Open Letter To the White Community (Cole Parrish)

This blog post is written by friend, guest blogger, and fellow seminarian Cole Parrish. I met Cole Parrish (a white 20-something male) in a class at Fuller Seminary entitled Theology and Ethics of Martin Luther King. During the class Cole and I began a friendship with deep discussions as we processed the lectures, the readings, and dialog in the class. Cole shared that he wanted to write a letter to his community expressing his new perspective on race(ism) eventually wanting to publish it on the day we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. I offered my support and blog as a platform for him to share his thoughts. Here are honest, authentic, and hopeful words from Cole.   

Anger In America: Words Do Matter

First things first, YOUR WORDS DO MATTER! Have you ever heard a speech or sermon where you walked away feeling inspired to go take on the world and accomplish your dreams? Have you ever heard one where you walked out of the room in the middle of the message angered not by what was said, but how it was spoken? If you can answer yes to either one of these questions you have experienced how what some people call the energy or “spirit” of a speaker can influence people as much as the actual words themselves.

Two preachers can preach the same text, use similar illustrations and listeners can walk away feeling completely different about the passage that was preached on. This is the power of words. The power, or effects, of our words are not just in the words themselves, but also the spirit (or as some would say, the “energy” attached to them). The letters that are put together to form words don’t have much power at all. There are several factors (not an exhaustive list) that lend to the power of words: the meaning we attach to them, the tone of the person speaking them and the authority they may hold to those who are listening. Such power has inherent responsibility.

This talk in the media of Donald Trump and the responsibility that comes with a person in his position and the rhetoric he uses in his campaign is legitimate. Anyone who has any influence, from parents and teachers to pastors to presidential candidates, must be held accountable for what they say and how they say it. This idea that the country is angry and it is healthy to tap into people’s anger with angry rhetoric is asinine. For those who claim to be Christians and are public figures themselves (the Donald Trumps and Sarah Palins of the world), let me share a verse that should cause some to pause and reconsider how profitable angry speech really is. James 1:19,20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for THE ANGER OF MAN DOES NOT PRODUCE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD.” I have often preached, “the mark of a Christian is not perfection, it’s correction.” True Christians will submit to Scripture, be corrected by it, and not try and justify that which violates it.

What Trump and his supporters don’t seem to understand when they keep repeating that people are angry and his speeches resonate with them is that, well, his supporters aren’t the only ones who are angry. He is fueling two types of fires. The fire in his group of supporters who are enamored with him or even admire him, and whose ideology lines up with his. Then there’s the fire of those whose ideology is in opposition to his. While his speeches may inspire some it certainly incites others. Again, to the Christians out there, humility understands this and takes responsibility for the potential impact on both sides. Humility says, “Let me tone it down a little so not to cause unhealthy responses in both my supporters and detractors.” Humility will reach out to see how can to reach the other side or those on the fringes, to win them over, convincing them that there policies and positions are good for all. After all, in that same book of James in the Bible (I love the practicality of the book of James), he says in verse 6, “God resists (opposes) the proud, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

By the way, this anger is not the result of one man (Obama). Neither will it be one man or woman (any of the current presidential candidates) who will cause this anger in America to recede. This culture of anger is long in the making. This anger has been building up for decades. What we saw on live television in Chicago at the Trump rally just a few days ago is the manifestation of years of extreme fatigue turned frustration turned anger of marginalized groups in America now going at each other’s throats sparked by the incendiary (my opinion) rhetoric of one man. The protesters are to be held accountable as well. They went to Trumps rallies with intentions of causing trouble not just to exercise free speech. They are not helping the situation any at all. But just like Trump supporters have the right to be angry, this is the unfortunate other side to the same coin. These protesters were incited by all the same remarks over the past nine months that inspired Trump supporters, and this is the result. You have to take the good with the bad when you are bold enough to “go there.”

I believe we actually needed Trump at this point in history. God has a tendency in Scripture to use very unconventional ways and people to expose things in a nation, particularly among his people in order to get their attention so to deal with major issues that may cause the decline of that nation, and would otherwise go unaddressed. After all, according to Scripture, nothing happens in this world that God doesn’t allow or is at least aware of and will call us to be a part of the solution. I think Trump exposes some things about this country that we don’t want to talk about. I will elaborate on those statements in my next blog this week.

As a preacher I have made mistakes in the tone I’ve used in preaching certain messages that have had a negative impact on some. Now, we can’t control how everyone receives our messages, but we can be aware and take into account the potential of the impact we can have on many of those who listen. You can’t just take credit for one side of the coin for those who seem to get hope from you. You must take responsibility for the other side of the coin with those whom you may hurt in the process. Sometimes the truth needs to be said, and even with love some will misinterpret what is said and be offended by it regardless.

In this Trump case, you can’t inspire some who are angry without inciting others who are just as angry and turn around and blame everyone but the messenger.

A Pastor's Grief: And Other Thoughts On Race(ism)

I’m saddened. I’m frustrated. I’m tired, emotionally drained. I’m angry. I’m grieving for our country, for black folks, and for the cops that lose their lives retaliation for video-recorded killings of black people by their colleagues. Even as I reflect on what I’m writing, I’m holding back tears in this Starbucks. My heart is heavy today.

I’m grieving because I never knew my grandfather because in 1954 he was killed at the hands of racist white men, but covered up as an “accidental drowning” (with a bullet hole found in his chest). My time with one of my closest friends was cut short twenty-three years ago because he too was killed…at the hands of another black man. It was disturbing (to say the least) watching two black men killed on these videos this week by white police officers. It was equally disturbing listening to a young, black, educated (Master’s degree) man as he shared how this week he was chased by a gang member with a gun who thought he was a part of rival gang. Whether it is the evil of racist acts, or the destructive behavior of self-hatred within our own community, we all should be grieving right now. This invention called race leaves none of us without responsibility.

Sure, there are other issues in our country that are just as disturbing, but none have persisted for almost 400 years now. I wonder will race ever be a non-issue in America? Black Lives Matter, but it should matter all the time. All Lives Matter, but not all lives are valued.

Black Lives Matter, but it should matter all the time. All Lives Matter, but not all lives are valued.

I’m grieving because I read the comments of many of my Caucasian friends (and strangers) and I shake my head as if to say, “You just don’t get it.” I am a forty-two year old pastor and I still instinctively look in my side-view or rear-view mirror every time a police officer passes by me going in the opposite direction. I do that not because of stories I’ve heard about the police, but because of my own experiences that, by the grace of God, didn’t end up like many of the tragedies caught on video in the last few years. Let me say this, I have best friends who are in law enforcement, and young men I’ve mentored (white, black, Latino, etc.) who are as well. They are good guys. Most officers are. But there is something going on across this country that is deeper than what many have been willing to acknowledge. Even if it’s not blatant racism, it is certainly its residuals or its offsprings that we are dealing with today; fear, profiling, stereotyping, indifference, and devaluing of life and culture, just to name a few. And they can be just as destructive.

I don’t believe all of these cops are inherently racist. I do believe there is a fear and prejudice that drives much of the interaction between many cops and black men. Hearing the stories of my friends and what they encounter on the job allows me to understand the caution and sometimes the angst (depending on the situation) that comes with the job. At the end of the day they want to go home to their families too. But something has to change in the hearts of both cops and those in the community at odds with law enforcement.

I’m grieving because not every black man is “up to something” or gives the “appearance of evil” as often times presumed to be. I can attest to that. I remember vividly being pulled over for absolutely no reason at all in my neighborhood in Manhattan back in 2001 and being told after repeatedly expressing my frustration for not being told why we were stopped (he was obviously agitated), “I can take you in for whatever reason I want to and you’ll be sitting in jail ‘til Monday.” The other cop nearby (a black rookie cop), not even looking me in the eyes, says to me, “Just let him do his thing (run our license) and you can go.” I responded, “That’s just it. I’m tired of letting them do their thing.” That had been my third such experience within a few years.

I’m grieving and I am also angry, along with most African-Americans, but I want to see the same passion and disdain for the murders that happen far too often when we kill each other. Now, for those who are saying “That’s right! You tell ‘em Phil!” This is not the time for that. That doesn’t justify the state of events that have occurred and have been captured by video for the world to witness and cringe. But there is a narrative that has been muted in our own community. I think most would agree that if I show little respect for myself, then how could I expect anther person to respect me? The flip side of that is the images of our community that are shown most often by various media outlets over the years are those images that reveal that lack of self-respect (drugs, murder, crime, etc.), which we in the black community know is only a fraction of our culture. The whole picture is not shown for most to see what really happens in our families. The stuff we love. The stuff we enjoy. The stuff we reminisce on. The stuff you may see on BET or TV One, but rarely on ABC, NBC, or CBS likely because of the lack of interest (which means low ratings) from those who aren’t black or in the least bit intrigued by our stories.

I wonder how many people walking in and out of this Starbucks, working on their laptops, or serving behind the counter are actually grieving with me. Of course, we are a bit insulated from much of what grieves me today living here in Santa Clarita, CA. I saw a black man last night as I was leaving the store and we just looked at each other with this look like, “Man, you good?” He said, “Just trying to get through this man.” Or something to that effect. I said, “I know man, processing this whole thing. Stay up bro.” A moment of unplanned, unscripted solidarity. It reminded me of being in an eerily quiet Manhattan, NY the night after the events of 911. People were in shock at what had happened. We just looked at each other with a common feeling of (insert big eyes or a shoulder shrug) “What just happened?”

I want to close with these thoughts and share an email that a young white kid that I mentored about six years ago sent me yesterday.

First, there has to be a genuine repentance. The white community should repent for the sin of indifference (it hurts just as much as the transgressions themselves). Repent for the sins of your forefathers (or on behalf of them) rather than dismiss them as “I didn’t have anything to do with that.” You owe us nothing, but compassion goes a long way towards healing. An African classmate recently apologized and asked for forgiveness from the African-American students for the betrayal of their ancestors that lead to the capture and enslavement of our ancestors. Not a dry eye in the room. Can you say HEALING? Lastly, repent for your self-imposed isolation and distance.

Black folks need to repent for the sin of unforgiveness on our hearts that we’ve carried for decades. We’ve taken on the offenses of our forefathers and carried the bitterness and anger in our hearts far too long. It is actually hurting us more than anyone else, and just as much as the offenses against us. It’s killing our soul, our spirit. The media should repent for its manipulation of facts and images that promote a ratings-boosting narrative that fuels division and false perceptions, particularly of the African-American community. The church ought to repent for both its segregation and its silence. You know which category you fall in.

Finally, here is the excerpt I mentioned. It just about brought me to tears. This is why I do what I do, mentor young men, even across racial lines…

Hey Phil! Just wanted to share something that was on my heart with you. Some of my best memories growing up were sitting in your office and being discipled by you. While you pointed me towards Jesus, you also spoke passionately about the social issues that the African American community faced. Even though I learned about these topics in school, you were the first person to really bring these issues to life for me. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a black man and have to deal with these types of issues, but as it’s said in Galatians that we’re supposed to bear the burdens of one another to fulfill the law of Christ, I bear the burden of standing for what is right in the eyes of God and the law which should be fair towards all men regardless of color. Thank you for all you’ve done and just want you to know you’ve made a difference in this white boy’s life. You’ve helped inspire me to be part of the solution and not the problem. God Bless!

I’m grieving, because I am not truly confident that we will all take a serious self-inventory. Or will you? I have to. My experience in this skin leaves me no choice.

At least one white kid encouraged me today!

Dr. Martin Luther King And The Non-Conforming Church

The Relevant, Prophetic, and Uncompromising Voice of Dr. MLK Jr. As we recognize and celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am at a loss for words as to how brilliant, impactful and important this man’s life and ministry was to history, particularly American History and even more specifically African-American history. His book Strength to Love, which I am currently feasting on, is quickly becoming one of the most profound books I’ve read in my life. This book is filled with simple yet profound truths. I am going to share an excerpt in this blog and then share how relevant his words are for us today and how it challenges the church in 2016. His words in this book, like many of his other books and speeches, are capable of a having their broad societal reach and impact, as well as specific prophetic revelation for the church.