Demanding More from Ourselves

Demanding More from Ourselves for urban faithDerrion Albert did not die because of a lack of jobs or social programs. He died because we expect more righteousness and leadership from our government and civil institutions than we do from each other.

As I watched the video of Derrion Albert’s beating death, I couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous absence of anger or passion. From the voice of the young person filming the mayhem on his camera phone to the faces of the perpetrators of the violence; there was no hatred, no rage. This was simply a leisure activity. Derrion’s death was not the goal, just an unfortunate outcome.

Those young people were not doing something that they were forced to do; they were doing something they wanted to do.

As director of the Chicago Peace Campaign, an effort to fill the city with peace and drive out violence, I have worked in many neighborhoods across the city organizing and mobilizing churches and other Christian organizations. We have adopted schools, conducted all-night prayer-and-praise meetings on dangerous corners, beautified streets, and conducted activities for young people. But clearly we have not done enough.

I know that there are those who say the solution to our problems in America’s inner cities is that we need more jobs and more afterschool programs. I say not so. We have in this city more afterschool programs and jobs available to youth than we did in 1959. But we did not see young people beating each other to death in the streets back then.

Derrion died just outside the doors of a faith-based community center that would not have turned a single member of that mob away if they were looking for afterschool recreation. As I watched, I realized that it’s time for the church to come forth and lead. Allow me to explain.

In practically every generation prior to this one, the great problems in America had to do with civil rights. From the unjust system of taxation without representation which led to the Revolutionary War to the unjust Jim Crow laws that led to civil rights movement of the ’50’s and ’60’s, we have struggled as a nation to overcome problems that were a matter of public policy. Since those problems were emanating primarily from the halls of government, we struggled to shift public policy discussions, change laws, and elect men and women to national and local government who could make necessary changes and hold the line on previous victories. And as we did this, things improved.

I humbly submit to you that those days are over. Public policy and government statute are not the great source of our problems, and the methods of previous movements have been and will continue to prove ineffectual in our time. It is time for a new approach. I do not mean to assert that every law in this nation — or even in this city — is now just; this is certainly not the case. But the law and public policy discussions of our time are not the cause of our problems as they have been in the past.

In the past the law dictated that people of color could not vote. The accepted public policy held that people of color were somehow less human than white people. The clear solution for that kind of injustice is to change that law, to shift that public policy to something more just and humane. This is the basic ethos and methodology of civil rights. Civil rights can be demanded and won from the government.

But today we have laws against drug sales, we have laws against illegal drug possession, we have laws against murder. There is not a respectable public policy professional or organization anywhere in this nation that would make an argument against those laws.

So, why is Derrion Albert not alive today?

Perhaps, the answer is demonstrated better than it can be articulated by the radio DJ who plays endless hours of violence and debauchery, by the policeman who drives 70 m.p.h. the wrong way down a neighborhood street, by the crowd of misguided teens who dispassionately beat one of their peers to death with a piece of wood and their bare hands.

Imagine the impact that we could make if every believer in Chicago truly began to pray for peace in our city, then allowed that prayer to motivate and strengthen us toward action. What if every school in Chicago was adopted by a handful of churches? What if believers in every neighborhood began to take responsibility for a block, a train station, a bus route, and went out to meet the people there, serve them, and act as a presence for peace? What if we turned the power of protest onto the drug dealers by coming to the hottest spots at the hottest times (usually nighttime) and exposing their activities done in darkness with bright lights, singing, and prayer? What if there were a prophetic voice coming out of the church that, through both its words and actions, could consistently afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted? That would be an appropriate movement for Chicago — and for every urban community.

The great problems of our time — and, as such, the violence problem in Chicago — are not a matter of civil rights, but human rights. They are not caused by problems in our public policy and government structures; they are caused by great flaws in our values and cultural structures. The solutions cannot be demanded and won from the government; they must be demanded and won from one another. The challenge is not to turn an unjust government toward justice, but to turn an unrighteous culture toward righteousness.

And that’s precisely why it’s time for the church to come forth and lead.

Photo of Derrion Albert: Wikipedia.

Life and Death in Kansas

view from here logoAbortionist George Tiller was murdered last Sunday, and if you’re like me you’re just about at the point of not wanting to hear any more about it. As a pro-life leader, I issued a brief statement earlier this week clarifying my position on violence to solve social issues and indicated I would have more to say later. Now is later.

Life and death are tough, touchy, and volatile subjects. With Tiller’s death, we have a fascinating juxtaposition of both. Can the irony be any greater when a man who made his living taking the lives of children breathes his last breath at the hands of someone who was completely criminal and unjustified in taking his life?

Reaction has been swift and predictable from both the pro-abort and pro-life camps. Planned Parenthood and NARAL immediately started calling for increased protection for abortion clinics from us crazed and fanatical “anti-abortion extremists”; and true to form Obama’s administration immediately obliged them by calling for federal marshal presence at select clinics. The pro-life community went on the defense, rejecting any association with the Tiller gunman and reasserting its right to advocate for unborn children and the families affected by abortion. It’s been on ever since.

My thoughts about the situation have evolved, but I’ve identified three basic lessons we can all learn from this situation.

First, it’s important for Christians to have the proper view about Tiller’s death. As I considered how I felt about it, I asked myself, “According to what I see in the Scriptures, how does God view the death of someone who has practiced evil without ever repenting from it?” I know, some would immediately take issue with my question because, as we lawyers say, the question assumes facts not in evidence — not everyone believes abortion is evil. But for the sake of argument, stick with me because, as Black preachers are wont to say, I’m going somewhere with this.

What I find in the Bible is a no-nonsense duality. On one hand, it’s clear that God does not sit in heaven whooping it up when someone like Tiller dies. In 2 Peter 3:9, it’s made clear that God wants everyone — including those we consider to be the most vile, and those with whom we most vehemently disagree — to repent and be saved, and He wants no one to be destroyed. And in Ezekiel 33:11, God instructs the prophet to tell the Israelites He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that He wants the wicked to turn from their ways.

On the other hand, there are hard inescapable facts about the death of someone in Tiller’s position. We know that when a Christian dies, he has a home in heaven. Without whipping up a frothy debate about Tiller’s salvation, we have to honestly and biblically consider his lifestyle and chosen occupation, and his persistence in them. Proverbs 14:32 says, “The wicked is banished in his wickedness, but the righteous has a refuge in death.” Something to think about. And what of Tiller’s legacy? “When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing” (Prov. 11:7).

So I think I’ve settled on the position that, while his death is not something to be celebrated and minimized, we all make choices in this life that affect the next; and while God may not be happy about his passing, God’s justice has established consequences for exercises of our free will that violate His will. I’m so glad I’m not the one who has to decide those consequences.

Second, Tiller’s death reveals a strategic misstep by the pro-life community. We missed an opportunity before he was ever killed to distinguish ourselves from those at the extreme end of the activist spectrum. When Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its policy document that included pro-life advocates as possible domestic terrorist threats, and its Domestic Extremism Lexicon that defined antiabortion extremism as those who are “virulently antiabortion and advocate violence against providers of abortion-related services,” and who “cite various racist and anti-Semitic beliefs to justify their criminal activities,” that was prime time for pro-life Christians to categorically deny any likeness whatsoever to people or groups that fit that description. Many high-profile life advocates reacted to those documents with outrage that the federal government would target pro-lifers as national security threats, but I don’t think that response was sufficient. By exhibiting outrage, we allowed ourselves to be pigeonholed into the government’s categories.

I instead join the government in being concerned about people of any ideological, cultural, or political stripe who use violence to change what they don’t like because I work through lawful and non-violent means to effect change. And I absolutely make it known that nothing I do or advocate is animated by racist hostilities or aggressions. Therefore, I simply do not fit the DHS’s definitions.

Christian advocates of life should have issued statements from reputable pro-life organizations and individuals, and recruited others of good will to join us, in identifying those known fringe elements that should be decried because of their motivations and tactics. I understand that the practical effect of DHS playing this language game was to possibly cast the pro-life cause in a negative light, and raise suspicion where none is warranted. But I believe we could have more adeptly turned the tables by crafting our own message for the public to consider. If we had done that when the documents were released, the stage would have been set for public censure of the media message that mainstream pro-lifers are in any way responsible for Tiller’s death.

Interestingly, this backlash against pro-lifers — associating us with and blaming us for the violence against Tiller — demonstrates some hard realities of reaping and sowing, and reinforces a common perception that pro-lifers are myopic and concerned only about unborn babies.

Some pro-life people are beginning to complain about being profiled by pro-abortion activists. African Americans and other minorities have been profiled for decades. And while it’s not necessarily a sound logical position to assume that pro-lifers don’t oppose profiling because they don’t raise a public outcry over it, it is understandable that some wonder why their voices aren’t raised when fellow citizens are detained, arrested, beaten, and subjected to human rights violations based on their skin color and/or behavior of others in their ethnic group. Where’s the outrage then? Well now, we are experiencing a similar dynamic. The pro-abortion lobby is generalizing and lumping all of us together based on the unbalanced extremism of a minority of people who have some pro-life views similar to ours.

By the same token, some African Americans are missing an opportunity to empathize with this plight of pro-lifers. The Bible says that one outcome of our suffering is supposed to be a willingness to comfort others in a similar position. But by and large, I don’t see much of that happening either. So in one way or another, we’re all missing valuable lessons that could bring us together and strengthen support for our causes. Instead, issue specialization has hindered our sense of holistic justice and our ability to embrace multiple aspects of God’s justice and righteousness.

Finally, Tiller’s death highlights the importance of the great commission — to teach obedience and make disciples. While we are contending for the faith, we also have a responsibility to labor for a harvest of souls because God desires that none should perish. In fact, I would argue that our highest obligation is to tell others about Jesus and His saving work for us on the cross.

I often wonder if we are not more successful in our efforts to persuade people to embrace the pro-life cause because we have not first persuaded them about Christ. As we were trying to correct Tiller’s behavior, were we as interested in converting his soul? He was killed in church, but we all know that’s no indication of his position with God.

I’m certainly more aware of my emphasis these days. If someone’s heart changes and they embrace the message that every person is created by God and deserves to have a chance for life, but he never acknowledges that Jesus was God in the flesh and died to give him a chance at life, what have I really accomplished?

Our objective should never just be to produce morality, because morality without an accurate foundation degenerates into self-righteousness and empty piety. Rather, we pro-lifers should strive to teach obedience in a particular area of a person’s life — their views about taking innocent life — by pointing them to our Lord, who requires and empowers that obedience.

If we take these lessons to heart, there’s still a chance to redeem both the life issue and Tiller’s death.

The Murder of George Tiller

view from hereYesterday morning abortionist Dr. George Tiller was gunned down at his church in Kansas. The police have a suspect in custody and the investigation is ongoing. While law enforcement has not issued a statement or indicated they know for certain the motivation behind the murder, the understood implication is that it had something to do with Tiller’s work as an abortion doctor, and particularly his practice of doing late-term abortions.

The taking of his life is inexcusable and not an act to be taken lightly. I and other committed Christian advocates for life unequivocally denounce this act and any other misguided violence perpetrated in the name of activism, particularly any such violence supposedly on behalf of the pro-life cause.

A lot is being said and written now in the wake of this shocking development. I, too, will have something to say in a few days. But for now, I think it prudent to give the family time to grieve Dr. Tiller’s loss without issuing commentary that might reflect negatively on him.

For Black Life Issues & Action Network,

Chandra White-Cummings, Director