From John Perkins to Amena Brown, 10 Prominent Black Christians Respond to the Eric Garner Situation

John Perkins
John Perkins

The quickest way to a person’s heart is often through their ears.

This is a good lesson for a columnist like myself, who is rarely short on words, in the wake of a tragedy like the Eric Garner decision. I started searching for the right words since it was announced that the police offer who choked Garner to death would not be indicted. “Just wait a few days,” I told myself Wednesday night, “and the words will eventually come.” Well it’s Friday, and my dictionary’s pages are still blank.

In one sense, I don’t have to speak in such a moment because Garner has already said enough. His final pleas fell on the deaf ears of those who claimed to be his protectors: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

But perhaps this isn’t the time for me–and other white Christians–to speak. Maybe we should listen instead. To people of color. To our brothers and sisters. To those who’ve been trying to tell us that there is a problem in this country. To those who know what it feels like to be Eric Garner. To those who know what it means to be black. That’s why I reached out to a few friends whose voices need to be listened to.

To borrow from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), “it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

Their voices ring out today. May we have ears to hear, even as we repent for so many years of tone-deafness.

John Perkins | Civil rights activist, minister, and author of “Let Justice Roll Down”

It seems like our nation is out of control, and some of this is the result of our polarization and our own victimization in both the black and white community. We have not found ways to confess to each other our wrongdoings and haven’t been able to make the kind of peace that could come from having that type of conversation. We haven’t been able to take the responsibility as God’s people or as citizens.

As a nation, as individuals, and as communities, we need to start taking responsibility for our communities. As blacks, we need to take some responsibility for how we raise our children, and the whites need to take responsibility for their lack of forgiveness and imperialism and for some of the failure in our school and education systems. We also need to take responsibility for not training our police officers to affirm the dignity of humanity. We are all victims and have not found ways to truly reconcile to each other. I think that is the issue before us, and our task is learning how to actually communicate and have conversations so we can get at some of these issues.

Trip Lee | Rapper, pastor, and author of “Rise”

When I heard that the grand jury was close to a decision on the Eric Garner homicide (as it was ruled), I told my skeptical friends I’d be shocked if there wasn’t an indictment. Of course, this case would at least go to trial considering it was all caught on video. What more could they need? So when I heard that they would not indict the officers involved, I was dumbfounded. I was honestly shaken up for a few hours. It’s painful to watch case after case where unarmed black men lie dead and no one is held accountable. It should cause us to grieve.

As Christians, we know that God is in control even when things seem out of hand. We know He works all things for good, but that doesn’t mean we should merely sit around and wait to see what He’ll do. We should also actively look for ways to respond to these horrible events in God-honoring ways….I’m saddened when I look at the state of our world— from racism, to poverty, to religious persecution. But I’m also rejoicing, because I know God values every life and I can’t wait for Him to make all things right.

Derwin Gray | Pastor of Transformational Church and author of “Limitless Life”

I’m experiencing depths of sadness, pain, and confusion like I haven’t in years over the Eric Garner injustice. The man was killed by an illegal choke hold on video for the world and grand jury to see. I hurt for this man’s six children, grandchildren, and wife.

This horrific injustice reminds me of stories my grandmother would tell as little boy about how black men would be killed in the 1940’s in the deep South. Last night, as I went for walk in my own neighborhood, I found myself saying, “I need to get home before it gets dark so I am not mistaken for someone I’m not.” Thoughts like this use to be common growing up as a teenager….The only thing I know to do is partner with God the Father to teach people to love each other by being color blessed, not color blind.

Leroy Barber | Global Executive Director of World Made Flesh and author of “Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White”

Yesterday’s decision not to prosecute the officer that killed Eric Gardner is deeply hurtful. It further sends a message that my life and the life of my sons and family don’t matter. I find myself still looking for the system to work for me and for black men but, after continued disappointment, I am now convinced it won’t work for me, nor my sons. It is with extreme pain that I speak these words. May God take this pain and one day change it to joy–but for today it just hurts.

Trillia Newbell | Consultant for Women’s Initiatives for the ERLC and author of “United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity”

If it weren’t for the video, we may not know the full scope of what happened in the Eric Garner situation. But because of the video, we have the gruesome details of an unjust death. We can’t look away, and it is horrifying. No one can deny that there is something not right about this. One thing that has come out of this situation–and over the past few years with all of these cases–is that we can all see there is still a race issue in this nation that cannot be ignored. It’s not just a black issue. We all need to be involved in talking about the struggles our nation is continuing to go through. So this validates concerns that many of us already had. We knew that there was racial tension and that America has not “arrived,” even 50 years past the Civil Rights Movement.

I am also a firm believer that the gospel reconciles. I am a firm believer that the gospel can break down barriers. So this is a gospel issue because we’re all created in the image of God and redeemed equally. To be divided by the color of our skin is ridiculous. But it happens because sin reigns in our hearts, and we can’t ignore it any longer.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Jonathan Merritt