by Tony Lynn
PLYMOUTH, MI – The officer patted down the black church planter while the white church planter was locked in the back of a squad car. Separate officers relentlessly interrogated each church planter accusing them of running drugs. Multiple squad cars surrounded the men while police-dogs sniff-out the black minister’s car. The Michigan church planters upon being stopped had quickly explained to the officer, during the first seconds of the stop, that they were on their way to a church conference in Pennsylvania.
No one believed the two young men. Consequently, the two church planters were on roadside display, police lights flashing, dogs posturing, and their personal possessions were scattered over the car and onto the ground, including their Bibles. After the interrogations and search was over the two church planters were told, without apology or explanation, that they could go on their way. Within a few minutes the dogs were rewarded and kenneled, the officers turned-off their flashing lights and the squad cars sped away from the scene leaving the two young church planters to repack their belongings, and sort through their feelings in front of passing motorists.
That real life scene played out with my friends less than two years ago. I know these men, their wives and their children. I have served with them these past two years as they have worked to become the best church planters they can become. My heart aches and my soul is torn-in-two by sorrow and anger thinking that my two friends, two years ago, could have come to a violent or fatal end. When you think that this crisis of ongoing racism does not affect your life, is not your business, or that another priority is more important than this injustice, would you remember our two Michigan church planters? No matter how uncomfortable you get with this subject, realize that racism is a pervasive problem that it must be addressed by all of us.
I am learning from this current crisis as all of us should be learning. For example, I must confess that I am uncomfortable with sorrow and tears. So, when I heard my friends recounting this true personal story my angry-inner-voice screamed phrases like, “Someone should have reported that abuse!” “We need to establish citizen review boards who look over complaints about specific police officers on an annual basis.” I voiced my angry thoughts to the men around me and offered practical solutions.
After I was finished with my short list of proposed solutions a third church planter in Michigan said in a slow, soft tone to all involved in the conversation, “It’s not time to do something. It’s not time to offer solutions. It’s time to lament. It’s time to show sorrow with brothers who are treated unjustly. It’s time to grieve.” Shamefully, it occurred to me that I was angry over one incident that happened to two friends while my African American brothers in Christ have a tragically large archive of racist interactions that have shaped them differently than I have been shaped.
During a Sunday afternoon prayer vigil in pursuit of justice and the end of racism, a fourth African American church planter prayed aloud about how he constantly instructs his son to be docile if he is ever stopped by the police or anyone in authority. Do you know the definition of docile? The word docile means “to readily give into the command or authority of another.” That sounds agreeable at first hearing, but what does someone do when they are treated unjustly, illegally, or relentlessly pushed to provoke an angry response that could lead to an escalation of violence or worse, a fatality? To whose authority do you find refuge and rescue?
A fifth church planter in Michigan expressed on his Facebook post that he was weary and needed rest from the disappointing and hurtful remarks on social media from brothers and sisters in the Lord. Having known this man for many years, I knew it took a great deal to suppress his enthusiasm for the Lord and ministry life. Days later, I was so pleased that his family and my family shared an afternoon together on our patio with a cookout and conversation. He talked. We listened. We learned. We lamented. We are still learning.
I haven’t got all of the answers but I am determined to listen, to lament, to learn and to leverage what I can do to stop racism. Born in Flint, Michigan during 1959, I have some vivid memories of the Civil Rights Era. I’ve listened to my parents and family members who were raised in the south recall the segregation that took place before my birth. All of it sickens me. It grieves me. It makes me angry. It may do the same to you. Yet, mere feelings aren’t going to change anything; so, my wife and I have found some personal and corporate ways to help create a better world. A world more in-tune with God’s desires. I hope you are spending time with the Lord, and learning from others who are not the same color as you to discover what God wants you to do.
Racism has to stop! I love the words of Paul who reminds us in Acts 17:26-27 (ESV) that we are one human race created by Almighty God. Paul said to the Athenians, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . . that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” I am convinced that if we will pursue deeper relationships with people who are different from us in color that our impact will be greater upon this world so that more people will feel their way toward God and find him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.