by Mike Nichols
During the past few months, rhetoric from both sides of the Michael Brown shooting has been stated and restated, renewed once the grand jury found the officer who shot Brown should not stand trial.
That rhetoric was again stated and amplified by Eric Garner’s death and subsequent similar outcome through a Staten Island grand jury. We have shouted screamed at one another, to our equal irritation. We have done nothing to resolve our difficulties, not settled our differences, and failed to find answers that are satisfactory to anyone.
During these four months, FBI statistical averages tell us that 1,452 more young black men died violently, and 1,350 of them died as the result of violence against them by other black men.
During that same four months, people in the U.S. have become polarized in their opinions and thoughts about people of other ethnicities. Many white people have blamed the black community, particularly their leaders who continue to cry out for civil rights justice, for obscuring their own difficulties with charges of racism and institutional bias. Black people have decried what they see as blindness to that very racism and institutional bias in the white community, and have blamed whites’ unwillingness to see ethnic inequality for the continuation of that inequality.
These discussions have enveloped nearly everyone I know, of all colors and viewpoints. I have expressed the opinion that whites have made dramatic changes in their thinking over the last 50 years, while blacks continue in their perception of racism by whites against them that very much resembles the kind of extreme views many of my generations’ parents and grandparents had regarding blacks. I have further said that many people of all ethnicities do not seem to realize that, where racism exists institutionally or corporately in this country today, it is largely black racism against whites.
Racism of any kind is wrong. Prejudice isn’t racism, and prejudice can’t be legislated. I continue to believe blacks need to spend at least as much time and give as much attention to their own core problems, such as the disproportionate number of single-parent families in their community, especially given the proof that children, particularly boys, who grow up without a significant positive male role model are five times more likely to go to prison, three times more likely to commit violent crime, four times more likely to become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or disordered gambling. These are hard statistics that cannot be denied, and, as an addictions counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, I see the evidence of them every day in my office, and in my group counseling sessions.
While those statistics can’t be denied, they can be compensated. And this is where I realize my opinions fail. I have pointed a finger without offering a solution.
The solution: Me. You. All of us.
My fellow suburban church goers join my wife and I, sitting snug and comfy in our padded pews every Sunday morning, we go to our nicely appointed Sunday school classrooms either before or after service, we nod our heads in agreement with our pastors and our teachers, and we go home. There we discuss the sermon and the Sunday school lesson, we watch football or do yard work, we go to our evening classes, we pray daily, we share our love for Christ with each other — mostly other believers — while 20 or so miles away, young black men with no fathers and no church are dealing drugs, robbing stores and hurting and either killing one another, or getting killed in the process.
We watch, observe, shake our heads and say, “They ought to do something.” And yes, they should. But so should we. We’re Christians, are we not? And as such are we not ambassadors, missionaries for Christ?
In that inner city, so close yet so far removed from us, lies our mission field. A mission field is a battle ground, God’s people against the people of the god of this world.
We are largely absent from that fight.
There are some of us who venture into the conflict, but they are out-manned, out-gunned, and out-maneuvered. The enemy is well entrenched. But he is not unbeatable. I know. I come up against the enemy every day in my work. I do the best that I can to show Christ to young men and women who come to me willingly and unwillingly for drug and alcohol treatment, and a few for disordered gambling. As a state contractor, I’m limited in what I can say, but I nonetheless try to show them who Jesus is through me. I mostly succeed.
Yet, over these four months, I have had the temerity to lay blame, and what do I really do to help? By the time I see these young men and women, it’s almost too late. They have taken a path, and for many of them, they will never get off of it, and the path ends much too soon for a few of them. What else can I do?
First off, if there is no white presence in the black neighborhoods, then it is little wonder they see us as the problem. We aren’t, but I am beginning to understand that our absence is a large part of their perception. My fellow suburban church goers and I need to get our butts out of our comfy padded pews with a resolve to actually make a difference.
Exchanging the love of Christ within our own circles isn’t doing anything to change those black neighborhoods that lie only a brief commute from our homes. Then again, showing up in black neighborhoods, a group of pasty-white faces is going to be at the best a fleeting curiosity, and at the worst an unwelcome intrusion. But we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, “All is lost,” either.
What if our suburban white church decided to be the hands and feet of Christ, the voice of Christ? What if our church partnered up with an inner city black church? What if the leadership teams from the partnering churches — pastors, elders, and deacons — met for several weeks, conducted neighborhood surveys, got the “lay of the land” so to speak, prioritized needs according to urgency, and determined to find a way to meet those needs? What if they did this without regard to whether the people they would serve were church members or not?
What if both churches established a food pantry for poor young mothers who can’t meet the nutrition needs of their children, and for elderly who no longer able to adequately care for themselves? What if partnering churches set up a daycare at or near the inner city church and rotated volunteers through the center so working moms wouldn’t have to spend most of their paycheck on babysitting?
What if teams from both churches decided to set up a rotation of home visits that would provide some light cleaning, meal preparation, parenting training, family counseling, even drug and alcohol counseling where it was needed? What if the churches combined their teacher base — every church has teachers — and offered tutoring for students in elementary, middle, and high school?
What if the men of those two churches set up bimonthly meetings with young men in the neighborhood, regardless of whether they were members of either church or not, and taught them how to do a job search, write a résumé, dress for and prepare for a job interview? What if those men also provided mentoring for troubled young men in the neighborhood? What if those men became advocates for those young men, giving help in breaking down the artificial barriers of the bureaucracies and of the employers in the city?
What if both churches let the schools, police, probation and parole, and the neighborhood associations know they were there, they were making changes, they were encouraging other churches to do the same, and what if they asked the schools, the police, probation and parole, and the neighborhood associations to join them in the effort?
What if, with every single contact with every single person, every church member of these partnering churches offered a little snippet of the Gospel, even if it was only to say, “God loves you, and so do I”?
What if, after establishing the ministry in the inner city, both churches decided to set up the same ministry, a mirror image of the original, in the suburban community? After all, there is socioeconomic need everywhere, there are troubled youth everywhere. What if the black church helped the white church in the suburban community do the same things they had done together in the inner city?
Mike Nichols, Overland Park, Kansas
I am a licensed addictions counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist, both in Kansas and Missouri. I have a history of addictions, including disordered gambling, and I have done time in prison for forgery, the result of an ill-conceived idea to pay off gambling debts, which were all maxed-out credit cards. I am attending Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a candidate in the Masters program for Counseling, after which I will be helping to establish an outreach counseling ministry for our surrounding community at Blue Valley Baptist, as well as the membership.
I am a member of Blue Valley Baptist Church in Overland Park, very happily married to the woman of my dreams, have two grown children, five grown step-children, and four grandchildren. My hobbies are staying fit, loving my family, spoiling my grandchildren, and rooting for the Royals and Missouri Tigers.
© Mike Nichols, 2014