Growth and healing almost always start with a conversation. In this episode, Andy hosts a raw and candid conversation about race, racism, and faith.
- Many of us have encountered or witnessed racism. Share your experience.
- Joseph said, “from a distance, it’s easy to make assumptions that are convenient.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Spending time with someone from a different race can reveal the unique challenges they face. Have you experienced this before?
- How could asking yourself, “What does love require of me?” change the way you approach complicated racial situations?
- Where does change start? What’s a practical way you can contribute?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
In 20 years of doing church together, there’ve only been two occasions where, as we move toward the weekend, I realized that what we were doing was not the right thing to do and just called everybody and said, “Hey, we’re gonna do something completely different.” The first time was September the 11th, 2001 and the second time was this past Friday. So the title of today’s message is “Skin in the Game”. A candid, as you’re about to see, a candid conversation about race, racism, and faith. And to participate in the conversation with me today, would you please welcome two gentlemen who are not strangers to our community, Joseph Sojourner and Sam Collier.
Thanks, guys. Couple things about these guys, Joseph was actually my oldest son, Andrew’s small group leader Inside Out, his junior and senior year. Andrew’s here so it’s small group leaders. We got to know Joseph do that. Sam, I met at Buckhead Church about four years ago through a mutual friend, Chris Green. And both of these guys have spoken in many of our environments. Both of them have shared their stories and many of you perhaps have heard either one or the other story, but to get started today what I thought I would do is just give each of you a couple of minutes, two, three minutes to give us the highlights of your story, and one of the thing the audience needs to know.
I invited two police officers to be a part of this conversation as well, as you guys know. In fact, one of them’s a mutual friend of all three of ours. And understandably, they could not participate in the panel discussion because it would look as if they were representing the city where they were policeman or that they will be representing the entire city which is not fair, which makes sense. But they gave us some great information and we’re gonna try to take some of that information and bring it into the discussion. And then the last thing you need to know is, I called them Friday. Joseph was in Kansas City, he said I can’t get there and he has had no sleep at all to get here to be here today with you guys so we’re so grateful for that, Joseph.
I sent them a list of questions. I said, “I’m gonna send you the questions on Friday afternoon and I want you to send me back your answers,” which they did not do.
So, I heard the answers to their questions for the first time in front of several thousand people and am about to hear them perhaps for the second time, which is great because we really wanted this to be an honest conversation about a very, very, very difficult and tension-filled subject. So real quick, just a little bit about each of you then we’ll jump right in.
Joseph Sojourner: Yes, I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and right around third grade my family moved to the suburbs, and we were the first blacks to go to the school that we went to in Talmadge. And so it was this journey I had all throughout my childhood of dealing with some bullying but also seeing some really, really great people. So I think I’ve always seen the good and the bad, and right around 10th grade we moved to a new school, Firestone, in Akron, Ohio. And all of a sudden my entire world changed. Pretty much I hadn’t spoke from third grade all the way to 10th grade, really moving into 11th grade ’cause I was really shy when I moved into the new school, and really closed off to becoming an introverted person due to some bullying.
But in this new school it was just absolutely incredible, so many incredible friends when it comes to white and black, and it just completely warped the way I had been seeing life for the past, really about six, seven years in the schools previous to that. And then since then I’ve been able to move here to Atlanta, really get a chance to work with students, ended up becoming a pastor at our Browns Bridge campus for a few years before, now travelling and communicating to students abroad.
And just last night, I was standing in front of 5,000 high school students in Kansas City getting to talk to them about some things near and dear to my heart, the hip-hop project called Fight Club, this idea that we can fight for others, and it’s really really special to look at a generation that’s labeled ‘Next’ but look in their eyes and say, “Hey, you’re the generation right now that can make a huge impact,” and show all that you can fight for them, and really just shatter the perspectives as far as the differences because they truly see things totally different than generations prior. So really, really a privilege and honor to be here today.
Sam Collier: Well…
SC: I definitely wanna say I did try to text you an answer last night, but didn’t really…
Well, it was 11:30. I’ve been asleep since 9:30.
SC: Well, that’s what I’m saying.
I got it this morning. You said “Is it too late to text?”, and I almost texted you back at 5:30 this morning, “Is it too early to text?”
SC: Well, I’m just saying. We got here early…
You tried, I know.
JS: We got here earlier than Andy.
You got here before me.
SC: And so it’s changes…
So it’s already happening, yeah. You…
SC: Black people on time so on and so forth.
SC: Early! I was three minutes early, okay? Thank you. And you were two minutes early.
WT… What? WPT, what do they call it? Anyway, go ahead.
SC: So little bit about me. I have a twin sister and we got adopted at two months old. Our mother was addicted to crack cocaine, Dad was addicted to crack cocaine, and she was prostituting for a while and at age 21 she had three kids and then she had me and my twin sister, which makes five kids at age 21 on poverty, welfare so she had to give us up for adoption. We got adopted and the people that actually adopted me and raised me are sitting right here.
Would y’all stand? We would just love to say hi. Would y’all please?
Speaker 4: Stand up?
We all do that.
This is my…
This is my…
Ain’t that great?
God bless you.
SC: They just celebrated 30 years of marriage.
SC: And my dad just turned 80 years old. That’s about last week and so his perspective and what he’s seen in the world, he’s seen the world transition. I mean, I remember even when Obama got elected the first time, he just sat and cried all night long. I mean, it was an emotional experience. These are the people that raised me and my sister. He has a barbershop down on Auburn Avenue where we were raised, which is ‘Historic Auburn’ is what they call it, where the Martin Luther King Jr Center is and where a lot of the civil rights movement took place.
SC: And my dad would bring the homeless people out to the house sometimes, and so we were exposed to poverty at a young age. And, then I graduated from high school, went into ministry and started a nonprofit. Started working a lot with Martin Luther King’s family and just learning Dr King’s philosophy, and our nonprofit reached about 80,000 kids in these impoverished areas, just teaching them that they can win by changing their mind. And so, here we are today.
Isn’t that great? So, let’s begin with a very personal question and you can each answer it. Are you afraid of white policemen?
JS: I would say… I would say…
JS: I would based on my history, no I’m not. I think I’ve seen a lot of great police officers, white and black. And so, I am mindful of officers that don’t know me and I don’t know them, just because you never quite know what your outcome is gonna be. So a lot of times there’s been wonderful outcomes. I’ve been able to talk to them and have a wonderful interaction. And then, there are other times where is doesn’t go so well. But, I’m always mindful, but I can truly say I’m not scared at all.
When you were growing up, did your parents say, “Hey, now if you’re getting pulled over do this, do that, talk slow… ”
Were you given a script?
JS: Yeah. When you’re raised, my mother was very, very clear you’re never to talk back. You make sure you always adhere to what they’re saying. You never wanna resist arrest. And then, if they ask you to show your wallet, you want to really ask them to get your wallet. You never wanna reach for your wallet on a police officer just because it could end up being a fatal mistake.
SC: I think for me, I am definitely very, very, very cautious around police in general, especially white police officers. And if I’m afraid of anything, it is of what the situation would escalate to. You just never know what that day is gonna be. I know we spoke, I got pulled over last week, just outta nowhere, for going 30 in a 30, and…
Now he didn’t say that, he didn’t say…
SC: No, no, no.
“Son, you’re going 30 in 30”? [laughter]
SC: No, no.
No, what did he say?
SC: He said, “You’re going 40.” I said, ‘well I was going 27.’ And I knew that I was going 27 because it was one of those neighborhoods, one of those white neighborhoods that you ride through very slow.
SC: Because you know that there’s money over here, so on and so forth, and pulled over immediately, “Hey sir.” I said “I wasn’t going 40.” “Okay, step out the car, step out the car. Walk in a straight line, okay you’re eyes are moving, we think you’re drunk.” “It’s 9:30, I’m not drunk. I’m in ministry.” “Okay, we didn’t find anything, get back in the car.” I’m very cautious about those situations ’cause it could just turn into anything and, like Joseph, definitely have heard, okay, you just do whatever they want you to do. Don’t…
See was I raising my kids, I’ve raised three kids, we have a wonderful foster daughter that we love, and so I’ve taught four kids to drive, essentially. And here’s what I told my white kids, I said “If you get pulled over by the police just make sure you’re outta the way so you’re not blocking traffic. That’s all I told them.”
Because that’s what white people tell their kids, ’cause what else is there to say? I mean, the police officer is gonna smile, and be friendly, and check you out, and then give you a ticket. And the reason I bring it up is because this is part of the thing. This is part of… Early on there’s an expectation be on the lookout, watch out. My family, it’s like, “The police are your friends, when you see police it’s a good thing.” And so this goes to this tension that starts early. You wanted to say something?
SC: Yeah, there was… Right in college time, there was a debate happening between myself and some friends, and they were white, and there were a group of blacks and we said, “Hey, just to make a point you all get in one car and we’ll get in another car and we’ll drive through some neighborhoods and see what happens.” So they got in one car, we got in another car and sure enough we start driving through some neighborhoods, hitting neighborhoods that we live in, and so within about 15 minutes our car gets pulled over and their car is okay, but they stop and then they come back and talk to the officers as to why they pulled us over. And I think what I remember most about the moment was, I was surprised at how free they were to ask the police questions. Because this was something that we were always told you’re not allowed to do. You’re not allowed to speak forth, you’re not allowed to say or insist what your rights are. You’re supposed to be quiet and make sure you do as you’re told and not make any sudden movements. I think that was a really, really pillar movement, actually a pillar moment in my life where I really saw, “Geez, it’s so different how they have such freedom to be able to do that.”
SC: And like I said, I don’t have tons of negative experiences with it, but I do remember that moment so, so clearly. And I remember for them, the conversations that happened after that were just really, really incredible for us to be able to really open up and say, “Hey, didn’t know that that would happen like that,” but reality is if we hop in a car, even when I’m working with high school students, and I’m seeing pictures of road trips… I’m thinking we could… We would never even think a group of black people can hop in a car and try and drive across states and see if… ’cause the road trip would turn in to a bunch of road blocks. And so that type of thought isn’t even an option for us so it’s really cool to say, “Wow,” that it’s fun to be able to do that, but I wish we would but there is this idea that unfortunately it’s just not the reality.
So, why? I mean in your opinion. I’m just asking. You don’t represent all the black people in the world and I don’t represent all the white people in the world. Some people think I do sometimes, but I don’t. It’s just me.
But why, and we’re gonna get to some details in a minute, but we’re right here at this point of tension. This is a reality, you’re not making this up. We talked to several police officers, black and white, to get information, wanna make sure all the perspectives are here and you and I have a mutual friend who’s a black policeman downtown.
SC: He educated us.
And, yeah. And lots of information, and he admitted as a black police officer, when I see a group of black, especially young men, packed in a car, an SUV, or truck, he said, “I kind of assume the worst. My mind just goes there. “
SC: Well, can I keep it real? Can we?
No. Let’s keep it on the surface…
And let’s get outta this unscathed. Okay? Yeah. No, no. Go ahead. Go ahead.
SC: Well, unfortunately a lot of us get penalized for a few of us.
Say that again?
SC: A lot of us get penalized for a few of us. And what I mean by that is this. A lot of officers and people of the opposite race get their cues on what we are like as African-Americans from hip hop, or from what the media portrays us to be, so on and so forth. And unfortunately, as we talked about this earlier to our friend that’s an undercover narcotics agent, 70% of the crime that’s happening in these areas, crack cocaine, weed, so many different things, are all African-American males and men. But that’s just a small section of black people.
Of African-American men. Yeah.
SC: But unfortunately, it affects all of us, and we get categorized, and they expect us to be just like them. And so that’s why… I think that’s why…
JS: It’s like if you’re in a bar, or…
Wait, wait, wait.
JS: That’s true. Probably, not a bar.
If you knew someone…
JS: If you are at Taco Mac…
Go ahead. If you’re at Taco Mac…
JS: T-Mac. T-Mac. T-Mac.
And a fight broke out over a taco… Yeah.
Somebody had too much taco to eat. Go ahead.
JS: Or chicken fingers. Or chicken fingers.
SC: Not chicken fingers.
JS: Well, I’m black. I like chicken. Come on.
JS: Stay focused. Here we go.
SC: If you were there, and a black person sees another black person get loud or belligerent, you immediately gonna look at that person and say, “Come on. What are you doing?” It’s this immediate mentality of knowing that that person’s action will probably affect you tomorrow. So there’s an automatic group connection. So it’s like when you’re in victory, you all win together, but when one loses, you do lose together. It’s this mind set.
Yeah. And it’s not that way with white people.
JS: It’s not, if a white person…
Yeah. If a white person acts out, I don’t think, “Oh my gosh. What are people gonna think of the white people.” I’ve never had that thought.
SC: No. Probably don’t have that thought.
I mean that’s a…
SC: It’s true.
JS: And you’re truly left thinking, “Gosh! How this person acts will be a reflection of how I’m acting.” And a lot of times, you see things change when one person has a negative outcome. And so whether it’s hip-hop, or whether it’s something that’s been seen, or whether it’s someone at a restaurant, it is something that we’re always cautious about. Especially, in college campuses you see someone acting up, you think, “Gosh, how is this gonna affect me tomorrow?”, so you instantly connect it as minorities knowing that their actions will probably impact you.
What went through your mind this week? I mean, these horrible tragic events, more of the same to some extent, understandable outrage in all parts of our community. As you watched television, as you saw these videos that popped up around the two arrests, high profile arrests, and then what happened at Dallas. What did you think? What did you feel? How did you react?
SC: I think, unfortunately, I remember standing in the living room, and just turning back around, and walking down the hall, and I said, “It’s about to happen.” And when the seven officers were killed, I have to say that I saw it coming a mile a way. Just because of where we have come as a nation. And I talked to some friends, and some different folks, and the conversation is this, is 50 years ago Civil Rights Bill was passed, and now we’re past that, but in the last six months it has been reported that about 130 African-American men have been gunned down by police to what seems to be unlawful… Now, again, we don’t have all the facts. We don’t know exactly what happened in those situations, but it just seems as if there were some things that need to be looked into. And so I knew that, by the way… And I have to mention this, the media pushes things and sensationalizes things at such a high level that that mixed in with what has already happened, mixing with the emotion, it creates what we saw on television. And the media has to take its responsibility for what it’s doing as well, but unfortunately, I saw the writing on the wall.
What did you think? What’d you feel?
SC: I do think that there was part of me that immediately just was nervous. I knew that as soon as the stories broke agendas were gonna be attached to it. I knew that people were merely gonna be polarized, and people’s narratives were gonna begin and run off. I was surprised at how fast they ran off. I can say in the one instance, my heart just broke when they said that he announced that he had a wallet, and I remember just thinking, “Why would you reach for your wallet, like you know better? Don’t reach for your wallet.” And so it really just breaks your heart, because you’re thinking “These are things that you just have to know. If there’s something in your gut that says, ‘I’m not sure’, don’t reach for the wallet.” So it was definitely hard to hear the story, but it was also hard knowing that on those stories were gonna be attached to many agendas, and that it will probably escalate and become something that was way more than it was.
But I think that… Hopefully, what we all agree with is, we should not have a nation where police are forced to, and this is what we hear from our police friends, are forced to assume the worst, rather than believe the best. And once upon a time a policeman walked up on a car, and assumed there was not a gun in the car. Nowadays, especially in neighbourhoods where there… Or these high profile cases, a policeman must assume there is a gun in the car, and no matter what we say and what they’re taught they will assume there is a gun in the car. And if you think you’re walking upon someone who potentially has a gun, you are… You’re far more on your guard and you’re going to communicate in a different way.
It’s just tragic that anyone would have to think, “I need to think about how I reach for my wallet”. And to your point, it’s not because of the majority of black men or even a high percentage of black men, it’s because of what has spun up in terms of these high profile cases which are absolutely true. And that’s tragic. That’s part of the tragedy that all of us should embrace. That oh my gosh, how have we gotten to a place as a culture. And it obviously it’s not just black men. We all have a friend who was shot multiple times police went by a white guy, again, walked up, he was cautious, the guy pulls out a gun and almost emptied the clip.
SC: And I think therein lies the tension that we face in America, and the problem if we’re looking at what can we wrap our minds around, it’s not a “this side is right” or it’s not a “this is right”. It’s somewhere in the middle kinda like politics democrat…. It’s right in the middle is where the best solution potentially is and us looking on both sides to say… It’s unfortunate that we live in a place where we look and say, “Don’t reach for your wallet. Why you gotta reach for your… ” That should not even be in our… And so I think that’s what we’re looking at and I think that’s where the emotionalism is at. That’s where the emotions are.
And that’s common ground. There’s not a person listening who thinks, “Oh no no, I think it’s fine that people should fear reaching for their wallet when a policeman’s standing outside.” And we have many many police in the audience and many police that are part of our congregation and there’s such a tension within them as well because they agree, and yet to be mischaracterized when we talk about “the police”, it’s like saying “the black men” or “white people”. The mischaracterization is tragic and I think it makes all of us feel uncomfortable.
Now I gotta move to this next question. This is kind of a long question. There’s two long questions, this is the first long question. The further away we are from a problem, the simpler it looks. This is just true. The further away I am, so we watch the news and we look at what’s happening half way around the world with the ISIS and we say, “We just need to go over there and bomb them. Clean the place up. We just need to get rid of those people.” Yeah, well that looks easy, you just… You’ve never been there. And the people who are there are going, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Because the further away we are from any problem, it’s like when you… Somebody at work shares with you something going on in their marriage. Him having struggles at home and you say to them, “Well, you just need to go home and tell your wife blah blah blah blah blah blah” and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s really gonna work.” [laughter] But you’re so far away from their marriage it just looks simple.
So here’s what I wrote down: Most of us from where we sit as white people, we are far away from what you’re talking about. We just are. We believe you, it’s a reality but it’s still so far away and it just… Our answers, our emotional response is so simplistic. The closer you get to a problem, the more complex it becomes because the closer you get to any problem, there is the actual facts. So culturally speaking white people for the most part are so far away from this. We just wanna say, “Well look, if you would just behave yourself and do what the police ask none of this would happen.” Okay, which is an oversimplification because we’re so far away. What can you say to help bring us closer? Because there’s gonna be cultural divides, there are gonna be things that we always wrestle with, but surely there is a way to be brought closer so that when we see these incidents on television and we see these things, we don’t wanna rush to judgement, but we wanna be compassionate and we’re kinda caught in the middle, what could you do to bring us a bit closer, emotionally?
SC: I would say, really start walking through life with someone of colour or a minority and I think you begin to see the day-to-day narratives that they’ll say, “That might be shocking.” that you might say, “I didn’t even know these thoughts were crossing your mind. I didn’t even know you’re thinking that thing, those things or even going through the situations that you were going through.” It’s not just white people who look in their distance, but black people and other minorities could look at another group the same way that when I’ll say… I work with a lot of white students and I’ll say, “Hey, they’re wealthy and they’re going through so many problems.” A black person could look at me and say, “What problems could a wealthy white kid actually go through?” And I imagine if I say that, some of you in this room would think, “That’s the most crazy, ridiculous statement you could probably ask because our kids are going through so, so much.”
SC: But reality is they’re distant and to them it looks simple because you have everything you could possibly ask. You have a great house, you have all this opportunity, what problems could you truly have and I’ll look at them right in their eyes the same way that might be on the other side and say, “There’s so many real problems that they’re facing that are identical to your kids.” And so it’s interesting. I feel like we all know the answer to that question that when you get closer to somebody you begin to see that there’s not that many things that are different, but unfortunately from a distance, it’s easy to make easy assumptions that are convenient. That’s one thing I would say.
Anything on that?
JS: I would say this, this might be a hard statement, but I think that it’s important to remember that the African American community has been in the state of emergency since the civil rights movement. It’s very important…
JS: And that’s not putting a blame on it. “You did this, you didn’t raise… ” That is understanding that our community as a whole is playing catch-up in a lot of different areas; education, economic empowerment, so on and so forth. Systematic race. All these other things, strategies that were placed in our own community that we all know about, that was to tear apart our families and so many other things. And so when you have that, we are at a disadvantage in a sense and now we are catching up. Thank God for pastors like you, and for churches like North Point that invite us in and we can partner with and we can learn and we can grow together. But I think it’s just… I think sometimes the tendency is to just think, “Oh y’all just like us. It’s America.”
Right. No, that’s exactly right.
“Yeah, get with it. Come on. Step up, get in the game.”
And this is the point I wanna make for our primarily white audiences. We are much further away from the problem than we realize. Even though we’re shoulder to shoulder at work sometimes, our kids go to school together, there is a distance, where we’re gonna be tempted to over simplify, and just as you said Joseph, that was so transparent. It goes the other way as well. “What are you complaining about? You’re white. Shut up.” So…
I get that. Let me ask my longest question, okay? This is a long one, alright? Sounds like a short sermon, but there’s question somewhere buried in all this information. And this is, to me, this is right at the heart of why I wanted to have this conversation. In 1967 during a lecture or a sermon, Dr. King is said to have said this, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. In the end, it’s not the words of our enemies that we’re gonna remember, it’s the silence of our friends.” And then, a young man who attends Buckhead Church, when he heard that we were gonna do this said to one of our staff members, he said, “I hope they’re not just gonna skim over the surface and just kinda put a check in the box, ‘Hey, we talked about that, let’s move on.'” And the staff member said, “Well what are you hoping for? What are you hoping will come from this conversation?” And he said this, I thought this was so insightful. He said, “I want my white friends to come to my defense.” There’s the “friend” word. “I want my white friends, I don’t want them to be silent. I want my white friends to come to my defense when other white people are over-simplifying our position, specially in social media.”
So here’s the long question now: Many white people, including me are silent because sometimes because we just don’t know what to say, and I get hammered as other people like me do on social media when there’s a big event like this, it’s like, “Where are the white pastors?” and “@Andy Stanley, why don’t you say something and speak up?” And I read these things and I think, “You’re right, my heart is broken. I experience it like the average American and I think, I’m a father, what if that was my son? What if that was my daughter? What if that was my father?” But my complexity looks so simple to those who are social media far away, who demand that I stand up and be counted. So, what should we say? What can we say in situations where we don’t know all the facts? And here’s a fundamental difference, I think. You speak into this. The fundamental difference is, I trust the police. And I trust the criminal justice system. I just do. So when I see something on television that looks like, “Oh my gosh, how could they do that?” I think to myself, “Well, they’re gonna get to the bottom of it and justice will be done.”
So my temptation is always to be, “It’s horrible, it’s terrible, what if, what if?” But I’m gonna sit back and wait. I don’t feel the need to say something when we don’t have all the facts. But, I’m concerned. And I feel this tension on the inside at times because there is an outrage in the black community that I can appreciate, and yet as a white person I think, “We;ll just wait. We’ll just sit back and wait.” So, what can we say? What should we say? How do we not fall silent as your friend, when in fact, again, there’s this tension? Okay, that was a long, long question. [laughter] Do you want me to start over?
SC: No, no, no. He got it, he…
JS: So I would say this, when someone says, “I’m waiting on the facts”, it immediately makes someone like me feel like “Is that saying that ‘I’m not acknowledging the facts’?” And so in looking at the wider scope of the facts, from a whole perspective, I do think, if you were to look at it as a baseball game, if you were playing a baseball game and there was someone in the game who was cheating over and over and over every single game and you’re saying “This person is cheating, this person is cheating” doesn’t mean that you don’t dislike baseball. You can still respect baseball and believe in baseball. But there’s someone on this field that’s cheating over and over and over again until finally they say, “Okay, we’re gonna look into it.” And then they look into the case and that time, that one time that person actually was not cheating, but you know that they’ve been cheating every single game.
JS: When someone says, “Okay, we’ll look at the facts.” It immediately makes you say, “What facts are you looking at?” Because reality is, I’ve been looking at this time and time again so when you isolate it to just one incident and say “Let’s just narrow it down to this one incident”, we would say, “But you’re missing all the other facts.” And I’ve been seeing all the other facts, so when you say, “I’m just gonna look at this fact for this one incident.” We would say, “What about the reason as to why there is horrible education? What about the reason as to why this person was selling CDs? What about the reason why there is poverty in these communities? Or why there’s broken homes? And all these other scenarios that might have led up to this.” So more or less we’re looking at this larger narrative that these to us are all the facts. These are all the facts that will continue to lead to these actions being had over and over and over again. So when they say, “Let’s just look at the fact in this one case.” We’ll say, “Well, that’s not gonna solve the issue. Because the issue lies in all the facts.” And that’s why I think there’s this tension of when can we get to all the facts so we can begin to truly start repairing.
So it’s collective anger. It’s collective grief. It’s collective in the black community. In the white community, I’m looking at that incident that just happened thinking, “Well let’s just wait and collect the facts and see what happens”. And that is a huge disconnect. So let’s just be real specific, okay? I’m putting you on the spot a little bit.
Let’s just isolate this not to the murders in Dallas. I mean, everybody agrees, cold-blooded ambushed, murder. Nobody’s defending that. But going back to the two incidents before in the week, what would you like to have heard somebody like me or us say on social media? And again, not that social media’s the end all, but what is an appropriate way to break the silence that doesn’t sound like, “Oh, too bad for the black community, I feel sorry for them, there they go again. It must really hurt.” You don’t want that.
SC: Here’s what I would say, now this is a great example I think, and I wanna just throw something out there about black people for a second; we’re very communal in nature. Maybe it comes from Africa, maybe it doesn’t. [laughter] But it is what it is. With that being said, I had a friend of mine, this kinda sums up and you can disagree with me. Please, please do. This kind of sums up how we kinda interact with one another. A friend of mine said to me, “Hey we’re family, we’re family.” Now we’re not blood, we call each brother, sister, but we’re family, so with that if I come around the corner and see you in a fight, I’m jumping in the fight. After the fight is over, I’m a pull you to the side and say “Why are we fighting?”
“What are the facts? ”
JS: “Why we fighting?” Okay, and if you were wrong in the situation, I’m a say, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” Okay?
JS: But you’re out of control, I’m not saying we need to all just jump in the fight, but what I am saying is that what family does is, it’s like your son if he’s in a basketball game and he’s losing… He’s losing and the referee is like, “What is he doing?” Even if he’s wrong, but if we’re family, then you’re going to go, “Okay I don’t know what happened, but he’s upset, I’m upset too, let’s figure it out.” And so I think a Twitter statement is potentially, “Wow. I had no idea about the complexities of this issue in Dallas or in Minnesota. But I am praying with my brothers and sisters and the African-American community. “
JS: You know what I’m saying?
No that’s good.
We talked to a couple of police officers, as again I invited them. And here’s what two officers, they almost told me identical things, a black officer, a white officer, they said this, they said, “One thing that I would say if I were on the panel is… ” And this is so specific.
So specific, but it needs to be said, so you react to this. They said, “We just want people to know that the number one thing we want when we walk into a situation is we want control. We want to control the situation. Sometimes our presence, just the presence of a police officer controls the situation. From presence we go to speaking, we use words, we tell people what to do, we need them to do what we’ve asked them to do. If they don’t do what we’ve asked them to do, then we are given permission to manhandle people because we have to get in control of the situation. If that doesn’t work we can tase people. We can use other ways of physical force. The last thing we want to do is draw a gun because when we draw a gun because of training, generally it’s gonna get used.” As our buddy said, “It’s not gonna go back in.”
JS: It’s not going back in.
That’s what he says, “If it comes out, it’s not gonna go back in.” So it’s control the situation as things elevate, the response elevates, and what both of these officers said is, “If people would just understand. Don’t ask us questions, don’t ask us to explain things, don’t tell us their rights, we know all of that. Just do what we ask you to do and if there’s a problem you can report us and it goes on our file forever.”
Now as a white person, who’s raised white kids, I think that’s great. That makes sense, we’re all done, just do what the Police say, and if it’s a problem we’ll go down there and file a report. As simplistic as that sounds that is the plea of law enforcement and often times with these situations we see on television, the presence didn’t do it, the words didn’t do it, the manhandling often times doesn’t do it in some cases as we saw this week, the tasing doesn’t do it and then it’s just absolutely, absolutely horrible. So again, as black men who have been raised in a different environment than perhaps my kids were or I was, in terms of respect or fear of the police. How do you respond to that? Because both of these gentlemen were like, “Please, please, please let that be known.” Because from their perspective, this is at the heart of so many of these situations. Is that oversimplification from your experience? Or how do you respond to that?
JS: I wouldn’t say it’s over-simplification, I like to think that and I like to believe it because I do believe a majority of Police Officers are wonderful. I would be slightly hesitant to truly trust that reporting an Officer is gonna do much just because you don’t really hear that happening. I do think in the end there’s a slight level of distrust of believing that if I were to go down or my whole family were to go down and say, “Hey, they walked in our house, pushed us all to the floor and really were just too aggressive towards us.” And you see that Officer out again and even if 10 more families did it, I think that the narrative in the inter-city community is, it doesn’t matter how many inter-city people walk down there and say that this person is pushing them around, every single day of the week. That does not, their voices are still not heard, you’re dealing with a people who feel like they’re not being heard. And I do think that that’s where it kinda comes from a feeling like “Yes, you can come down and report them and it’ll be in their file, but what happens next? Is that really going to change anything?”
SC: It’s like… And I hate to use, I hate but don’t hate, it’s kind of like the Civil Rights movement. Now, on one end, we… And I wanna talk to African-Americans for a second, we have to own our piece of the problem. We have to do that and if…
SC: And if I’m gonna speak, if we’re gonna speak and talk to everybody and talk to white individuals, and if we’re gonna be a family, but as African-Americans in a lot of environments we are aggressive at times, and we have to own that. In that situation, resisting, am I saying it, resisting arrest, am I saying it right? If we are doing that, that’s our fault, we should not be resisting arrest. They ask us to get on the ground, we get on the ground. But at the same time, on the flip side of that, the aggression rises up in an African-American just like it did in the Civil Rights Movement, if they feel like time, and time, and time, and time, and time, and time again I keep being mistreated. What is does is it challenges and it attacks your dignity as a person and it attacks your psyche and what that does to you… That’s one of the reasons I’m not gonna get… And I’m gonna be quiet. It’s one of the reasons why you see so many fatherless homes and so on, and when you talk to an African American male who is not at home, the biggest issue you face with African American male is dignity and self worth and when that is beaten out of you in culture by systems that you can’t control, that are larger than you, then at some point you… I’m not doing… You say “Ah… ” And you just get to that point.
SC: “I’m not losing my dignity. I’ll go down, but I’m going down with a fight.” So, I just think there’s two sides.
Now that brings us closer. That’s super important what you just said. I don’t know that there’s… What the solution is, but that makes sense.
JS: Because if it was your child and they were coming home every day saying that they were being bullied just like I was in the fifth grade and here I was being bullied every single day, pushed around, kicked, punched, and the teacher saw it and they were trying their best to protect me, but they knew they couldn’t protect me. And then, there was that day where the kid just pushed me too far and I wasn’t having my best moment in the fifth grade and I threw that board down and I ran over and I grabbed him and I swung at him and that teacher pulled me out and she looked at me in the eyes…
And suddenly you’re the problem.
JS: And I’m the problem and she had a choice. She could’ve said, “Let’s look at the facts.” But thank the Lord she didn’t because she knew the larger picture and she said, “How long are you gonna let their words control you?” And if this was a movie and we were seeing a kid get pushed around and the dignity beat out of him every single day, we would say “He needs to eventually stand up.” But when you’re looking at your child and you know you can never tell them that, that’s where the anger stems from.
Let’s turn a corner real quick. You’re both Christians. You’re both Christian leaders. You love God. The thing that we for sure have in common is a common faith and a common saviour. And one of the things that I think most Christians don’t know and I can’t even help you fully appreciate, is that at the birth of Christianity 2,000 years ago there was extraordinary, extraordinary, off-the-chart racial division potentially within the church and it wasn’t between two groups. It was between five groups. There were Jews who looked down on everybody. There were gentiles who thought the Jews believed they were better than everybody. There were slaves which were slaves. There was a group called ‘freed men’ who used to be slaves, who bought their way out of slavery or earned their way out of slavery or behaved their way out of slavery. The slaves hated the freed men. The slave owners hated… Never respected the Freed Men even though they were given citizenship. And then, there were women who had absolutely no rights at all.
And all five of these groups began to follow Jesus and they all showed up at church. And you had owners, you had masters, you had used-to-be slaves slaves, you had women, you had Jews, you had gentiles. And somehow, somehow, they managed to work through and move beyond extraordinary, extraordinary division at every level, financially, culture, respect, geographically where a person lived if you were the majority versus the minority it went on and on and on, and they were able to work through this. And real quick, I wanna just give you a glimpse of how bad it was because this, hopefully, I think gives us hope, because you listen to a situation like this or you look at what happens in certain parts of the black community, not the entire black community. You look at the extraordinary racism in certain parts of our country even certain parts of our state and you think it’s cyclical. All these people are in a cycle. They’re raised to think a certain way, behave a certain way.
But the church 2,000 years ago really was the solution to this because there was something they realized they had more in common than something that divided them. In my illustration is Peter. Peter, if you’re Catholic, he’s like the first pope. If you’re not Catholic, Peter is the leader of the local church or leader of the church the first century. 15 years. Think about this. 15 years after the resurrection. 15 years after… I mean, Peter’s heard it all, seen it all, walked with Jesus, seen the empty tomb, the whole deal, had breakfast after the resurrection with Jesus. Peter, 15 years after the resurrection still does not like gentiles, still thinks they’re inferior. It was a racial divide. “Gentiles really are inferior. God loves them. He doesn’t love them as much as he loves me ’cause I’m Jewish.” That’s what they… This if 15 years after the resurrection.
So, there’s this huge divide in the church and one day God interrupts Peter’s quiet time and says, “I want you to go up the coast and I want you to go into the home of a gentile and tell them about Jesus.” And Peter’s like, “Okay, you know, I’ve never been in a gentiles’ home. I don’t do that. I don’t go in their home. They don’t go in my home.” This is Peter. So, he ends up, he goes up the coast. He goes to the home of a centurion. It’s not just a gentile. It’s a centurion, a Roman soldier who represents the terrorist of all terrorists for Jewish people in that part of the world and he’s invited into the home of Cornelius and I want to read you what happened just to illustrate how deeply divided the church was. And the fact that they moved beyond it, my friends, is why we are here today. It’s why there are black Christians today and it’s why there are white Christians today, red and yellow black and white. We were not all precious in the first century Christians’ sight, okay, [laughter] because they did not believe that Jesus loved all the children of the world. They did not believe it. This was a huge, huge, huge, issue.
So, here’s the picture. So, he’s gone on up the coast. He’s about to go into the home of Cornelius and here’s where the story picks up, Acts… And Luke tells us this. “While talking with Cornelius Peter went inside,” and I think he stood at the threshold of their door and took a deep breath and thought, “Maybe I can just hold my breath and get out of here without breathing any gentile air.” “Peter went inside and he found a large gathering of people,” so there’s a lot… This is… Cornelius has invited his whole family. The friends, neighbors, everybody’s packed in this house of this pretty wealthy guy. And listen to what he says out loud. This is stuff you think, you don’t say this out loud. Here’s the opening remark.
They’re silent, here’s Peter. He’s the guy that knew Jesus, we’re about to get it from the horse’s mouth. Here’s what he said, and he said to them, “You are well aware that as everybody here knows, that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a gentile.” Imagine that, “Now Sam, I know you want me to come over to your house. But as you know us white people, we don’t go to black people’s house.” That’s the start of the conversation it’s like well you’re no longer… That’s what this was like, “As you know, us Jewish people, we don’t go into the homes of gentile people.” It’s the start of the conversation. That’s how bad it was. He acknowledged it because everybody knew it. This is 15 years after the resurrection.
But look at this next line but it’s actually worse, “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” In other words, up until this moment, I considered you impure, and you unclean. But God has shown me, I shouldn’t call you that anymore. And you’re thinking, “Well, I feel so much better now. [laughter] So God had to tell you that. But what that says to me is God may have told you, but you don’t believe it because you’ve spent your entire life thinking, I am impure and unclean.” But God has shown me. Now, we’re gonna change the focus of the letters. But God has shown me. But God has shown me. In other words, God has done something on the inside of me. And now, I see differently than I did before. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” God had to show Peter. And finally, Peter got it. And God had to expose something inside of Peter for Peter to get it.
And then the coolest thing happens, about five years later, there’s this big meeting in Jerusalem. And finally, the church officially unhitches from an Old Testament way of thinking that would have divided Jews and gentiles forever. We would not be here. If it had not been for our brothers and sisters 2,000 years ago that realized, “You know something? There’s something bigger than Judaism. There’s something bigger than being a Roman. There’s something bigger than being a slave owner. There’s something bigger than being a freed man. There’s something bigger than owning slaves. There’s something more important than being a man. That God has done something unique. And what’s so fascinating in the Book of Acts Chapter 15, both groups make not just theological and religious concessions, both groups, both groups made cultural concessions in order for there to be unity in the church. It’s how the Gospel survived the first century. And I say all that to say this, there’s hope. I mean, these seem to be unanswerable questions. This seems to be, “Hey, it’s been fun. We’ve talked about it. We’re all gonna go home, and nothing is gonna change.” But we know it changed once because we are products of the change that took place 2,000 years ago.
And I believe, and I know you guys believe it. I think most of us believe, if it happened once, it can happen again. But do you know where it happened 2,000 years ago? Not in culture, not in Roman society, and not in Jewish society. It happened in the church. And as the church grew in it’s influence, so did a sense of unity among people who had very little in common. So this is a big deal, and when you look at what’s happening in culture or anything, what’s gonna be, what’s gonna change or what’s gonna make a difference? We know the church can because the church did.
So with sermon over, so with all that, as sort of a backdrop, what do you… How do you guys own the problem as Christians, and then what would you say to predominantly white congregation and white churches in terms of what we need to own, in terms of our Christianity? Not just being good Americans, not just being fair, not just being legal, not just respecting the police, and being nice to one another. I mean, those are American values. But when it comes to your faith and Jesus’ followers, how does that impact your approach to all of this?
Because I know it does. I know you guys.
SC: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that’s so powerful, and I hope this is answering the question. It might be indirectly, but I just feel like we are riding the wrongs of history on this stage today. And I’m so excited that we’re doing it here it in the church. And I think for me as a Christian, the question is, “What does love require of me?” And that’s the question I have to ask myself every day. And…
Unfortunately, we know the answer to that question, don’t we?
That’s not mysterious.
SC: It’s not mysterious.
What does love require of me?
SC: And it means that it requires for us to come together. And the quote that I wanna use that Dr King says… He said, “Most men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they’re not in a relationship.” And so for me, and I think for us, it means getting outside of our comfort zone. And not just thinking about missions across the water, but missions right here on our own backyard.
SC: That we can come together, and we…
JS: I think what makes the church special is that I can look at you, and I know that we’re true friends and that you want the greatest good for my life. So as we have these conversations, and I’m looking out and I’m looking in the faces of so many of my friends, just because they don’t look like me, or they don’t sound like me or they don’t come from my past we’ve had these conversations time and time again. And it’s this right to be right is moved away. The picket signs are put down. And more or less we’re saying, “Hey, I want to get to know you. I wanna learn from you.”
JS: There’s a difference learning from someone and truly saying, “I wanna just learn about someone.” But truly saying, “I wanna walk through life with you. I wanna learn as much as I can learn.” And then we can have these authentic conversations and sometimes, everything isn’t said perfectly but were not looking at each other’s words because we’re focused on each one of our hearts. And we know that we can trust each other’s hearts and that’s why we can have this authentic conversation. There should be no safer place to have these conversations than right here, in the church, and this should never happen in culture before it happens right here because we’re the ones that display to people, “Hey, this is what it looks like to genuinely love.” We have two tasks, love God, love our neighbors, and even though sometimes our neighbors aren’t the easiest to love, it’s our task, it’s our duty to continue to love them. Learn from them so that we can learn how to love them even better.
Prejudice and racism are almost impossible to see in the mirror, because it’s hidden in our hearts, and it camouflages itself. You know, we try to see it in the mirror but what we see is, “Oh, that’s just my culture.” We try to see it in the mirror and we say, “Oh, that’s just my taste,” or, “That’s just the way I was raised. That’s just my upbringing. Those are just my values.” And so here’s what I wanna ask you to do as we wrap up today, would you ask God to do for you what he did for Peter? Would you ask God to show you? To show you. Would you say, “God, okay, I think I’m good with this. I think I’m free and clear” Or you may be on the extreme and say, “You know what, if you’d experienced what I’d experienced, if you’d seen what I’d seen, if what happened to my father happened to your father, if you’d seen… “. But would you even, regardless of your experience, would you at least have the courage to say, “God, show me. Help me to spot it and despise it the way that you do. Help me to despise it and to stop defending it, and give me the courage to eradicate it from my heart rather than to keep telling myself that same story over and over and over that justifies it in my heart.” We could all find evidence to justify prejudice and racism if we look around long enough.
The thing that allowed the church to impact the world was a group of people that had every justification in the world, decided to put those aside for the sake of something more important, and that was unity around a message that had the potential to change the world, and the reason, and you guys said it, the reason the church has to be at the epicentre of this discussion and at the epicentre of this movement is this, only in the church, only in the church are we taught that I’m looking at someone who is made in the image of God, that you are made in the image of God, and you cannot mistreat my children and get along with me, and I cannot mistreat you and get along with my Father in heaven. That is the message of the New Testament, and that is the message of the cross, and that trumps my experience and it trumps your experience and it trumps what I’ve experienced, what my family has experienced, what I’ve heard and all of the things that break my heart in terms of what’s going on in culture. We have the message, we have the leverage, and if you’re a Christian, what you don’t have is an excuse. We’re gonna end with a song.
I almost got to preaching there.
JS: There’s a little of Martin Luther King in ya. Just a little bit.
No. [chuckle] I wish. Thanks for not leaving. We’re gonna end with this song. I just wanna read one verse of these lyrics, when when we get to it it just punches you right in the heart. It just takes away all of your excuses. It says this, “Where sin runs deep, your grace is more,” and when you get to the word “sin” in this song, it’s not just your personal sins, it’s the hurt and the shame and everything associated with sin, your sin and the people who’ve sinned against you. “Where sin runs deep, your grace is more. Where grace is found is where you are. When I reach across culture and embrace someone who’s different from me, that’s where you find God. Where grace is, there you are, and where you are, Lord, I am free. Holiness, holiness, is Christ in me.” Imagine our city if we got this. Imagine our nation if we got this. We should get this. If we will all begin to pray, “God, show me and teach me to hate it. Eradicate it, no more justification”. I’ve asked Sam to close us in prayer and then we’re gonna sing this song together. Sam, come on up here.
SC: Jesus, God, thank you for your love and for this moment. We are at a state of emergency in our nation, but we’re excited that the church will lead the way forward. God, we know that laws need to be changed, things need to be looked at, stuff needs to be researched, God, but we’re so excited that today we are making a decision to get in the fight together, because our fight is someone else’s fight and injustice here is an injustice everywhere. Thank you for this moment. Let your Holy Spirit lead us and most importantly, show us where we need to change, all of us, not just white people but black people and Asian people and Hispanic people, we all have things in our hearts that need to change for us to get where we need to get together. Thank you for what you’re doing and thank you for what started today. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Thanks guys.