If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
The word "conviction" has several meanings. It describes a declaration of guilt by a jury, and it also can describe a deeply held belief. Additionally, if something brings conviction to us as disciples of Jesus, it means that we are struck with an awareness that something in our life needs to change. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings conviction in this way, but the Church community has a responsibility to help each other walk in light of that conviction, so that we live out what we believe.
I rarely write about specific events for several reasons. First, there is injustice and suffering somewhere every single day. How does one even decide which are worthy of increased reflection? They all are. So I tend to write/speak in larger themes and principles, letting people put things together themselves and allow space for the Spirit to clarify. Specifically, I rarely write directly about racial issues because they are complex and tone is difficult to convey. Also, I know that I will likely misstep in my attempts, since I write from my own cultural bias and blindspots. I've sought to take a posture of learning and listening for the past 2 years. And wow, I have a lot to learn. But this post isn't about my journey. It's about how we look at what happened Tuesday evening, and why it's worthy of reflection in a weekly email that is focused on spiritual formation.
I write today because the United States and much of the US Church (in this case, I mean white culture church) have had a lack of convictions, in different ways.
On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. Though many unarmed black people have lost their lives to excessive force in law enforcement, few have been held accountable for their crimes. Conviction is too rare an event. This is a justice and equality issue. This is a compassion issue. This is a human rights issue. Jesus cares deeply about every person who bears the image of God (meaning, every person). When a life is treated with less value because of skin color, or when a death sentence is enacted on the street because of minor or major crimes committed, it is wrong, and our discipleship requires that we do not simply look the other way in our discomfort or privilege.
Predominately white culture churches have struggled with convictions in this area. For centuries, Christian faith was unquestionably used to exploit and justify the abuse of black lives. It's difficult now for us to understand that we still have work to do if personally, we feel we work hard to love the person in front of us as equals. Clearly, we're doing our part, right? But if we dismiss how much more work there is to do, how much pain is still felt on a larger level, we fail in our discipleship to honor the beauty of black Christianity and understand the deep pain that has come from being mistreated and misunderstood. We have to listen and trust how big of a deal this all is.
So just like in our justice system, Christianity in white culture churches have often displayed a lack of conviction over the pain expressed from our brothers and sisters of color. But that pain is truly valid and worthy of attention. We need the conviction that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. We need the conviction that there are systems in play that aren’t fixed simply by individual kindness, but by together working toward solutions to deeply ingrained systems of injustice.
There was a sense of relief and hope, but fresh pain, within the black community when the verdict was announced. If we are one body, then white Christians will seek to understand why this was such an important and excruciating experience for our sisters and brothers of color. You might not grasp it, but are you seeking to learn? Are you seeking to hear the cries of your brothers and sisters, rather than simply hearing the news and moving on?
This is a time for us to reflect on our responses, and invite God to strengthen our convictions of love and empathy.
There is SO. MUCH. PAIN. I was emotional when I heard the verdict. But I was far more emotional when I saw the tears of friends who are personally impacted by such a verdict. That reminds me that the exhaustion is so deep, so long, that I can't understand it. But I can love and advocate.
New convictions can bring healing and hope to a more just country and a more unified church. New convictions can lead to deep changes, in our country and in our faith communities.
I invite you to keep this in mind as you move ahead this week: Jesus calls his disciples (the body of Christ) to be one, and calls us to be known by love. When we put those two concepts together, we must have the humility to learn what love looks like to the rest of the body, rather than simply assuming we get it.
So this week is a chance to reflect on what God can grow in us and in our world during seasons of conviction. I think I'll leave it there for today, with one final universal caveat:
As we think about verdicts or any other issues of judgment and justice, vengeance still has no place in the Christian faith. Desiring vengeance is different than justice, and it is antithetical to the heart of Jesus, even in the face of injustice. Restorative justice looks at repairing the harm done to those mistreated, rather than desiring the suffering of more people, even guilty ones. We release that emotion to God, rather than being poisoned by the need for retributive violence.
Jesus, this all might be really uncomfortable for me to acknowledge. But give me empathy, humility, and the willingness to listen well today.