With the murder of George Floyd on May 25th and all the discussion that has since come about, I am reminded of the story of Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarah.
Twice, Hagar found herself alone in the wilderness. Twice, Hagar was looked down upon, mistreated, “dealt harshly with,” and cast away. Twice, Hagar’s life and the life of her son were on the line. Twice, Hagar was at the point of despair. And twice, God intervened, because He saw and heard her affliction:
From Genesis 16:
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness… the angel of the Lord said to her, “… I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered… Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael because the Lord has listened to your affliction. [Ishmael means God hears.] So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
And from Genesis 21:
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off… for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy…” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up.
In both instances, God was watching over Hagar and Ishmael. He saw how Hagar and Ishmael were mistreated. He saw their fear, their hopelessness. God listened to their cries, and He did something.
For a very long time, the Black population in this nation has been collectively crying out that they, too, have been mistreated, oppressed, treated as less-than, and ignored – even, at times, by God’s own people, as Hagar was. And God has been listening.
The question for White Christians (like me) is: Are we listening?
Knowing that I’ve fallen short here, I’ve tried (imperfectly) to be a better listener this past month. The following are some sentiments I’ve heard many in the Black community expressing:
I do not wish anyone to be “colorblind.” Does one appreciate the amazing diversity of God’s creation by ignoring it? Please see me for who I am – Black and beautiful.
My family has suffered much from hurtful racial comments made by others. Recent events have actually procured more of these, including from Christian brethren at times. We are hurting.
Just as it is wrong to judge a person based on their skin color, it’s also wrong to judge an individual by the uniform they wear. I am firmly against police brutality; this does not mean I am against the police. This is not an “us vs them” issue; this is an issue of morality and human rights, and we must all work together to make it stop.
I feel ignored when people show unwavering public support for the Blue; the red, white, and blue; or the man in the White House, yet remain silent regarding the infringed-upon rights of Black people.
We face many types of discrimination – inequity in housing, education, and job opportunities; racial profiling; even a lack of representation in children’s books. We need your help. We ask you to learn about our challenges and use your voice and your gifts to help.
Stating “all lives matter” is not helpful in this context. We agree with this truth. But when Black individuals continue to be killed without reason, we need to know that you believe in the inherent value of a Black person’s life.
Are we listening, friends?
Are we listening when some African American individuals begin uprisings, including destructive ones (which are certainly wrong)? Do we try to hear them, to feel their oppression, to see this as anger that has been building (with good reason) for hundreds of years?
Are we listening when a Black man cries out that he can’t breathe? Do we simply shake our heads and say, “there are some really bad people out there” (referring to the officer)? Do we try to discover the character flaws of the victim? (Why would we do this?) Or, do we instead try to listen and see that this one Black voice was one of many who feel suffocated daily?
Are we listening to what Black Christian brethren are saying about how they feel, what they experience, and what actions are needed? Here are a few such statements that have been voiced in recent weeks.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Why would I then be blind to the color of someone’s skin, which is part of the “wonderfully made” aspect? We are all made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27)…”
— Leo Preston McKinely, Associate Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Paducah, KY and high school Math Teacher *
I have to have lessons with my boys on what to say if they get pulled over. I get pulled over still… As long as I’m driving and I’m black, I’m a suspect.
— Dr. Russell Pointer, Sr., minister at the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ (1)
We should be angry, because we should like what God likes and hate what He hates.
— B. Chris Simpson, minister for the Holmes Road Church of Christ in Memphis, TN (1)
Black people don’t need sympathy, apologies, all white people feeling guilty, or anything like that. We just need respect and equal treatment. We need White people to see and respect our humanity and understand that our lives matter, too. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and most importantly some of us are Christians. We have people who love us and we want our kids to come back home safe and sound when we send them out into the world. We have to rob our children of their childhood by explaining to them at very early ages that some people will not like or accept them because of the color of their skin… That should not be!
— Bonita Stewart, sister in Christ from Evansville, IN *
If White people are to stand with us, you oughtta be getting hit by stones, too. If our White brothers and sisters are saying, “We stand with you,” but you’re not being hit by the same stones we are, you need to stand closer.
— Russell Pointer, Sr. (1)
All brethren have to open their hearts and be willing to stand up for injustices and the mistreatment of Black people.
— Kendra Sassy Lester, sister in Christ from Florida *
Perhaps the greatest crime we as Christians have committed is that we’ve acted like the other men in the Good Samaritan story. Don’t be the priest or the Levite. Don’t pass by on the other side of the street. Don’t glance at the suffering and silently move away. Don’t hide behind your own privilege or your own safe havens. That will only intensify the injury. Instead, be the Good Samaritan. See the hurt your “neighbor” is experiencing, and help find a way to heal it.
— John Edmerson, an elder and the senior minister for the Church of Christ at the Vineyard in Phoenix, AZ (2)
See the hurt your “neighbor” is experiencing. We have so very many Black “neighbors” who are experiencing hurt. Here is a small sampling:
Ernest, a Black business owner from Florida who said he is pulled over an average of six times a year, while following all traffic laws
Karen Cypress, who was told by a professor while in college, “I don’t think blacks deserve a doctorate.” (Karen and her twin sister Sharen both earned their doctorates, anyway. Karen is now herself a professor, as well as the Director of Special Education at Freed-Hardeman University.) *
These same twin sisters leaving a singing engagement at a boys’ dorm and being pelted from above with water (and something else that I won’t mention here) along with racial slurs and words like, “Go back home to Africa!” “We were traumatized by that one,” Karen said. *
A Black sister in Christ who has heard statements while at church like, “Y’all aren’t like the rest of them,” and “Well, I guess they have souls, too.” This sister added that comments like these are particularly hurtful because, “These are my brothers and sisters in Christ… We are one in the body of Christ and there should be no ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
Again, I ask: are we listening? I know I have a very long way to go, as many of the sentiments and quotes I’ve shared here were convicting to me. But if we are to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), then we must first see what those burdens are. Before we can help heal, we first must hear.
If we have failed to see and listen to our Black “neighbors” in the past, may we pray for eyes more like God’s eyes and ears more like God’s ears. As God sees, hears, and listens attentively to us, may we, with His help, do the same for one another.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
–James 1:19 (NIV)
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
— Romans 12:15
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
— Proverbs 18:2
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat [or post, comment, wear, etc.]*, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating [or any other action]* destroy someone for whom Christ died.
— Romans 14:15 (*comments added)
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
— Philippians 2:3-4
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
— Isaiah 1:17
* personal correspondence
Header photo credit: Etty Fidele via Unsplash