As heated protests continue to roil and rock America in the aftermath of the heartbreaking George Floyd killing, what does the pathway toward peace and healing look like?
A lot like America, I hope – a broad array of races, diverse in ethnicity but united in belief that our nation’s motto means what it says – E pluribus unum – out of many, one.
In other words, though a melting pot in both background and ideology, our survival as a country is dependent upon our ability to work together. As it is, that work may force many of us, from time to time, to step outside our comfort zones.
When President Barack Obama invited me to attend his conference on fatherhood at the White House, many of my friends and colleagues questioned whether it was a good idea for me to go. They suggested I could be used as a political pawn.
In retrospect, I’m glad I went.
The president invited me to talk about mentoring young, minority children. Back then, Mr. Obama and I disagreed on many issues – but we found a point of commonality, and a mutual respect was forged.
Like Mr. Obama, I grew up for most of my childhood without a father. Many of his policies and positions were an anathema to me, but we agreed that fatherlessness is a major problem in America.
I was a child in Southern California during the Watts Rebellion of 1965 – 6 days of massive unrest that resulted in an influx of 4,000 National Guardsmen, 34 deaths and tens of millions of dollars in property damage. I even spent part of my childhood in Compton, Ca., a racially mixed community.
Those formative years made an impression on me.
Living in such a diverse part of the nation, I learned at an early age that lying at the heart of the sin of racism is a sense of self-importance and superiority – a faulty belief that somehow a person of a different skin color or ethnicity is inferior. It’s warped – and wicked.
Because I had the benefit of growing up with people who looked different than me, I quickly realized that nobody should be defined by the pigmentation of their skin. It’s downright dumb.
In fact, in Bill Bryson’s book, “The Body,” the popular author notes a person’s skin is one millimeter deep. “That’s all that race is,” he says, “a sliver of epidermis.”
In my own life, I’ve been the beneficiary of a wide range of friends, many from different races and nations. I’m a richer person because of those relationships.
In our current crisis, it’s easy to think the way forward is to simply get rid of the ignorant and racist people who perpetuate hate. But I’m reminded of the timeless warning from the late Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” he wrote in the Gulag Archipelago. He then added:
“But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Solzhenitsyn, whose writing chronicles his personal experiences inside a Communist forced labor camp, makes clear that evil isn’t easily erased in the world, because evil is the result of sin – a malady that infects and impacts everyone.
Am I responsible for the death of George Floyd or the hoodlums (not to be confused with peaceful protestors) who have wreaked havoc on America’s cities, even taking the lives of our brave law enforcement officials?
No, but the sinful nature that has birthed the chaos nevertheless threatens to control me – and you.
As a Christian, I find myself in a season of growing disenfranchisement, facing pressures to compromise my Scripture-informed convictions or lose rights and privileges afforded others. Widespread cultural consensus on biblical beliefs is no longer.
As I navigate it all, I can learn so much from our black brothers and sisters of faith on how to survive in an unjust environment. It’s not just theory for them – they’ve lived it.
So then, what’s the answer and way forward?
Humility rests at the heart of peacemaking, taking us back full circle to Solzhenitsyn’s sentiments.
“There are only two kinds of men,” said Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French scientist and mathematician. “The righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.”
I urge each of us to look inward first in this tumultuous moment and search our own hearts, rooting out racial prejudice, arrogance, self-centeredness and the many other soul sicknesses that inhibit our ability to live in harmony with our fellow man. I also invite you to pray fervently with me for peace in the coming days and weeks.