Tag Archives: racial tension

If You Want Peace, Be the First to Forgive

Toni Morrison

I’m no fan of Toni Morrison, but every so often she demonstrates that she knows the turn of a good phrase. In a recent interview she spoke of “lived wisdom.” She says we can rely on the wisdom of the elderly, because, “It’s not the book learning, it’s the lived wisdom.”

As a person being dragged forward into a place where someone might consider me “elderly,” I’m highly interested in the possibility that I have some “lived wisdom” that will give me credibility. However, I look at Ms. Morrison herself, seeking the evidence of “lived wisdom” during her 84 years on the earth, and I wonder.

For starters, there is her interview for The Telegraph in which Morrison said, “I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back.” It is hard to imagine a more depraved worldview than that. Coming so close on the heels of the Michael Brown case, it is worth noting that Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, attempted to arm himself by grabbing the police officer’s gun, and that he was not shot in the back. However, it is not a healthy approach to a problem that even looks remotely like police malfeasance to suggest that it is important to get even by shooting someone who is innocent in order to balance the demographics. Such a statement does not make me believe that Toni Morrison has some “lived wisdom” we should probe for guidance in righting wrongs of any kind.

The problem at the root of Morrison’s complaint has yet to be defined in any meaningful way. It cannot actually be said that anyone has approached her allegation dispassionately, with a commitment to the truth. Her allegation is a repeat of an allegation expressed in a variety of ways, but at the bottom is a will to believe that police do not do their jobs with integrity if a black person is in sight. The lack of real facts presented in an orderly fashion is something that makes it difficult even to converse about the alleged problem.

More importantly, however, no such problem has ever in all of history been solved by getting even. Anyone can read the story of the Balkans, the Alsace-Lorraine area between Germany and France, and the frontier warfare with the Indians and discern that getting even never helps. In fact, nobody ever thinks that he has gotten even. They intend to get even plus a little more, and the loser in the conflict simply wants to do the same thing in return. From verbal jabs to nuclear warfare, the attempt to “get even” is a guarantee that the problem in dispute will never be resolved.

It is, therefore, safe to say that even if a cop does shoot an unarmed white man in the back, the problem of law enforcement in a culture of many skin colors will not be solved. I contend that there is only one solution for the tension between black people and white people and police officers and civilians: forgiveness. It must come packaged with amendment of life on all sides, but before anything else comes forgiveness. Only forgiveness pulls the poison that yearns to inflict as much grief as has been endured, plus a little more for the insult. Forgiveness allows the parties to the discussion to stand on level ground and deal with each other as fellow humans, not representatives of “races.”

By the way, on the subject of race, Ms. Morrison did say something wise. She said, “Race is the classification of a species. And we are the human race, period.” I’ll buy that. In fact, when anyone asks my race, that is how I answer: human. I refuse to identify otherwise, because the whole notion of racism is based on the false premise that skin color actually has something to do with the quality of the individual. Skin color, or various physical traits, are utterly meaningless with regard to the value of one human being compared to another.

Knowing human beings as I do, because I have a little “lived wisdom,” I know without fear of error that every police department could be better. The officers could be more honest, and they could do a better job of preparing for each day’s work. They could show better attitudes, more intelligence, and a few social graces that might smooth troubled waters in some disputes. But I do feel confident of two things: 1) for some officer to shoot an unarmed white man in the back will not help anything, and 2) for whole communities and the police to forgive each other will not hurt anything. I recommend the second choice.

The nation of South Africa endured years of violence and abuse in the name of a policy they called “apartheid.” When in God’s wisdom the time came for that policy to end, Desmond Tutu headed up a group called The Truth Commission. In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu chronicles the work of that commission, and the way a focus on speaking truth and forgiving one another impacted the nation. The book makes it very clear that the right kind of leaders can actually lead a nation to confront the evil and turn away from it together— even a nation fractured by problems dramatically more violent and abusive than anything ever seen in the US. It was not accomplished by encouraging a police officer to shoot a white man in the back. It was accomplished by encouraging a nation of human beings to forgive one another. Would that this idea were to well up through Toni Morrison’s “lived wisdom.”

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/15083709@N06/2301126276″>Toni Morrison (1)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

You Cannot Legislate Love

America is a great and good nation that has not achieved all the objectives people of good will have set for it. For example, it is easy to see the working out of God’s threat to Israelites that he would judge wrongdoing to the third and fourth generation of sinners in our country. The consequences of the very existence of slavery in the nation are still wreaking cultural and social havoc. Laws have made discrimination illegal, but hearts are not transformed by laws.  Affirmative action has advanced the careers of people of races and ethnicities that are minorities in the population and put them in jobs and positions of power. Even as all this positive change has occurred, discrimination has not disappeared. The descendants of slaves, and the descendants of black people who were never slaves mix with the descendants of slave owners and the descendants of those who never owned slaves, but the mix is not universally eradicating stereotypes and anger and bad attitudes.

What could fix this problem? Why is it that the problem is not fixed even though it has been more than fifty years since the law supposedly fixed everything. Why is it that even with a good law that requires people to show respect for each other, they still don’t do it?

The reason is that law does not transform people. A law can act to constrain people who do not want the consequences of breaking the law, but it cannot lead people to change inside and do what is right when no law enforcement power can reach them. This problem persists in people in every part of this problem.

This is what we learn from the Bible. In the Old Testament, the emphasis in Israel was God’s Law. The people sometimes took the Law seriously and sometimes they didn’t, but whether they did or didn’t, they were not transformed by it. This is the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount. Every time Jesus said, “You have heard it said …” he was pointing out the difference between legal compliance and a transformed life. In fact, the reason Jesus had to come and die for all people is that there was no other way to transform us. We could never really obey, and we could never really want to obey with our whole hearts. David, the man after God’s own heart, was often fervent and profound in his faith. The book of Psalms is a testimony to the depth of his commitment to God. Nevertheless, fervent as he was, he was not transformed by obedience and fervent worship. That kind of transformation can only happen when the Holy Spirit lives in someone’s heart.

People who suffer discrimination think they want instant change: compliance. They actually want transformation: complete makeover. The attempt to shortcut cultural change by enforcing compliance with laws that mandate behavior results in phenomena such as “politically correct speech.” This is a cultural stress on language that papers over the truth that the hearts of some men still feel fear, distrust, anger, and maybe real hatred toward certain other men. It also creates a new and equally disreputable group that assigns itself the position of language monitor. These people build themselves up by finding and even creating opportunities to slander other people over their choice of words. The attempt to enforce speech by calling those who transgress “racist” does not improve anything. After sixty years, the nation is divided more deeply over race than it ever was in the sixties.

The real problem is that the culture has not been transformed. The culture with its mix of “races” and “ethnicities” does not have any way to make people love each other, and the best that has been achieved is an uneasy non-aggression pact that nobody honors whole-heartedly. All parties to the non-conflict distrust each other and each worries that others have somehow achieved some miserable advantage over the others. It feels a lot like the uneasy truce that has never been peace between North and South Korea

Why is this happening? 

  1. The offended parties are not able to forgive those who offend. 
  2. The offending parties cannot see any good reason that one word is better than some other. 
  3. No power is being brought to bear on the culture which will transform the hearts of either the offenders or the offendees

At the bottom line, it is all about an inability to love the enemy. Those who use language deemed offensive do it, because they don’t love those they really want to put in their place with aggressive language. Those who take offense at every possible opportunity and who look for opportunities to take offense do not love the people they want to put in their place for offenses they cannot really name. There is no love lost between the two groups. Those who take offense want the moral high ground because nobody should be insulted this way. Those who continue to use the offensive language have had it up the HERE with word games and special rights for some . Every party to this poison cultural stew is full of unwillingness to love the other side – the enemy – or forgive anything.

To achieve change by the power of love, forgiveness and grace takes time. Some people never come around. There is a biblical model for that, too. Judas lived in the mix of the Twelve for the same three years as everyone else, and he was not transformed. Not because it couldn’t be done, but rather, because he chose not to be changed. If we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit give of ourselves sacrificially in the culture in an attempt to promote love for all neighbors on both sides of the “racial” divide, fifty years from now things could be somewhat different, but if we were to predict that “racism” would be eradicated, then we would be guilty of wishful thinking instead of faith.

There used to be a little saying that people used to deflect name-calling: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (Today’s children are not taught this saying, because today’s children are taught to take offense at every culturally unacceptable semantic construction.) Parents and teachers taught children this aphorism as a starting point toward forgiveness. By deflecting the natural human reaction to become physically aggressive over words, people could be poised for the beginnings of forgiveness and reconciliation. They could start learning to be gracious and to put the best possible interpretation on the words rather than the worst. They could start making the words ineffective by not responding to the venomous intent of the words. Some children were actually taught to pray for the people who said the hateful words, prayers that those people would be healed by God of their need to hurt others. We need some of this kind of salt and light sprinkled around in our culture right now. We need fewer people to parse every word and accent and innuendo and more people to remember that God loves all of us. We need more people to pray for those who are so hurt or so filled with demonic rage that they can’t speak with a civil tongue (bet you haven’t heard that phrase for a while). We who know the Lord Jesus need to do a better job of sharing his love with the people around us, praying to inspire loving words and forgiving hearts rather than better legal compliance with politically correct speech.

A culture cannot be changed into a welcoming place for all people without love, the love God expressed in Christ Jesus who died for us all. We who know Christ must share him with everyone we meet. Too many people are relying on law to fix what only Christ’s love can transform.