Is Mourning Enough? White Christians and Black Lives Matters

This morning I attended a press conference held by the family of Joseph Mann, a 50 year old African American man who was shot and killed by Sacramento police. His family is filing a lawsuit and seeking answers and justice for their brother. They talked about Joseph who contributed in many ways to his community before his mother passed away and he began to struggle with mental health issues. The grief of Mr. Mann’s family was agonizing to witness along with the images of his death.

 Joseph Mann was killed the same month (July 2016) that Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge) and Philando Castile (Minneapolis) were killed. The footage of these African American men being killed by police once again galvanized protestors and activists all over the country. We started asking again, will this be what finally brings about real change and reform regarding the use of excessive force in law enforcement?

When these tragedies occur, more times than not, the silence from white Christian leaders is deafening. But something seemed to shift this time around. For the first time since the Black Lives Matter movement started, I noticed white pastors and leaders publicly speaking up. Their message, for the most part, was one of compassion emphasizing that as Christians we are called to mourn with those who mourn.

It was long overdue. I was grateful and relieved to hear their voices.

But there is so much more we need to do. If white Christian leaders want to participate in the process of redemption and restoration regarding racial reconciliation we have to know more fully what, in fact, we are mourning.

In my experience, white folks (especially those who reside in middle to upper-middle class communities) understand and are sympathetic to the dangerous realities of being a police officer. We saw this clearly with the outpouring of support when five Dallas police officers were also killed in July—a horrific tragedy in its own right.

However, most white folks are less mindful of the dangerous realities that communities of color face when it comes to encounters with law enforcement. In order to weep with those who weep we have educate ourselves about this as well. My concern is that white Christians will grieve with their African American brothers and sisters but still not fully acknowledge what is causing their pain.

We can’t truly mourn if we’re not willing to ask some hard questions. For example, why do African Americans (along with Latinos and Native Americans) continue to have such negative (sometimes deadly) encounters with law enforcement? And given how widespread these encounters are it’s not sufficient to blame it on a “few bad cops.” I see white Christians grieving, but I don’t see many of them asking deeper and more difficult questions regarding these issues.

Will honestly pursuing these questions create tension between you and some of your friends and family? Yes. Does that discomfort compare to the racism and trauma people of color have to deal with in this country? No.

I don’t say that to be callous or unkind to white folks regarding the journey we must take. Moving toward this is not easy and will require courage and sacrifice. But we cannot expect to truly mourn, much less offer religious leadership (which is desperately needed in times such as these), if we’re not willing to fully understand that which we mourn or take a stand for justice.

My heart aches for a time when white Christian leaders will show up in solidarity with families, like those of Joseph Mann. Then, perhaps, we can truly mourn with those who mourn.

Brandy Liebscher