If you have ever buried a loved one, then you have probably heard about the Five Stages of Grief. You may also know what it feels like for somone to minimize your grief with platitudes like, “Well praise God, s/he’s with Jesus now. You’ll see them again.”
[Insert eye roll, sigh, balled fist.]
As we navigate the call for justice since the murder of George Floyd, I sense that white Christians are reckoning with the death of their sanitized view of America, its policing practices, and limits to racial progress. I’m so grateful for those who have paused their platitudes about being colorblind and All Lives Matter. So many more have joined the funeral blacks have been attending all along. Finally, we can grieve together.
While grief manifests as anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance, Stage 1 – the denial stage – seems most relevant right now. After recent weeks of appalling brutality, racist vigilantes, and whining Karens, it’s hard to be in denial anymore. But it’s a fact that 400 years of widespread denial created the grief we now know.
Before black people could engage in protests, abolitionists sounded the alarm about the brutal, anti-Christian conditions of slavery. It was met with denial from pastors and parishioners for centuries.
After slavery ended, limiting the movements and economic and social progress of blacks was legal and encouraged. Even the National Law Enforcement Museum acknowledges the racist roots of early American policing.
Where were the Christians when the South engaged in convict leasing? Where were the Christians when blacks were hung from trees? Some surely sustained their fight for justice. Others were in denial.
Meanwhile for black people, police brutality has been acknowledged as a problem all along. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about it:
Malcolm X spoke about it:
Barack Obama spoke about it:
Richard Pryor joked about it:
Those who say the age of cell phones has caused white America to awaken forget that the beating of Rodney King in 1991 was enough evidence to prove the existence of police brutality.
But the protests 30 years ago – similar in scope to the protests now – did not lead to widespread reforms. Neither did all these incidents over the past six years that black Christians have been grieving about.
As Christians of all persuasions reckon with these realities together and grieve together, I hope we will grasp the degree to which our Father has been grieving all along. Justice was Dead On Arrival when America’s founding fathers decided to brutalize a whole population of people who are made in God’s image.
To deny that is to deny the truth about American history and about policing in particular. It’s like denying that Cain killed Abel. We hate the idea that sin corrupted the Garden of Eden, but denying it doesn’t change the fact. Sin corrupted America at its Genesis. We absolutely need to grieve.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”