I’m assuming (ie, hoping you’ve been paying attention) to the story of Renisha Marie McBride, a 19 year old black girl who knocked on the front door of a white family to ask for help.
They assumed she wanted to rob them.
They shot her in the face with a shotgun.
And despite any other causal sequence of logic in those preceding sentences, we’re to believe race played no part.
Recalling the Trayvon Martin case almost a year ago, this story from Detroit provokes questions not only about America’s continued idolatry of guns but also its inability to deal frankly with its racial past and the present problems presented by that past.
I’ve got to confess I’m not nearly as sensitive or self-aware on these issues as I’d like to think I am, but I do at least realize and respect that those who are not in my position (white, well-off, men) have a different and compelling perspective on these issues.
I asked a friend of mine, Adrian Hill, to reflect theologically on the Renisha McBride story. I hope you will receive it with the sincerity in which it was written:
I admit I first struggled when Jason asked me to write this because I didn’t really “see God” when I first heard of this situation.
I saw anger and frustration, and leftover issues from Trayvon Martin. Another Black human, deemed a threat even though unarmed, was shot dead.
And like Jonathan Ferrell, a former college football player who was shot to death by police while seeking help after escaping a car crash.
Like Jordan Davis, a young kid who was shot to death after he and a man disagreed over the volume level of his music at a gas station.
Like Darius Simmons, shot to death by his elderly neighbor over a theft accusation.
All Black, all perceived to be threats, all unarmed… and all dead.
Now, those who shot all of the aforementioned people are White.
But, statistically, people are more likely to be killed by people of their own race. Blacks mostly kill Blacks. Whites mostly kill Whites, and so on. So a narrative that one race is killing another at an alarming rate is false.
This feels like an epidemic to the Black community.
Why does it feel like we are threats? Why are we not given the benefit of the doubt BEFORE we are shot? It doesn’t feel like, in 2013, any Black person should die under these types of circumstances. And we can’t help but feel there is something more to this than isolated incidents or accidents.
So when I was asked to think theologically about this, the one thing that popped into my mind was Galatians 3:28 –
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
This is a wonderful passage that speaks to equality in the Kingdom of God. In a country with a history of gross inequality towards natives, minorities, immigrants, and women, this verse has proved to be liberating in the face of social ills like slavery and segregation. It is a powerful passage.
However, there has also been a sort of, unintended consequence, of this general kind of thinking. The consequence of assuming we have all truly reached equality. Us recognizing that human beings still have different experiences disappears. In our hope for equality, sometimes we assume we have already reached Dr. King’s dreamland and eschew the difficult task that still lies ahead – the task of ensuring that, in America, a reality that “all of you are one” in this great nation.
Sometimes the experiences of inequality experienced by others are dismissed because we really really want to finally all be equal. But ultimately, we are not yet there
It is absurd to think that there is no difference between a Black man and White woman. Or between a gay White man and a Hispanic female. It is silly to deny the glass ceiling women STILL face in the workplace. Or the difference in the quality of public education in neighborhoods across the country.
We all have our different experiences.
We are NOT all the same And if we are concerned with this Kingdom of God, where there is neither Jew, Greek, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, and so, we still have work to do.
That work involves being honest about our differences and our experiences.
I believe Renisha’s story is evidence that the work remains.
There still remains a climate where we all perceive anyone deemed “other” as a threat. Renisha was deemed an “other.” It is hard for me as a Black man, to not believe her skin color played a role in her designation as “other.“
As I have listed the other names of unarmed, innocent Blacks who were unfairly targeted as threats, it makes me question why deadly force was used so quickly. Or why the shooters were so hostile to their presence. Is it something about Black faces that strike fear into others? Why? What can we – Black people and non-Blacks alike – do about this? Can we have a dialogue where we recognize our differences and not just default to “everyone is equal now?”
I think this is vital for Christians today to speak to the continued notion of the “other.”
In Biblical times, if a stranger came to your home, you were obligated to do all you could to take care of the stranger.
Times have changed, but America could benefit from recovering some common sense notion of that practice.
How can we protect ourselves AND still be helpful to our fellow humans? We don’t have to let everyone inside our homes or even let our guard down, but we can figure out a way that deadly force isn’t the default initial reaction.
In Christ, there may be no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; but in America?
Unfortunately, there still is.