Police shot and killed Alton Sterling while they pinned him down outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. He was the 505th person that United States police had shot and killed in 2016. In Dallas, a sniper named Micah Xavier Johnson killed five police officers during a protest. You know, America, that these tragedies were neither the beginning nor the climax of this cycle of violence and death. It continues. And mostly, the church has stood by. So many Christians I know feel paralyzed or overwhelmed. They feel fearful to get involved and ignorant about where to start. For the most part, America, we have failed you. The white church, especially, has failed to be a faithful witness in difficult times. Forgive us.
I write to you now because I want to covenant with you, our beloved country, our neighbors whom we have been commanded to love. I want to make promises to you that we will try to do better. That we are called by our all-merciful God to be better. We know there is an unholy gap between who we are and who we want to be. So we make this covenant.
America, we promise to lament. We should be leaders at lamenting. It is an incredible resource we could be offering. “Mourn with those who mourn,” our scriptures say. So we want to give you our tears. We will cry and we will cry out that things are not as they should be. Our black brothers and sisters should not have to live in fear. Our police officers should not have to work in fear. Our neighborhoods should not be crippled by fear. We will not shut the pain out. We will not tune out. We hear your cry. God hears your cry, the blood of our brothers and sisters that cries out from the ground. So we will cry out too.
America, we promise to listen. We know that stories and histories are vital. We will educate ourselves on the history of violence toward people of color in this country. We will learn about implicit bias. We want to know our national narratives. We will also learn how our local police units operate and how difficult and dangerous their work is. We will go out of our way to hear the personal stories of those whose lives have been marred by this violence. People are never numbers. Our ethic of life inspires us to say their names, to grieve their loss, to know their stories.
America, we promise to be peacemakers. We will stand for truth. The truth we believe in is Christ and his great reconciliation of all things. Because we believe he is in and through and over all things we will work as people of hope to bring groups together and forge unlikely relationships. We will be peacefully present long after others have given up or resorted to violence – the preferred power of the world. We will stand on the side of the marginalized. Yet we will also work to get past the “us or them” language that is used so ubiquitously. We will refuse to glorify or vilify entire groups. We will recognize the terrible irony that the man who killed police in Dallas was not just a black man, but a military veteran. The world is more complicated than we know. We will try to be humble.
America, we promise to face hard truths. We are not afraid to admit that our system is broken. Our neighborhoods are full of violence. Our police use excessive force at alarming rates. Our justice system is biased. We believe in sin and the pervasive brokenness of the world. So we will face the ugly truth. We will not turn a blind eye to racism. Or our culture of violence. Or the poverty, disenfranchisement, and hate that is wrapped up in this mess.
America, we promise to leverage civil society. Our churches, businesses, and legal acumen are untapped treasures. We have resources and skills in our congregations that can give this difficulty prominence and hope. We have sat on the sidelines, but no more. We are lawyers, social workers, mothers, fathers, activists, preachers, community leaders and we will make this a higher priority. We will remember the middle – the critical middle between individuals and the state. We will advocate that change will come from more than just changing individual hearts and more than just policy. Or rather that hearts and policy will be changed by the organizations, neighborhood groups, and non-profits that have so often been paralyzed and silent through this.
America, we promise to sacrifice. We have been afraid. But perfect love drives out fear. We will be people who show up to protests. Who are willing to learn new things about the experience of people of color. We will accept ridicule on social media. In our best moments, we might even stake our jobs or friendships on this. We know death does not win and we are willing to look death in the face to prove it. We are scared. But we don’t want to be scared anymore. We will seek out opportunities to get involved. We will initiate and rally our communities to respond and wake up. We will unmask bias and we will not stop when resistance comes against us.
America, we promise to talk about this in our churches. It sounds simple, but we are terrified. We are afraid of offending the police. We are afraid offending our brothers and sisters of color. So we mostly say nothing. But we will heed the words of Trayvon Martin’s mother when she said on the Democratic National Convention stage that, “I am an unwilling participant. I did not want this. But I will use this. This is not about being politically correct. It is about saving our children.” We promise to start talking. We promise to start praying. We will use whatever spheres of influence we occupy. We will make mistakes. And we’ll probably get into tense disagreements. We will apologize. We will talk.
America, we promise to be creative and surprising in our responses. We will show love to our enemies and shock them with forgiveness and kindness. We will stand firm in truth and argue with passion and still bear hug you when it’s done. We will call out your injustices, your crime, your apathy in the strongest terms and then we will put a hand on your shoulder and pray for God to bless you.
America, we will fall short. We will fail you. We will not succeed at all of this. We will always have to rely on God’s mercy to make up for our weaknesses. We have not already obtained this. We have not arrived at our goal. But one thing we will do – we will press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. America, we promise…we will press on.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org