As I held my four-month-old foster daughter in my arms during a 3am feeding this morning, I scanned the flow of postings on social media about more police killings of black men and now about police deaths due to retaliation.
I grew up in an area without much diversity, but for sixteen years I taught in a high school in Paterson, NJ where the majority of my students and many of my coworkers were black and hispanic, and though I, a white man, will never fully understand what it is to be a minority, I can also say I’ve come to better understand their culture and struggles after sixteen years. Yet, it was not until I took in my foster son and daughter (with plans to adopt) that I started understanding not just intellectually but emotionally. I say this because I’ve come to feel a real fear for my black children’s safety, especially my son’s.
When my foster son first came to live with us almost a year ago, my massage therapist, a Jamaican woman, was curious about why we took in a black child. I told her how parents can choose their preferences when fostering or adopting, such as the age range of the child and, yes, even the race, but we didn’t care what race the children were. But there was also something else, a sad truth, we learned while going through the process: black males were the children least likely to find homes. During the training process, we were also given “The Talk” about giving any minority children we may take into our home “The Talk” about safety. When I was a kid, my parents gave me safety talks about strangers and about not giving out information over the phone; kids today need to be taught about Internet safety. But minorities, especially male minorities, need to be given a safety talk about how not everyone is going to treat them the same way they treat others, including police officers. I’ve come to fear for my son’s life in another way; I’ve come to fear that he will grow into a bitter man who hates the police.
Many conversations with my good friend who I shared a classroom with for over ten years had given me insight into this long before I started the fostering process, as she is black and raising two sons. I also clearly remember her once sharing with me how whenever someone is rude to her, there’s always something in the back of her head wondering if this happened because of her race. Again, as a foster father to a black three-year-old, I’ve come to not just understand this intellectually, but to feel it. Just the other day my heart ached as I witnessed for the first time some children at a playground treating my foster son meanly, and I found my friend’s troubling question floating around my head: Was it because he’s black?
Historically, when we look at things such as mass murder and slavery, how these evils are justified is by diminishing the value of those murdered or enslaved. In other words, those committing the evil do not feel their actions are wrong because they have created in their minds the idea that the victims are not human. This is the essence of racism. This is what the Nazis did. This is what many armies do to the opposition during times of war. Not to open a can of worms, but this is what pro-abortion advocates do; they deny the humanity of the unborn by making them just “a lump of cells.”
Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer is known for saying, “Ideas have consequences,” and this is certainly true: make someone less than human, and suddenly the most inhumane crimes aren’t inhumane anymore. This is the great dilemma of our secular culture because most people believe that all we are is the outcome of a long process of time and chance. In the secular worldview, our brains are just advanced flesh computers in flesh machines — flesh machines no different than fish or apes. We see the consequences of this idea every time we read a news feed. This secular view of human life cannot hold; the center is collapsing, because in one breath secularists argue vehemently that all we are are advanced animals who have clawed our way to the top of the hill by living longer than our competition, and then in the next breath the secularist is outraged by a racist murder by a police officer abusing his power.
Yet, this outrage testifies against the secular storyline of humanity. What is this outrage grounded in? Why must even evil men diminish the humanness of their victims to justify their actions? If the secular storyline is true, how is “all men are created equal” a self-evident truth? Let me shed some light: You’re outraged by these crimes because you recognize humans have inherent worth, an idea the secular view of humanity cannot carry. You’re outraged by the deaths of these black men because you’re recognizing their inherent worth because they’re made in the image of God (Gen.1:27; 9:6). Not only that, you’re outraged by these murders because you — whether you believe you’re a descendant of Adam or a fish — are made in the image of God. Your outrage testifies to this.
I pray that God will protect my children from those who try to diminish the image of God in them. I pray that God will give them black mentors; though I can be their parent, I have never walked the path of a black person. I pray they will know the police officers that I have known, good men who care for their communities. And I pray that they will know and love the God who has revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ — a God of justice (Psalms 89:14; 103:6), a God who equates anger and hate with murder (Matt.5:21-22; James 3:8-10), a God who commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt.5:43-44), a God of forgiveness (Matt. 6:9-15; Eph.1:7), a God who forbids vengeance (Romans 12:19-21), and a God who weeps with us over death (John 11).