The violence and fatal shootings in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and St. Paul over the past two weeks have become such a complex web of tragedy that months of untangling may be required to comprehend the whole. For now, I will grab one strand of the heartbreak to grieve.
A few days after Alton Sterling was shot by police officers in Baton Rouge, Officer Montrell Jackson of the Baton Rouge Police Department posted these words on his Facebook page: “I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity, you realize they don’t really know you at all. Look at my actions they speak LOUD and CLEAR. … These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”*
Officer Jackson was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday morning, nine days after posting these words.
The strand I mourn over from this web of tragedy is Jackson’s experience–“You realize they don’t really know you at all.” The need to know others and be known by others lies at the core of who we are as humans created in God’s image. The Bible reveals few details about God’s existence before the creation of the world, but hints from John’s gospel show God the Father and God the Son “toward” one another, expressing love, sharing glory (John 1:1-2, 17:5, 24). Thus the only way for humans to truly reflect God’s image is in relationship with one another, like Adam and Eve’s oneness–full disclosure, devoid of shame (Genesis 2:24-25).
Officer Jackson lamented how both his uniform and his blackness barricaded him from truly being known by many in his community. On-duty he was viewed one way, and off-duty he was viewed another. His simple cry was for his loud and clear actions to speak for themselves. He felt the brunt of the curse of stereotyping.
Stereotyping is part of the fall in the same way thorns and thistles are. The soil of our hearts continually produces it, yet it bears no beneficial fruit or shade. It is not sinful in the direct sense that adultery or murder is sinful, yet it is inherent to the broken ecosystem of relationships created by our first parents’ decision to live life apart from God. In a God-forsaken world, stereotypes hold and the cycles of violence continue.
Whether we are more prone to stereotype police officers, black men, or other groups (assuming “Because you are ___, you always ____”), we must feel the wreckage of stereotyping. It blocks intimacy. It impedes harmony. For Officer Montrell Jackson, it broke his heart and led to his death. We must feel this wreckage and weep.
The way out of our own cursed stereotyping is not through diversity training or refresher courses in political correctness. Jesus is our Redeemer from all the curse, including our skewed relational patterns. Jesus modeled a life free from social or political assumptions. He castigated religious conservatives, dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, and called all to repentance and inclusion into God’s family. Like the Good Samaritan, he moved toward the helpless with no regard to their category.
Let me challenge you to such movement. Identify the group you stereotype most, and ask God to bring you into a relationship with someone from that group. Build a friendship (without the adjective–“my ___ friend”), share your heart, and point them to Jesus our Redeemer. This is not a solution to all the world’s problems, only a step of faithfulness in showing Christ to our neighbors. Yet through this witness both our words and our actions can testify to our hope at Christ’s return:
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”