“The religious institutions became comfort stations for scribes and publicans and pharisees. Far from curing the wound of racism, the white man’s Christianity has been its soothing bandage – a bandage masquerading as Sunday clothes, for the wearing of which one expects a certain moral credit.”
– Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound
How do you deal with the willfully ignorant? With those people who have good intentions, who believe that those who disagree just don’t know their hearts? Do we defriend them? Refuse to go to church with them? Exclude them? Be thankful that at least we’re not like them?
Why does it matter? Why do I care so much that nice, kind, white Christians are blindly siding with cops over the Black Lives Matter movement? (And why am I the one that gets nervous when people comment on Black Lives Matter? Why aren’t they nervous about supporting the blue line?)
It feels like when kids get a participation trophy for being on a sports team. White people – white Christians – want a trophy for not being racist, while actually not doing anything to become less racist, and many times, actively working to support the white superiority status quo.
I am quite worked up about a particular incident, but this topic isn’t limited to any specific incident, as I’m sure you’ll find similarities in your own circles. A handful of people I know, in a place that framed itself as my spiritual family, created a project dedicated to recognizing and supporting good cops.
“When an officer acts out of line, the consequences can be shaming and deadly.” “We believe if more people could hear the hearts of police officers like we have, the climate of law enforcement might feel much different.” “Should the isolated actions of a few speak for the overwhelming majority?” And within a couple of weeks of creation, the project has grown to 15K likes and an interview with Fox News.
Why am I so upset? Why does every time I see a white friend post something in support of police officers feel like a personal slight? Why can’t I just be like Tim, that wise internet comic?
Seriously, why? Is this all driven by an internal ‘not all white people’ desire and watching that hope fade quickly away, because yes, pretty much, all white people? Or is it because I love facts and truth and I have a stack of history books that I’m never going to get through, and if everyone would read at least one of them, maybe we could have a massive book club where we talk about all of the racial history we’ve learned that we were never taught in school, and everyone would realize that yes, of course, black lives matter and need to be affirmed?
Or is it because good and bad are actually not so clearly delineated and this desire to affirm the goodness of a vast majority of cops feels like being a victim of poverty while everyone around you is talking about the goodness of Dave Ramsey while shaming those with food stamps and foreclosures? Is it just blatant support for white, middle-class values and systems that make me cringe? Is this anger actually legitimate, or am I upset because I’ve witnessed too much and I can never go back to that world of white innocence and the belief in the goodness of our country, and I’m just angry at everyone, justified or not?
I would imagine it’s a little of all of the above and more. I know that I am angry because time and effort is going towards supporting authority at the expense of people’s lives, and what seems like caring is actually tacit support for the murder of innocents. Again, for the people in back – what white people see as genuine care and concern translates into lives devastated. Our lack of empathy equals death. It just does.
I am angry because you cannot support the idea of good cops without also supporting justice for the bad ones, justice for the tortured and murdered, and efforts to reform the system. And until I see you at least lamenting the deaths of John, Sandra, Natasha, and Eric, then I don’t believe you actually support only the good cops*. You are instead boldly supporting institutional racism, and quite frankly, I’m Jesus Juking you with 1 John 2:15b.
It is dangerous to assume that simply because authority has been bestowed, that it is good and on the whole, worthwhile. Where has the authority come from? Who was it designed for? Who does it largely benefit? Who does it largely target? (If you don’t know, start here or here.)
‘Good cops’ do not work in isolation. They work in a system that is becoming more militarized. They work in a system that is resistant to accountability. And I know, evangelicalism has this thing about individuals and ignoring systemic issues, because that might be bordering on liberation theology or whatever. But I have heard plenty of people moaning about the school systems, teaching systems,. the medical system, the healthcare world, unions, governments, HOAs.
Newsflash – all of those are systems. Individualized faith or no, we live in a world of systems. Refusing to acknowledge this and to make the faith applicable to it makes you a lousy citizen and an ineffective Christian.
“The mystical aspects of Christianity completely overshadow the moral. But it is a bogus mysticism, mysticism as wishful magic, a recipe by which to secure the benefits of eternal bliss without having to give up the benefits of temporal vice: corrupt your soul and save it too!”
– Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound
The Good Cop Project is equivalent to All Lives Matter – nearly all media and a large portion of the citizenry already support them. They know they matter. They know they are ‘good’. They don’t need extra efforts to tell them how good they are. Police officers are not being persecuted; they are being held accountable.
The modern day police force evolved from slave patrols. The modern day prison-industrial-complex evolved from convict leasing during Reconstruction. This system of police and criminals, of white authority and black submission is rooted in slavery, black codes, and lynching.
Supporting a good cop is not a neutral statement. It is not a colorblind action. It has a racial history and has real-life results for people today who are targeted, profiled, and murdered without consequence. Supporting a good cop as a Christian without also supporting Black Lives Matter is to cover your racism with the same pages of the Bble as the slave-owners and the Jim Crow supporters. If you cannot see this, read a history book and then get back to me.
You do not get to play the part of Good White Person and earn a participation trophy for choosing the side of the oppressor. Survey after survey reveals the deep divide between white and black Americans and between religious denominations, and there will be an accounting to be had for not siding with the oppressed, the misaligned, the unbelieved. There will be consequences for white Christians who refuse to listen to and learn from black Americans, who are also by and large, Christians. White Christians do not have to agree with black people. But they are required to listen and learn from those who are different from them.
“A man cannot be immortal except by saving his soul, and he cannot save his soul except by freeing his body and mind from the destructive forces in his history.”
– Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound
What is the point of this organization, anyway? I mean really. What are all the time and resources for? I imagine the ultimate goal is to affirm our common goodness, reduce the ‘volatile’ tension, possible even promote racial healing.
But does it? Can it?
Can white people – white Christians – really make a positive impact on our country and the people who live in it (and are trying to live in it) without honestly dealing with our history and our daily decisions? Does intent really matter more than impact? Is it ok to have good intentions when it comes to racism even if the result is that innocent people are murdered or put away for life? Are your white feelings and opinions more important than black people’s lives? Are they???? Is your belief in the goodness and rightness of the American system more important than the lives of people who disagree?
Is our racial divide going to be healed by supporting good cops? No.
Are we going to move towards more honest discussions about reparations by supporting, with no questions asked, the system of white authority? No.
Can I take seriously a movement by white Christians that shows no signs of reading the new devastating essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates on mass incarceration? No.
Ignoring historical facts and current demographic realities only exposes, once again, that white Christians live within a system of white supremacy and think they deserve a trophy for it.
*and I know there are some people, I may be among them, who think there are no good cops, because there is no reform within a system that is rooted in such inequality and we need a reset button.