“Heavy hearted tonight on so many levels. I can’t believe I had an actual conversation with my wife tonight discussing who would it be safer for, her or me to drive and pick up my sister-in-law from the airport tonight at 11pm. I confessed to my wife tonight that I’m afraid of going outside, afraid of getting killed one day because the only weapon in my possession is the color of my skin. I don’t want my wife to raise a daughter on her own and I don’t want my daughter to see me executed on social media. LORD PLEASE COME.”
Jevon Washington posted those words after watching Philando Castile writhe in pain after being shot four times by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. This tragic shooting took place just one day after Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the aftermath of such shootings, Jevon was afraid–understandably. What if he has a broken taillight and gets pulled over and things unfold in the same way?
Jevon is a Pastoral Resident and Church Planting Intern at Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. What that means is that Jevon is a Bible-believing Christian who has devoted his life to serving Jesus Christ vocationally within the same denomination that we’re a part of. Jevon and I have a whole lot in common. Though we’ve never met personally, I can say with a great deal of confidence that our fellowship would be sweet.
But there is one observable difference: Jevon is black, and I am white. Because of the color of his skin, Jevon faces fears that I don’t face. That fact alone is profoundly disturbing to me, and it should be disturbing to all Christians. For at the foundation of Christianity is the belief that ALL men and women (no qualifications) are made in the image of God and deserve the dignity and treatment consistent with that reality.
Donny Friederichsen is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Short Hills, New Jersey. He and his wife, Kim, adopted a little boy from Ethiopia a few years ago. When Kim heard the news of Philando Castile’s death, she wrote these words:
My son. That is what is on my mind. The same people who point out how cute he is today will stare with suspicious eyes in 10-15 years when he is alone in the aisle of a convenience store… Those men were once babies just like my Kena. Now they are dead because they grew up to be what God always intended them to be: Black men. I have a baby who will grow up to be a black man. It has top stop. Lord, please have mercy.
Can you hear it? Kim watched the news not as a white woman, but as the mother of a precious little black boy who she loves so very much. That changed everything for her.
My intent is not to act as judge and jury in these two cases. The situation in the Sterling case is quite different than the Castile case, and at the point I am writing, the investigation of both cases is ongoing and many questions remain. (Maybe by the time you read this, many more details will have come to light to help us make better sense of the horror we’ve witnessed.)
But here’s the truth. Last Monday, we celebrated our nation’s independence. We took comfort from the fact that we live in “the land of the free.” But let us remember that in our history the “land of the free” has not been equally “free” across racial lines. And though tremendous strides have been made–we really have come so far–freedom and justice under the law is still not experienced equally across racial lines. We still have a long way to go.
Let us mourn with our black family members, friends, and neighbors, and let’s together labor toward and eagerly pray for the day when the former things will pass away and all things will be made new (Rev. 21:3-5).