The recent shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas, Georgia, and Tennessee cause national consternation about what can be done about besetting racial tensions. More than collective hand-wringing, we need specific action steps to minimize racism and particularly improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Toward that end, here are three suggestions and one sobering reality.
First, racist and rogue law enforcement officials must be removed from their positions – and prosecuted if they have committed crimes. Most police officers are selfless servants who are doing their best to protect our communities. We need them, depend on them, and they deserve our vigorous support. Law enforcement leaders must honor this trust by firing their peers who behave unethically and arresting those who break the law. Convictional leadership must rise above misguided notions of brotherhood to root out the few who give the many a bad name.
Second, genuine dialogue leading to real change must take place among societal leaders. Protests and social media outbursts express anger (while exacerbating anger among those negatively impacted) but produce little change. Concrete action steps can only be hammered out when community leaders, religious leaders, politicians, and law enforcement officials work together and find solutions. There are models of this in healthy communities across the United States. Those models must be publicized and emulated.
Third, the national identity crisis among younger African-American men must be confronted and reversed. All of us must work together to reverse cultural patterns of family abandonment, illegitimacy, poverty, and drug use leading to mass incarceration among young African-American men.
On this third point, some churches and church leaders are already making a significant difference. Strong, effective pastors are effectively confronting these problems. We must strengthen these leaders, publicize their successes, and find ways to maximize their visibility and impact. Southern Baptists did this admirably at our national convention last month by including African-American pastors in prominent speaking roles on the program. We must continue to promote the work they are doing and find ways to accelerate their impact.
This brings me to a sobering reality. Apart from what happens in transformative gospel communities, the quest for racial peace will always be truncated. People and societies are inherently flawed. That’s a theological conviction proven by an honest appraisal of several thousand years of human interaction. While striving for ideal solutions that promote the common good, we must have realistic expectations of what can be achieved. Improvement of our cultural condition by human effort is possible; genuine transformation by the same means is not. That’s why the gospel and churches reflecting gospel-community are essential to real change.
May God give Christians across our nation the grace to live as salt and light, while speaking the gospel plainly and persuasively. Only by this means can God genuinely deliver us from irrational fears, disjointed anger, and vulgar hatred which mark racial prejudice among us.