Since the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police officers have received intense scrutiny from the media and the public alike. Across social media, we have seen expressions of hurt and anger. Many are confused: “This isn’t a part of the post-racial package I ordered when I voted for a black president.” Those in leadership positions, secular and sacred alike, are being asked to speak out. My friend Sean Myers (pictured below), lead pastor at Redemption Church in Peoria, AZ, felt it important to speak to his congregation on such matters. I asked him to share some of his thoughts with us:
Editor's note: Minor grammatical edits were made in the interview. Points of clarity, seen in brackets, were added by the editor.
Foreknown: “I recently attended a church service where you were speaking on the subject of race. It seems that, although there is so much racial tension in our country, a lot of the church prefers to stay silent on this issue. Why do you think that is and why was it important for you to speak on this issue?”
Sean: “You're right. Most churches aren't talking about the topic, but maybe it’s not intentional. I think that, for the most part, they don't really have a dog in the fight and so it’s not top priority. That's not a shot. It's just a reality that most predominately white churches experience what's going on in this area [of racial justice] from a distance. The truth of the matter is, not all churches have that luxury though. Most of my African American pastor friends that have multi-ethnic congregations can't help but talk about it. I recently finished a book called From Strength to Love, which is a compilation of old MLK Jr. sermons. What was interesting to me about this book was seeing all the texts that this man preached from; texts that I've heard preached many other times in many other contexts, and not once heard anything on the topic of social injustice or racism. Yet, it was there in the text. So to answer the first question outright: There are a lot of reasons why churches might not be talking about the issue (don't know how to, afraid to offend, etc), but maybe many churches don't talk about it because they don't have to.”
F: “Obviously, as a Christian, your view on race and the current issues with the police are seen through a Gospel lens. The cross didn't always color your opinion though. Would you mind sharing some of your backstory and how your views changed when you came to know Christ?”
S: Both of my parents were drug addicts growing up. Because of that, a few things stand out when it comes to your question:
1. I grew up in a small, ghetto part of the city called Sunny Slope. Like anywhere else in America, poverty ain't biased; she'll take any race. The poor area of town has a lot of different cultures and ethnicities. That means I grew [up] around a lot of people of color.
2. Yet, later in life, when I got saved, I ended up at a church in Scottsdale, which is an extremely wealthy part of town. I was predominately around white people and really saw some of the pain and brokenness that can be found in money.
3. Another thing about growing up poor was that I hated cops (like everyone I knew). The cops were the ones who took my parents to jail, took me to foster care, and were always trying to get in our business. They are the most needed and hated people in the hood.
4. Yet, later in life I was adopted by a family whose oldest son became a cop. Now suddenly, my older brother, Jim, is wearing a uniform that represents all my past pain. So when I’m watching these wicked acts of racism on TV, I keep saying to myself, "Jim would never do that!" Rough.
So my bend towards this whole race conversation tends to lend its hand towards being torn at times and seeing the bigger picture. Jesus cares about the "drug slinging" black dude who is killed for no reason as well as the cop who grew up with a racist dad who beat the hell out of him for being friends with a black guy. Both have stories that we don't understand, and it's important to know [that] the gospel is big enough to save them both.
The conclusion of the interview will be posted next week.