments, the church should be there to offer comfort and hope.
That’s why I’m thankful for images like this.
— Jennifer Mayerle (@jennifermayerle) July 7, 2016
May we be like Philando Castile’s daughter. She saw the pain of her mother, came beside her and said, “It’s OK. I’m right here with you.”
These events are not “OK,” but victims should always hear the church whisper to them through our tears, “I’m right here with you.”