On Sunday night, July 10th, a protest involving thousands of people from Memphis flooded onto the Hernando Desoto Bridge which spans the Mississippi River. That protest was organized by those who felt something had to be done to address the loss of black lives in confrontations with the police. The group that marched that night was frustrated, angry, and outraged over what they perceived to be the injustice they see and have experienced over the years. It was a situation that could have easily escalated into violence, which most likely would have spread throughout the city of Memphis. But that night we were reminded what true leadership looks like – and how a godly leader can both de-escalate a dangerous situation, offer hope to those who feel so misunderstood, and even lead with strength and restraint when such leadership is needed.
Police Director Mike Rallings showed us, by example, what we needs to be done to step up in the crisis that is growing in regard to racial relations. At great risk to himself he walked out on that bridge and sought to be a “bridge” himself. He chose to have a conversation with the protestors. He chose not to become angry and frustrated when he was disrespected. He chose to speak peace and act peacefully to help diffuse a very difficult situation. But what truly impressed me was that this police Director was involved in looking for answers long before this protest started. In an effort to present something we can DO in this crisis, I would like to write a little about what Police Director Mike Rallings said at a meeting called, “Healing the Broken Village” back at the beginning of 2016. He suggested that if more of the 2,000 churches in Memphis focused on their neighborhoods, it could make a significant dent in the number of arrests in the city. He offered the suggestion that churches help provide ministry that offers alternatives to kids after school hours, which is the time of day when they are the most likely to get into trouble. Another public servant at that conference said this, “Take back that corner. What if every church drew a 1,000 yard radius around itself and took the time to get to know every child in that circle?” What an amazing thing to consider in the midst of this crisis. These men, along with other men and women who were at the conference, reached a consensus and said as a group, “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
They were right - law enforcement alone will not solve these problems. There must be a choice made by the church at this critical juncture to be the light, Instead of raging at the darkness. We are called by our Lord to shine the light of the gospel by our actions and with our words. Like our Lord we must be willing to enter into our world and build sacrificial, loving, gospel-sharing relationships. We have opportunities to step out and get to know our neighbors BEFORE a protest begins. We have the opportunity to build trust with them by caring before a crisis. There are random groups of young men who play basketball on our outdoor court almost every day, with whom we could build relationships. We could foster better understanding with these guys in an effort to genuinely love them – and eventually to share the gospel of Jesus with them. We can be involved in the life of a few young men or women – and seek to see their lives head in a different direction. We can endeavor to make disciples in our surrounding area so that the gospel can turn our community upside down – or maybe better said in our current crisis – right side up.
The fact of the matter is that I do not live in Dallas, Louisiana, or Minneapolis/St. Paul. I live in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Few if any of us will be able to have a direct affect on the areas of our country where tensions are running the highest. But we CAN do something to address the tension in our own community. We can get involved in ministering to those in our neighborhood – in our city who feel disenfranchised, who feel frustrated, who feel angry at what is happening. The way we do this is by building a relationship with one person who is not like us. We can do this by choosing to love and reach out – rather than give in to frustration and anger and put up a wall towards those around us who say that black lives matter. We can SHOW we know that they matter by taking back our own corner through the love of Christ. We can show we know they matter by befriending one person – listening to one person – loving one person. We can show they matter by listening to them – even when they are angry and frustrated.
The Lord Jesus said to us that we are to let our light shine in such a way that those around us may see our good works and glorify our Father Who is in heaven. At the risk of sounding too trite I want to suggest that those of us who love the Lord Jesus Christ – and who know that the ultimate answer is the gospel consider a hash tag of our own. The hash tag I am suggesting is this, #shininglightmatters. Maybe it will remind US what to DO in these difficult days. Maybe it will turn us from being caught up in the midst of the anger, frustration, and growing misunderstanding of one another. Maybe it will help us turn to love in action – to active deeds where we allow our light to shine so that God is glorified. Maybe it will help us to remember that we have hope – and that hope is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe it will remind us that the church needs to rise up and be the source of ultimate hope, healing, and restoration as we seek to touch lives one at a time through the love of God. This is what that brave police director showed us by his actions. This is what our Lord lived as He came and dwelt among us when we were far from God. This is what Jesus modeled as He even loved those who hated Him and died for their sins. This is what we can do. This is who we should be. This is who God, who gave us life through the new birth, made us to be.