It’s been four years, but it feels like it all happened yesterday. The first week of July 2016 was tumultuous. The nation was rocked by two killings of Black men at the hands of law-enforcement officials. On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after an altercation with police officers. Philando Castile was shot and killed the next day after alerting a police officer that he was legally carrying a gun.

The fires of rage and fear burned through social-media sites all over the country as the murders of Philando and Alton made national and international headlines. Massive demonstrations and protest erupted across the country. The string of racially charged tragedies was causing enormous psychological and social disruption.

This was a racial crisis. As hard as it was to process the loss and social unrest, I wasn’t prepared for the psychological distress that would hit as my good white friends and fellow white pastors sat back and said nothing. At first, I was puzzled by the silence. The national conversation on police brutality and systemic racism was at a fever pitch. You couldn’t ignore it, but it was being ignored by the people who I cared about and who I knew cared for me.  The following Sunday morning, my pastor spent more time talking about police officers and the need to protect them than the Black people who are victims of police brutality.

I was struck by the silence of good white people. It was deafening. It was painful. They knew I was in pain. When I would try and talk to them, I was gaslighted. “Look at the video, Dorrell. He clearly reached for something.” “You’re overacting, Dorrell.” “Let’s just love each other and stick to the Gospel.” “We don’t need a civil rights leader, we need pastors.” These statements we’re harmful and destructive. I would often second guess myself as I engaged in these conversations.

I realized through the silence and emotionally manipulative conversations that many white Christians were unprepared to talk about race in America. I realized that if the church is to respond to these racially charged tragedies in a way that brings healing and hope to individuals, communities, and cities plagued with despair, it must prepare for them. The church is meant to proclaim salvation, reconciliation, and equality. Scripture is full of stories and passages that communicate God’s heart for justice.

The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent uproar they produced are not isolated events. The disruption that these events bring is profound and disproportionately affects Black people. White silence is appalling and deafening. Racism must be forcefully confronted and spoken out against by white Christians. I realized that I must follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and use my voice, ingenuity, and leadership to continue their fight against individual and systemic injustices. I realized that when Jesus encountered an evil spirit in the synagogue in Mark 1, He was not silent. He didn’t gaslight the crowd. He didn’t ignore the evil. He spoke up and addressed it publicly and then removed it from His presence.

Briscoe Ph.D. '17 is a writer, speaker, pastor, and public theologian. He focuses on the intersectionality of race, religion, law, and power. He is married to Tracy, and father to Luke, Noah, Amelia Hope, and Ella Grace.

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