The first full week of July, 2016, was one marked by violence in our headlines and across our screens in the United States. The first wave of violence involved two black men who were shot during what started as more routine encounters with local police. The subsequent peaceful protests were interrupted by gunfire striking nearly a dozen officers, senselessly killing five in a violent act full of tragedy and irony considering it was at an anti-violence protest.
During this past week of mourning and heartbreak I have travelled as planned throughout The Wesleyan Church to California, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia. As I moved from gathering to gathering of Wesleyans my heart broke with my brothers and sisters who are deeply grieved and concerned about what is happening in our country. I have seen our district superintendents prophetically and pastorally call for reconciliation verbally at their conferences and in insightful correspondence they have sent to their churches. I have found an increasing number are giving voice to both the tragedy and the hope! I am encouraged by this.
I do not know what adding my own thoughts might do, but I do want to amplify what others are saying here and call us to a unique Wesleyan response in these days. I am cautious to speak too much—and instead have learned in my own journey of race and multi-ethnic ministry that listening is a better posture. And I should say that these issues are not our only concerns. We must see people come to Christ and be discipled, and we must grow into healthy churches that multiply. These things are the critical core of our mission—but they cannot happen if we do not deal with these matters directly. We cannot be healthy without addressing these matters. And we should not multiply that which is unhealthy.
First, we must start with focused prayer. I think a great place to begin is to pray the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 which are so applicable today: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” We need this healing that only comes from God. May our prayers bring Spirit-empowered discernment and courage to act in mercy and justice.
Second, we must remind ourselves that violence is not the answer. Martin Luther King famously explained the cyclical destruction of violence this way: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral; begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” May we be people that drive out darkness and hate with the light and love of Jesus Christ.
Third, I think it is tempting for us to try and find a quick answer. My friend Troy, a fellow Wesleyan pastor, said it this way, “Many are looking for the answer, the answer is a slow burning one . . . It’s one relationship at a time. Who’s sitting at your dining room table when your news feed is not filled with these types of issues? So that when these types of issues come up you can have the real convo with a real friend.” This is important to us. Rather than easy quick answers, we can seek long, faithful friendships across ethnic lines. Nothing will make us healthier in the face of these challenges than those trusting friendships.
Fourth, it is important to know that this is an opportunity for the Church more than ever. Kyle, another brother in Christ whom I worked with for several years, said it this way in a prayer to God: “Thank you for giving the Church a real opportunity to step up and show the world some optimistic action rather than pessimistic despair. Help us to actually do what we say we believe. Make us into world changers. Amen.” I echo this prayer and see that in this day people are looking at how the Church responds. It matters and makes a world-changing difference. I talked with another brother, Lawrence, who led his urban congregation into The Wesleyan Church because of his conviction that, “we have the best opportunity to make a difference.” To whom much is given, much is required.
Fifth, you should know that we have and should continue to confess that we are not experts at this, and have failed in the past. Our denomination at several junctures has declared this confession, and along with several other churches, signed a statement in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail only a few years ago saying, “. . . we confess with sadness and shame that we were at best silent and often even hostile when Dr. King led the historic movement against racial injustice. We also confess that it has taken us far too long, in the intervening years, to acknowledge pervasive racism in our midst and begin to repent and change.” A posture of humility in light of this confession is best. We don’t know entirely what to do, other than to admit our failings, and do the hard work to listen and love in the midst of it all.
Finally, I would reaffirm with you the words penned several years ago in “A Wesleyan View of Racial Reconciliation” that I was privileged, while in another role in the kingdom, to co-write along with pastors Jon Weist and Kyle Ray. What is written there is a more enduring place of thinking related to this—and not written in the haste of the moment as this is. I commend you to use it as you pray, pause, and act in response to this past week’s events.
General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church