By: Adelle M. Banks –
WASHINGTON (RNS) “African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.”
It’s the kind of statement that’s often cited by black clergy and civil rights activists. But hours after a grand jury on Wednesday (Dec. 3) chose not to indict the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal choke hold on Staten Island, those words came from none other than white evangelical leader Russell Moore.
With back-to-back grand jury decisions that white police officers will not face charges in the deaths of unarmed black men, white Christians, including evangelicals, have grown more vocal in urging predominantly white churches to no longer turn a blind eye to injustice and to bridge the country’s racial divides.
“It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Other white evangelicals issued similar pleas.
“I weep & pray for his family,” tweeted Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the day before he led a prayer for justice at his school in Wake Forest, N.C. “I beg our God to bring good out of this tragedy.”
“’Love your neighbor as yourself’ means you picture yourself being choked and surrounded by five men while you say, ‘I can’t breathe,’” tweeted Scott Slayton, a white Southern Baptist pastor in Chelsea, Ala.
The Rev. Alan Cross, a white pastor in Montgomery, Ala., said the publicized video of Garner’s choke hold has moved some white Christians to speak when they might not have after Officer Darren Wilson was cleared in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Cross is encouraging them to not just speak but listen to black people’s perspectives instead of only considering their own.
“What often happens when white evangelicals try to speak into this is that we continue to think first in terms of our own position,” said Cross, a Southern Baptist and author of “When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.”
“We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”
Cross and others went online in the hours after the Garner decision to share how blacks were reacting. Author Barnabas Piper chose to post what others were saying about Ferguson and Garner on his blog, saying as “a young white man” he wasn’t in the best position to explain it all.
“Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe,” he wrote. “You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists.”
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