Whose life matters?

I try to avoid the predictable cycle.

A black man’s life is lost.  In this case, George Floyd’s.  A white person in uniform took or played a role in taking it.  Society erupts with commentary.  Lines are drawn.

Generalizations, while never entirely accurate, can serve a purpose.  Allow me to be general. Progressives cry systemic police brutality based on racism. Conservatives decry the individual event and argue while the problem is real, it is not systemic and not even the greatest challenge or threat to life within the black community.

Progressive Christians use Christ’s call to love and peace to defend progressive talking points. Conservative Christians also use Christ’s love to mourn the tragic loss of life but use Christ’s teachings about obeying authority and judging the outward appearance of any situation to temper their reaction.

And almost all the Christians who comment, progressives and conservatives, are white.  That is why I tend to avoid jumping on social media every time an event like George Floyd’s death occurs. 

There seems to be this notion among pastors and other faith leaders that our most effective means of leading real change is to be the first to post on social media how outraged and brokenhearted we are…

I am not a social justice activist.  I have not given my life to societal equality or civil rights.  These are noble causes; causes any Christian should care about.  But they are not my primary calling.  

I am a pastor.  I shepherd to a local congregation of Christ-followers.  I pastor whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians.  I pastor the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and the majority in the middle.  I pastor the healthy, the sick, the blind, the seeing, the deaf, the hearing, the long-distance runners, and those who rely on wheelchairs.  I pastor convicted felons and law enforcement officers.  I pastor prominent politicians and janitors.  I pastor citizens and those desperately seeking citizenship.  And my primary job, with all of these precious people, is to lead, love, and teach them the Word of God as we all follow The Lord Jesus.  So, I am a Bible man.  

And the Bible has much to say about the modern debate of racism, inequality, and injustice.  Interestingly, what most fail to see, is that the Bible speaks primarily to the human heart.  There is not a New Testament text which outlines the keys to social reform outside the church.  Nor will you find a passage about proper policing and criminal justice reform.  It’s not that God opposes these causes, rather as our creator, He knows where real change occurs. 

Real change comes from a changed life. 
A changed life comes from a changed heart. 
A changed heart comes from a Savior.  

Virtually everyone reading this has an opinion about the current public debate concerning the relationship between African Americans and Law Enforcement.  Sadly we all woke up again to the news of communities within Minneapolis erupting in protest over the death of George Floyd.  The video of his arrest is disturbing, and his treatment is inexcusable. And for all of us, this is not a new tragedy.  When George Zimmerman was acquitted after fatally shooting Trayvon Martin in 2012 the Black Lives Matter movement officially began.  Their mantra; African Americans have been the unjust recipients of police brutality and lethal force for too long.  The situation escalated even more in July of 2016 when a sniper killed five Dallas police officers during a Black Lives Matter Protest.  This event was the seedbed for the Blue Lives Matter movement which attempted to defend and advocate for the lives of law enforcement.  As social advocates drew lines between black lives and blue lives there of course came the call by many that, in fact, all lives matter. As a Christ-follower and pastor, I find myself always trying to do the hard work of pouring recent events through the filter of God’s Word and I want to take my cues from Christ Himself on matters of such significance.            

Remarkably, Jesus spoke directly to this subject with amazing clarity when He was asked just who our neighbors are.  A lawyer asked Jesus for a ruling concerning the great commandment of loving God and loving one’s neighbor.  Of course, the Jewish man knew who God was, but determining the identity of his neighbors seemed to be the challenge.  Today we find ourselves still wrestling with this challenge. 

At the heart of this latest social struggle is the treatment of those unfamiliar to us; whether it is a man in uniform or a young black male during a traffic stop.  It could also be the gay couple next door or the conservative Christian we work beside.  If America is the great melting pot of diversity, it seems as though we are not melting together very well.  The dark side of my heart has a simple way to identify my true neighbors.  If you know me, love me, treat me kindly, share my values, or show me respect, then you are my neighbor; plain and simple.  It is those people that I most want to be with and treat well.  All others need not apply for the title of being my neighbor. If you do not treat me neighborly you should be ready for my rejection, condemnation, or most commonly, my quiet disapproval.  This is how we are functioning as a society and the justifications are many.

Jesus, however, has a different message.  He shatters our thinking with a story he told the lawyer who posed the question.  It’s most widely known as the story of the Good Samaritan and it is found in the gospel of Luke 10:25-37.  To summarize, a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on a stretch of road that was anything but pleasant.  A priest (Jewish, not Catholic) came by, but instead of helping, passed by on the other side of the road.  A Levite (a man from the Israelite tribe assigned with the care of the temple and all the worship and sacrifices that entailed) also passed by and did the same as the priest.  Then a Samaritan came by and had compassion for the victim.  He bandaged him, took him to an inn, and even paid for his care.  

One must understand that this is a story with multiple layers.  

It is a story about race. 

The Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ day had long-standing hate for one another due to a conflict centuries before when the Israelites were conquering the land they so cherished.  

It is a story about religion. 

The Priest and Levite would have violated ceremonial laws of cleanliness had they touched the bleeding man’s filthy body.  Likewise, everyone listening to the story would have solely rejected the Samaritan’s religious practices and place of worship.

It is a story about crime and the victims of crime. 

The man beaten was the victim.  The Priest and Levite decided it was not a situation that concerned them.  The Samaritan’s life was interrupted by the injustice and it cost him time, money, and even risked his own safety.

At the bottom of all these layers, Jesus used this story of race, religion, and crime to show that ultimately this is a story about you.  That is right.  You read correctly.  This is a story about you.  Remember Jesus was supposed to be answering the question concerning the identity of our neighbors (you know… the ones God says we are supposed to love).  Jesus, however, ends by asking a question of his own.  He looked at the lawyer and asked, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37 ESV). 

Did you catch that?  Do you see what Jesus did? 

He showed that the wrong question had been asked.  God does not want us to define who our neighbors are and then treat them accordingly.  Rather, He desires that we concentrate more on BEING a neighbor to whoever is in front of us!  If a police officer is in front of me then his life matters.  If a black man is in front of me then his life matters.  If a gay person, a Muslim, a refugee, a born again Christian, a child with special needs, or one of my children is in front of me then, at that moment, his or her life should matter to me.  Do we ignore our beliefs, our respect for the law, or even the appreciation of our own culture?  Of course, we do not.  However, the heart of God is that we are kind and compassionate to whoever crosses our path, even if he is lying on the road in front of us bleeding, filthy, from another race, with another religion.

To be frank, you most likely have no influence over the situation in Minneapolis this week.  No one from Mr. Floyd’s family is going to call you for help nor will you be contacted by the task force surely to be appointed to investigate the police force used in his arrest.  But you do have your life, your community, and your neighbors right at your fingertips.  In God’s sovereign control of your life, He has placed you where you are in the presence of those you will come in contact with.  The life that matters is the one in front of you. 

Start there and remember red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.