By Paul Baxley
Yesterday a little girl was preparing to celebrate her 8th birthday with a party at a skating rink. She had her dress on, and she was waiting for her father to come pick her up for the party. But he never came.
Her father is Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, who was shot and killed by a police officer in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta late Friday night. In addition to this daughter, Mr. Brooks had a 2-year-old daughter, a 1-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old stepson. Perhaps it is because I have three daughters and one son myself and have attended many birthday parties, but I cannot get these children out of my mind. They have lost their father. We have lost another child of God, made in God’s image.
So, today I ask you to join me in praying for the family of Rayshard Brooks, particularly for his children. Pray for them in their grief, sadness, anger and loss. Don’t just pray for them, pray with them in this time of incredible pain and indescribable loss. When our prayers are finished, we are then called to speak and act with faithfulness and urgency.
Mr. Brooks is not the first black man to lose his life in this kind of act of violence. He is not even the first in the last few weeks. The deaths of Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd were recorded on video, and we have all had the chance to watch their final moments. We have learned more about the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in another city, just as we have learned more about the death of Ahmaud Arbery in February. But these deaths are only the most visible reminders of much deeper injustices.
If we listen to the cries of our black sisters and brothers in these days, we will learn how terrifyingly common these kinds of deaths and abuses are. So, in addition to praying for these victims and their families, we need to continue to pray with all of our black brothers and sisters and listen to their testimonies.
What must we say in these days? These deaths cannot be tolerated. The lives of all of God’s children must be equally valuable. They are equally valuable in the sight of God. They must be equally sacred in the witness of the church and in the pursuit of justice. There can be no tolerance for white supremacy, or the devaluing of black lives, or racial bias, or police brutality. Those of us who are white Christians must speak clearly in the face of this injustice. We are called to speak boldly and act decisively toward justice, the end of racism, and the establishment of the kind of genuine reconciliation that is at the heart of Jesus’ mission in the world.
Mr. Brooks’ children are the children of God, in the same way any of our children are. They deserve to grow up in a world where they need not be afraid because of the color of their skin. They need to grow up in a world that understands that racial difference reflects the beauty of God’s creation, and the expanse of God’s image. Just like any other children they need to grow up in a world where they have opportunity to discover the fullness of their giftedness and live in justice, freedom and peace. Now it is not enough to dream of that world or promise to build it. Instead, it must be built starting now.
Dr. King’s words in Washington, D.C., on that sweltering day in August 1963 have a tragic ring nearly six decades after they were spoken:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
Those words are a dream of a world that still does not exist , nearly six decades after it was first uttered. That the dream is unrealized is terrible sin. Now, the making of that world is a necessity for all who follow Jesus, and its building cannot wait any longer. Making that world, through the changing of our hearts, the opening of our lives, and the transformation of policies and structures, is urgently necessary. It is central to the Christian gospel and an extension of Jesus’ mission to “bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”
Racial justice will require releasing many from captivity and delivering others of us from blindness. This call to a world marked by justice and reconciliation is in the midst of the mission of the church, black and white, and it must be fulfilled in our living. When they are, we will give a living answer to Jesus’ prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley serves as Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.