This has been the long and hot summer.
With average temperatures hovering around 90 degrees all summer in this country, experts have already declared this summer the hottest summer ever.
But, it isn’t simply the empirical weather indicators that suggest this has been a long and hot summer, we know it for ourselves. We have felt it. We have seen and perceived it.
In this summer alone, we have seen young men shot and killed by police while obeying lawful commands. We have seen young people killed by neighborhood vigilantes for leaving a party. We’ve seen young women beaten by law enforcement officers, young healthy people die in the state’s custody.
We’ve seen Chicago. We’ve seen Minnesota. We’ve seen New Orleans and New York. We’ve seen Atlanta and Baltimore.
And now, Milwaukee.
After a Milwaukee police officer shot and killed Sylville Smith, hundreds, if not thousands, of young people took to the streets to show their displeasure for not only the shooting, but for what they perceive are tremendous wealth and racial disparities that exist within one of the nation’s most segregated cities.
It’s been a long and hot summer.
And, by and large as it relates to Milwaukee, most observers have followed the Racial Tragedy Playbook carefully — feigned shock, surprise and outrage about “how those people could do that to their own neighborhood,” politicians blaming other politicians for exacerbating the situation, and the self-appointed leaders who have traveled to the city to help … and enhance their personal brands.
Even the religious community is following the playbook. Pastors have led prayer marches, called for peace, and have opened their doors to the community to help sort the complex emotions that seem to always accompany political turmoil.
That is the good work.
There will, however, be another contingent within the faith community that will seek to condemn the actions of the young people in Milwaukee, and admonish them before listening to their concerns.
I’m waiting patiently for them to speak, but they will perhaps say what they always say in the midst of social turmoil.
You know, they’ll say things like violence and rioting are against God’s will, and that the Bible condemns any kind of sedition or uprising against the government. You know, the things they always say.
And then, these faith leaders will punctuate their point, bring it home if you will, by sprinkling in a few passages from the Bible.
I certainly believe that the Christian God is a peaceful God, and one that would encourage us to love each other when it would be easier to hate.
But, I’m troubled by our religious community’s characterization of young Milwaukee’s actions as contrary to God’s will without speaking to them.
You see, in the gospel of Luke in the 23rd chapter, we see that the Roman Empire made similar claims about Jesus. The gospel says:
And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”
But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”
—Luke 23:2, 5 NIV
Yes. The Roman officials specifically accused Jesus of Nazareth of creating riots and opposing the good order of the government without ever fully understanding his motives.
Had they done so — listened to the motives for his actions — they would have heard him indicate that he disagreed with the political system of Rome and how it treated the Jewish and poor people who lived within its boundaries.
They would have heard Jesus explain how he attempted to share his concerns with the government in a constructive manner, but nobody would listen.
They would have heard that he desired equality for his people, economic justice, and freedom.
I don’t condone violence or sedition. But, doesn’t this all sound familiar?