Wishing for Perfect Victims
In the past few months dozens of white people have told me “I agree that Black Lives Matter. I just wish this didn’t all start with Mike Brown.” They want an easier victim, someone who everyone would agree was a sympathetic victim. They don’t want there to be any questions. I think there are two problems with that sentiment. First, it assumes that some lives are more valuable than others and forces grieving people to justify their sorrow when one of their unarmed young people is killed. Second, it assumes that there is such a thing as a perfect victim and that any mistake or character flaw in a young black man or woman justifies a death sentence.
As Christians, we believe that life is valuable, that all people are made equally in the image of God. The image of God is reveled in each and every one of us. Young people and old people; people of every race, color, and culture; criminal, civilian, and cop: all are made in the image of God and all of their lives are valuable and irreplaceable creations of the Almighty. The fact that we find any life at all to be expendable is not just a tragedy, but a sign of our deep misunderstanding of the way the world ought to be.
Sin and crime do not erase the image of God, in fact, the Bible tells us that every single one of us is sinful and none of us deserves the gift of God in our lives. I have heard many people make excuses about what they see in “the black community” as if we are not a single community—the Family of God. Every one of us has sinned and every one of us is still equally made in the image of God. People who have children out of wedlock and people who are steeped in godless pride over their self-righteousness are both made in the image of God. People who commit crimes like shoplifting or assault and people who use their power and wealth to oppress the poor are both made in the image of God. Every single one of us reflects the beauty of God’s image and every single one of us reflects the brokenness of this world. Christians who believe in a Savior who has treated us with unmeasurable grace should be ashamed to point to other people’s sins and mistakes and use them as an excuse for our own gracelessness, as if we deserve the mercy God has shown to us. Our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and children do not deserve death simply because they have made different mistakes; simply because their sin is different than our sin.
Perfect victims of police violence do not exist, but people who have wrongly been abused, injured, and killed do exist. People do not need to live perfect lives to deserve to live. Our country has laws about when police can use violence and those laws make it clear that the only reason a person should die at the hands of a law enforcement officer is when that law enforcement officer is forced to make a decision between his own life and the life of the other person. So many of these victims have died unarmed at the hands of law enforcement officers with an enormous amount of unrestrained power. Anger at this kind of injustice is inevitable and righteous. The Bible makes it clear that we should be angry at injustice. As Christians we cannot allow that anger to justify our own sin, but neither can we carelessly ignore injustice and pretend that we are more righteous than those who, overcome by despair and fury, take sinful action against their oppressors. It is sinful to loot a convenience store, but it is no less sinful to watch people shot in the street by police officers acting in our names and to go on with our lives in apathy and indifference.
You may wish for different circumstances, for easier decisions, but those are not the decisions God gave to us. He gave us the world as it is and we must interact with reality, not with the perfect circumstances we have dreamed up in our head. We cannot say “If things were different I would act. If the victims were more sympathetic I would take action.” If God had waited for more sympathetic victims before sending His Son we would still be lost in our sin. I wish that it hadn’t taken Mike Brown or Akai Gurly, or Eric Garner, or Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray. I wish that none of them had had to die before we started caring about the injustice in our country. I wish we had cared long before now, but we cannot ask for more dead victims before we take action. Waiting for the perfect victim before taking action means that you are hoping for someone to be killed even more horrifically before you will take action to prevent the horrific deaths and that is unacceptable.
All life is valuable. All people’s deaths are mourned by our heavenly Father. Truly loving our neighbor, truly giving our lives to God, means that we will not wait until people meet our “standards” for the right victim before we take action. We must choose to act with righteousness and we must choose to give up our lives in service to our brothers and sisters. The death of black men and women on our streets is a desecration of the Image of God and we cannot sit silently by and allow it to happen in our names.