As a country, the past eight days have been filled with questions, filled with sadness, and for many, have ignited feelings of anger. For the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers, this past week has been heartbreaking and life altering. The tragedies have reignited discussions and conversations about racial injustice and the brokenness of our justice system. Such conversations about the injustices, biases, and failures of man-made systems can swiftly create division between our communities. This we cannot afford. It is important that the feelings of our black and brown brothers and sisters be heard and validated. It is also equally important that our white brothers and sisters have an opportunity to engage in conversation, be heard, and to do so without judgment.
What we need now more than ever is a space that brings us together to both appreciate the gift of diversity that God has given us and to reflect on the fact that, regardless of the color of our skin, we are each made in the likeness and image of God. In such times as these, people are looking for places to unite, places to find healing, and places to envision a more just future. The church – Jesus’ collective church – should provide such places.
When we recognize that we are all bearers of our heavenly Father’s image, we understand better what Jesus meant when the scribe asked him in Mark 12, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Without these two commandments, we will fail in every attempt to confront injustice and unite our communities. The focus on God’s love for us and how we must reciprocate it is evidence that, like the man-made systems and structures, we too are broken. The only cure for our brokenness is the love of God. When we elevate the love of God above all, we can then pursue “loving our neighbor as our self” despite our differences. When we embody love for our neighbor, the Holy Spirit compels us to seek justice for “our neighbors” in the same way that Christ sought justice for his neighbors. The church must be a place where we love our neighbors and, equally, a place where we seek justice for one another.
Jesus also calls us to be peacemakers. In Matthew 5, he says during his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Being a peacemaker is not a prerequisite of being called a sons and daughters of God. No, being a peacemaker is a requirement of being called sons and daughters of God. Therefore, the church must be a place of peace – a place where peace resides, not through silence or avoidance, but through creating environments where Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Biracial, and Multiracial Christians and non-Christians can come to engage in meaningful dialogue about our collective humanity.
If unity and justice are to be achieved, we must do so with Mark 12 and Matthew 5 in mind. We must choose love over hate and unity over division. We must choose love and peace even when anger fills our hearts. We must choose love and peace even when we don’t understand or when we don’t have the courage to accept the realities of our brothers and sisters. We must choose love and peace even when the world tells us different. Operating in peace, love, and unity does not mean that we ignore injustice. With the guide of the Holy Spirit and the model of Christ, we must confront injustice and do so in unity, peace, and love.
Written by Dametraus Jaggers, Director of Johnson University’s Future of Hope Institute