The crime of slavery cries to heaven for vengeance to this day. America has yet to pay for it (how can it possibly?)—we are seeing its fruit today louder and clearer than ever. It becomes more and more elusive, though, when the debt runs down generations; that is why everybody today, in this age of instant communication over vast distances, is talking past each other. Pre-existing political preferences seem to determine what you see: mobs of looters, rioters, and thugs burning down cities and taking down the innocent with them, or a corrupt, violent police force under a government drunk on blood and power. We all know that non-violent protest and civil disobedience are powerful forces. I wish we would not be so cynical about them; the Black Lives Matter movement cannot possibly do itself any favors by excusing the behavior of opportunists and instigators of destruction, especially not if genuine protesters disavow them in the first place, and certainly not in response to anybody with any reluctance toward the movement—the result can only be a wider rift, an even greater inability to communicate with one another. Those in the vicinity of trashed businesses, shattered windows, and corporate pandering need urgently to be assured that that is not all that’s going on—not that these are necessary evils toward a legitimate cause (certainly not), but our broken, fallen human condition come to the spotlight. In the bearing of one another’s burdens, in coming together against demons that make us enemies of one another according to race or class, there is true, genuine work—sometimes forceful, but not destructive—for justice for all our neighbors who have been victims of brutality, murder, and slavery, as best as our frail human natures can manage, and even if we do not see the immediate results.
There is of course a Christian dimension to facing powerful elements in the name of justice for our neighbors. But that is not all: in my Christian naïveté, what hope is there in the paying of America’s sins against its own people, and the paying of our individual debts to everyone whose abuse we have ever tolerated, without the Gospel? It isn’t surprising that there seems to be a quasi-religious element now to the atonement of white people for the privilege of being white; but this won’t be enough. We need the boldness once again to imagine that the sorrows and horrors our neighbors have endured for generations, along with the suffering that comes with being alive, will be turned to nothing before the glory of God that is yet to be revealed to us—and that there is ultimate redemption available even to our enemies. Before Christ, we are finally equal: no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, as St. Paul wrote. While we await our future hope, we reject the rule of demons and obey the most difficult commandment of all, to love our neighbor.