A Prayerful Lament: The Case of American Racists

We’ve likely all heard this saying before: tomorrow isn’t promised. Although we naturally hope otherwise, we understand this to be true. In this present age, every human life will come to an end. At any moment, our heart and soul could be required of us by our Maker. That doesn’t make it natural. For now, it just is what it is.

On Monday, May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year-old black man, was gruesomely killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota when police responded to a call that he’d tried to purchase goods with counterfeit money. The killer compressed the neck and back of Floyd, who’d been handcuffed, for over eight minutes. Floyd died at some point between minute six and seven. Floyd’s death was recorded by eyewitnesses as three other police officers did nothing to stop the killer’s excessive use of force. The killing of George Floyd was displayed for all humanity to see again and again.

On Friday, March 13th, 2020, Breonna Taylor, a 26 year-old black woman, was killed in Louisville, Kentucky when police executed a “no-knock” warrant. Taylor was shot at least eight times. Currently, three officers who executed the warrant are on administrative leave pending a lawsuit and an investigation.

On Sunday, February 23rd, 2020, a former district attorney’s office investigator called out his son to pursue an individual jogging who they claimed fit the description of a local burglar in Brunswick, Georgia. After tracking the jogger down by vehicle, these men killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year-old black man, shooting him three times. The father and son who killed Arbery weren’t arrested until weeks later on Thursday, May 7th 2020.

Death is horrific and painful for human beings to witness. We weren’t created to experience it. But, because human hearts don’t value what they should, we do. Death comes about because we don’t rightly value what we and others have been given by God, namely, life in His divine image. Our inability to value what we’ve received is a reality we try to avoid. But, ever since the fall of humanity, this has been true.

As a result, we are not capable of effectively lamenting, grieving, and mourning the death of image bearers to the point where it compels us and others to act. Even if a death occurred by the hands of a fellow human being, we aren’t moved in a way that fuels an active longing for change. At least not relentlessly.

Tomorrow isn’t promised. Whether we agree with the following statement or not, even in 2020, black Americans share a unique perspective through which they interpret that truth. This is partly due to America’s history which continues to permit the wrongful suffering of black Americans. Also in 2020, many Americans spend too much energy making a case to prove they aren’t racist in lieu of fighting racism in America.

May the God of justice awaken many Americans to know that the case for whether or not we’re racist isn’t solely made by words or even by the single actions of individuals. The case instead is made by how the hearts of individuals will respond to a culture of racism that will not end during this present age. The case will be made by whether or not enough hearts of Americans (especially Christian Americans) will lament people killing people to the point of delivering justice for every image bearer. Unless enough hearts in our culture join in lament, they will never effectively long for all things to be set right. A heart of lament expresses loss and pain with an authentic and sound response. The righteous heart of lament brings forth justice where there is injustice. A righteous culture of lament influences every heart to long for deliverance from a culture of racism. There is no other alternative to confront and eradicate the interpersonal and institutional racism that our hearts have been conditioned to accept and endure. A culture of lament will require hearts that make a lifelong commitment to acknowledge the evil of racism, endure the pain racism causes, and actively long for an age in which racism will have been overcome. A culture such as this will require enough hearts of Americans to respond rightly against racism. It will require a pursuit of justice in lieu of a justification for racism.

As a black American, I won’t lie. I’m not really confident that enough Americans have the heart to rightly lament our culture of racism. This is because in my 38 years of experience, I can’t reasonably believe that:

  • Enough Americans will learn to not celebrate progress on issues of racism without highlighting our need to continually lament our history of racism.
  • Enough Americans will condemn the attitudes, rhetoric, and actions of public officials and servants who abuse their authority.
  • Enough Americans will vote their best according to all of God’s word, instead of consistently voting democrat or republican, or identifying as conservative or liberal.
  • Enough Americans will acknowledge that our nation thinks more highly of ourselves than we ought.
  • Enough Americans will respond authentically and soundly to racism in our own hearts.
  • Enough Americans will turn from justifying circumstances and reasons for when (and why) racially charged tragedies occur.
  • Enough Americans will consider clarifying ‘stand your ground’ and ‘duty to retreat’ policies from state to state.
  • Enough Americans will acknowledge that if it weren’t for these gruesome eyewitness videos, many of these killings wouldn’t have been brought to light.
  • Enough Americans will admit that at times they’d rather not know these things happened.
  • Enough Americans will choose to find out for themselves, in lieu of just asking black Americans, what can white Americans do to prevent white Americans from killing unarmed black Americans.
  • Enough Americans will stop having to ask why don’t other Americans feel how I feel about unarmed black Americans being killed by white Americans?
  • Enough Americans will stop discounting the pain of black Americans by expressing words that are only said in an attempt to make white Americans feel better.
  • Enough Americans will change from thinking they can (or can’t) fix racism, to putting forth effort by trusting God alone to fix hearts.
  • Enough Americans will stop responding to racism in a way that makes them comfortable.
  • Enough Americans will stop speaking against racism to get heard without first hearing and doing God’s word.
  • Enough Americans will lament the pain of people killing people and depend on God’s strength to limit every such occurrence.
  • Enough Americans will see the transcending difference between God’s promises and America’s.

My God, My God, I can’t lie. For America, in 2020 all these things seem impossible. Even still, from you I take heart and hope because with you all things are possible. So, I ask that you comfort the grieving friends and families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery as well as other families that have experienced (or will experience) loss like them. Please give and strengthen their faith in you. For God alone can bring about life from death. Moreover, I ask that you’d prove me wrong as you’ve done so many times before. Again I say, prove me wrong by giving enough Americans (especially Christian Americans) the righteous heart that laments death, delivers justice, and commits lives to changing our culture, even while knowing that racism isn’t going to end in this present age.

I submit this portion of my lifelong lament of death at the feet of Jesus. My heart and soul are low and will remain so until you do exactly as you’ve promised. Wipe tears. Heal suffering. Remove pain. End death. Make just rivers flow and righteous streams. Bring forth your kingdom today and in fullness tomorrow. Fulfill your purposes and come soon. When you appear in glory, whether we are asleep or awake, may the Church, your people, be found faithful. Until then, may we value every opportunity for us to be conformed to the image of your Son Jesus Christ, being moved as he was to lament death of any human being made in your divine image.

In the mighty and matchless name of Christ Jesus,

Amen and Amen.

– Gary Rivers (Clifton Road Campus Pastor)