On Monday morning, December 22, I had a meeting scheduled with a group of five pastors (three African-American pastors and two Caucasian pastors) to discuss how we might stand together in the midst of the racial tensions in Milwaukee. Ironically, as we were walking into the meeting, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office announced that there would be no charges in the Dontre Hamilton shooting case. This quickly changed the agenda and sense of urgency within our meeting.
The Dontre Hamilton case has added to the stream of cases, particularly over the past year, which raises questions about systemic issues of racial disparities in the implementation of justice in our nation. Along with the well-known cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York, the shooting of Dontre Hamilton increases the subtle sense that something is amiss in the way African-American men, even if committing crimes, are experiencing the implementation of justice in our nation. This is a complex situation that is bigger than just one element, whether law enforcement, educational opportunities, employment possibilities, or more.
I have talked with many individuals over the past few weeks who are trying to understand exactly what happened, what the meaning of this outcome is, and how we should respond as Christians in the face of these challenging times. As a pastor of a multiethnic church here in Milwaukee, I believe that the strongest witness happens when we journey together across our diverse backgrounds into a learning process that involves listening, speaking, and some very healthy reflection. Regardless of your opinions on the above matters, as followers of Jesus Christ we must approach these issues based upon God’s Word in the Scriptures.
A clear biblical response to this situation is to grieve. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We should mourn with the family of Dontre Hamilton, who lost a loved one in a way that no one would ever desire. Regardless of our ethnicity, we should mourn together as one with the African-American community who sense that things are not as they should be. Regardless of our opinions, we should mourn for the tragic killing of two police officers in New York City in an apparent act of vengeance for the outcome of the Eric Garner case. Regardless of our politics, we should mourn over our own city which ranks so highly in ethnic segregation, poverty, violent crime, racial disparities for incarceration, and more. A healthy biblical response is to grieve about this local situation in Milwaukee, as well as the situation that is shaking our nation. Read the rest of this entry »