Defending the Romans

Adam Toledo.
Daunte Wright.
George Floyd.
Breonna Taylor.
And on…

and on…

and now a 15 year old in Columbus.

Names become headlines that they never hoped to be in. And the news stories are blasted out to our eyes and ears, forcing us all to process the clash all over again. And, for many of us, our own battle begins. Defending our viewpoint. Refuting the counter. Emotions rising. And on…

and on…

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been strolling through facebook memories as each new day flips on the calendar. It’s fascinating to look back at it. As weeks of a pandemic became a month, many of us found ourselves home more, online more, and finding electronic communication to be our primary means of dialogue. A year ago, whether I knew it or not (I didn’t), I was just getting warmed up. I was remarkably surprised at how some statements of mine were challenged, and also by whom. I thought that I could persuade them through my logic, appeals to compassion, and questioning shaky ground, but I was wrong. Among the most surprising findings for me last year was how many American Christians defend the Romans.

The Romans had a fierce military. Well-trained, incredibly organized, and it was held in very high honor. It kept order. Ideally, it kept peace. It engaged in conflict. And it allowed the Empire to flourish. With such a whitewashed historical view as that one, most (white) people would call that a very good thing. And they would probably assign those attributes to the current military of the United States as well as the ranks of law enforcement.

The book of Mark, chapter 12, verse 17 quotes Jesus as saying, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The question posed to Jesus was regarding the imperial tax, one of many attempts to trap Jesus into making strong, political statements. Jesus responded with wisdom, knowing full-well he had not come to establish an earthly kingdom at that time. Unfortunately, many people since then, including countless American Christians, have determined that they can, in fact, have an earthly kingdom. And every kingdom or empire needs a strong force to maintain order, keep the peace, and allow life as we know it to flourish.

For many, they simply call this “The American Dream.” You go a good school, get good grades, get a good job, start a family, raise them right, take vacations, and pass along your values. Oh, and pray before meals and sometimes tithe (for the tax deduction). Because there are many who believe this to be a Christian nation, it is not always clear if there is an American Dream, a Christian Dream, or maybe an American Christian Dream?

For, you see, if you play by the written and unwritten rules, all of this can be yours! Wait, was that a line from Jesus or from Satan? Someone look that up for me. And when it comes to defending law enforcement, there is no thin blue line. That sucker is wide. Because standing behind them are not only the ruling class (see also: Rome) who desire their allegiance and use of force to maintain order, but a host of other citizens who like that they can whitely wield the leverage that comes with calling upon law enforcement whenever they choose. Of all the national military budgets throughout the world, the amount dedicated to US law enforcement comes in third. And it keeps going up.

Today was a defining moment in many ways. Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder, becoming just the seventh on-duty officer to be convicted in the last 15 years. During that time, roughly 15,000 police killings occurred. On a very simple scale, the trial that just concluded was weeks on end of arguing whether or not a Roman soldier had the right to murder a (less-than) Roman citizen (because let’s be honest, this nation has never seen anyone other than white men as full citizens without question). In this case, and for this moment, he was held accountable. That to me is not the same as justice. Not biblical justice. He was held accountable.

And the ongoing trial did not slow the onslaught of people dying at the hands of police. Nor did the verdict begin a ceasefire, as Columbus has already shown us. And every time, every time, American Christians respond to those events with:
“Well, he shouldn’t have…”
“If he had only….”
and the occasional, “It’s really sad, but did you know…?”

Law enforcement does not prevent crime. By its very definition, it enforces the construct of criminal events we have created in this empire. Many times they create crime. How many people have been charged with “resisting arrest”?

I do not argue with people the way I have in the past. I do not have the time nor the energy to force you to see what you cannot. There are many American Christians who believe they are “close to the brokenhearted” because they are aware of those who are mildly uncomfortable.

Do you know how many bad days I have had or how many uncomfortable situations I have been in because I am a white male? Zero. Do you know how many times I have felt threatened or in danger because I am a white male? Also zero. This is the privilege that our ongoing, systemic and institutional racism has afforded me. And you know what I still cannot do? Give that same privilege to my sons.

I would like to think that I would still have this perspective if I did not have black sons, but I think that is giving myself far too much credit. Yes, I learned a lot from people and was influenced in the right direction before I was ever a father. But, at the end of the day, I could always go home and just be all-white. And I still can.

Today as many of us awaited the reading of the verdict, I was driving home on the highway. I was very aware of my whiteness at that moment. Normally I am not. But I knew that I could just cruise along, exceed the speed limit, and even if I was pulled over, I would be fine. The moment I stepped in my front door that feeling went away. I am a father to three Daunte Wrights. I don’t always feel that way. In fact, it wasn’t until the death of Michael Brown that something really clicked for me. I’m glad that it did. I needed to get it, and I still do.

Was there justice today? No. Accountability? Yes, for now. But there is so much that needs to change before I will feel good about the direction. Even America’s beloved former president, Barack Obama, has eschewed the call to defund the police. The president who was propped up to defeat Trump continues to make bland statements while feeling obliged to vilify those who protest. In my opinion, once someone becomes part of the ruling class, there is no way they will betray that position. I do not look for political saviors. They are the ones who desire the wide blue line to maintain their standing.

I understand that part. That makes logical sense to me. But for the American Christians who continue to defend the Roman military in their midst, I am still a little baffled. I recently saw a post that said (paraphrasing), “If white leaders want to demonstrate their leadership, start leading people out of white supremacy.” That challenged me. I think that’s spot on. And I really do not know how to go about that, but I desire to try.

And if you have followed me long enough, you know that I make a distinction between American Christians and Christians in America. The former holds the national anthem, pledge of allegiance, American Dream and a particular way of life all on even par with church attendance, owning a Bible, and passing on virtues. The former, the Christians in America, feel a bit like the disciples who were scattered. No political or institutional affiliation, but holding firm to the Gospel and the hope of what is yet to come.

Or, said differently, American Christians sing, “Victory is mine!” and think of all the ways God has blessed them for being in America. Meanwhile, Christians in America sing that same song with the hope of one day seeing those words come to full fruition.

Today I felt relieved for maybe an hour. I would like to feel more hopeful for change than what I do. Maybe one day.