We were finishing our dinner this evening when my phone chimed a news alert. The AP app said, “President Trump says he will deploy military unless states halt violent protests in speech as police fire tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters near White House.”
When an anachronistic alert lights up the screen of my phone, I have to pause. It’s like being knocked back on my heels. People were protesting peacefully, and the police responded with tear gas. (Another alert mentioned flash-bang grenades). Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, people have a right to “free speech” and to “peaceably assemble.” Tear gas and flash-bang grenades are an overreaction and makes no sense.
The reason for dispersing the crowds? The President planned to deliver a speech from the Rose Garden. If these facts are accurate, then I feel compelled to say something. Ephesians 4:15 says that when we speak the truth in love, we grow in Christ. I cannot remain silent and call myself a follower of Christ. Yet, I also cannot lash out in anger. Jesus calls his followers to speak the truth in love. Therefore, I say:
Mr. President, listen to your people. Those who die because of their race are tired. They are not asking for anything unreasonable. They are asking for the same treatment as white people. When we were talking about some frustrating news the other day, my spouse said, “At least you don’t have to worry about a police officer kneeling on your neck if you were arrested.”
That’s right. I have privileges because I am a white, cisgender man. I know I do. I did nothing to earn these privileges. They are the result of a racist history in our amazing country. We can be patriotic and love the U.S.A, and we can be honest about who we are and what shortcomings we have. One of the shortcomings we-the-people have relates to our history of slavery.
Recognizing my unearned privileges is part of reconciling with those who do not benefit from them. If I have something that I did not earn, I can share it. For example, if someone gives me a bushel of apples because their tree produced too much, there is no justification to be greedy with those apples. Even though that person gave them to me, I should share them. I did nothing to earn them. If I see a neighbor who is hungry, there’s no reason to hoard the apples that I did not earn.
Protesters outside the White House essentially said, “Tennant, share your apples.” They have the right to say that. The U.S. Constitution gives them that right. No one can compel me to share the apples. But, I can’t tell them to stop protesting. I can’t say, “Don’t complain.” I have no right to tell others to make them stop.
The same logic applies to the President. Listen to the people. Hear what they are saying. If you disagree, that’s your right. Say so. Respond with your reasons. For the love of God, don’t fire tear gas at peaceful protestors. That’s just wrong. Proverbs 31.8-9, “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
The God I follow is a God of love, inclusion, mercy, and grace. In John, Jesus says there is room for everyone in God’s house. As the U.S. struggles under the weight of our past, we cannot silence the voices of those who decry our sins. Listen. Learn. Grow. Together, we can get through this summer of discontent and look forward to a brighter future. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream is not dead. There is hope. Don’t give up, even in this dark hour. Stay the course. Keep the faith. And, keep protesting.