Angry. Scared. Confused. Defensive.
Cartersville First Baptist Pastor Jeremy Morton confessed those emotions after a week of civil unrest that began with the shooting deaths of two black men by law enforcement, continued with the ambush attack two days later that killed five Dallas, TX officers, and still dominates national headlines with nightly protests in cities across the country.
Like many of his peers across Georgia and the nation, Morton postponed his planned sermon for yesterday and instead preached the message “What Must a Christian Church Do in the Wake of Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas?”, built from Psalm 130.
In his address Morton chastised Caucasian Christians who have developed a paternalistic attitude when it comes to race relations. “Let us acknowledge that our black brothers and sisters have a different history,” he said. “Historical precedent – how we got to where we are – is very different in terms of our immediate history. White people, regardless of how well we think we know … don’t know what it feels like to be black.”
Speaking out of ignorance
“We come across as arrogant and hateful when we lack compassion and act as if we know how black people are supposed to feel,” he continued. “[White people] are fools when … we speak in a notion of rage about how so-and-so is supposed to respond to a tragedy.”
Terminology makes a difference, he added. Broad-brushing of black men in cases such as those of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin as druggies, thugs, and criminals is dismissive at best, but more to the point sinful. The undertone that justifies such deaths accompany comments beginning with “Well, I heard …” and “Well, I’ve never had a problem with the police.”
In preparing his message Morton said he consulted other black ministers in the area as well as an African American friend from his childhood, all ministers. “Their emotion from this past week was clearly different from mine,” he said, and reminded him of Galatians 6:2 and the admonition to share each other’s burdens.
Citing the numerous resolutions by the Southern Baptist Convention on race relations and the hopes many Americans had on the subject after President Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president, Morton noted how it appears the division on racism and prejudice is the strongest it’s been in his lifetime. It shows, he proclaimed, that no amount of resolutions or laws will change things until hearts do.
Every American Christian should work to eliminate racism, and start by building friendships with someone of a different race, he said. “The diversity of heaven is going to shock you,” he pointed out.
Support for law enforcement
“We are fools if we judge the entire police force on one or two bad apples,” he said, citing the stress he sees in the faces of several friends and church members whose spouses serve in law enforcement. “Every cop I know puts his heart and soul into doing [his or her job] with integrity, justice, and professionalism.”
If he hadn’t already, Morton made it clear his appreciation for police.
“Law enforcement officers, we love you. We respect you. We are raving fans of you. And we thank you for putting your lives on the line every day. You remind us of Jesus, laying down your life for people who don’t even know how to be grateful,” he finished as the congregation applauded.
A time for the Church
Morton had rounded out the list of emotions at the beginning of his message with perhaps the most dangerous one: apathy.
“We hear about another [brutal killing spree] and another one and another one. Then the political talk immediately begins and we become numb to it,” he said.
While the surface doesn’t reflect it, today’s environment is one where God works best, he maintained. But it’s going to take changes, beginning with repentance.
“We do not know our neighbors. We do not love well people who don’t look like us. There’s so much disunity and hate in our country right now. If Christians would just rise up, and be who God has called us to be, what an opportunity is before us!
“The backdrop of God’s greatest movements and intervention is in the wake of madness and foolishness and chaos and anti-God movements. This is a great time for revival!”