No Love without Respect
From the church newsletter....
In the United States this week, a distinguished black professor at Harvard University was arrested for breaking into his own home, when the front door would not open properly. It was a news event comparable to throwing a match into petrol. There have been bitter recriminations from all sides of the debate. Even the president got involved.
I read some wise words by Rev Jim Wallis.
(Professor) Gates being arrested on his front porch after a report of breaking into his own home seems both incredulous and, at the same time, not surprising to most black people in America.
And that is the script of this racial drama being played out about the professor and the police officer. What most strikes me about the story is how neither participant was able to get out of the script of the sad story of the relationship between black people and white police in America..... most agree that Officer Crowley is not the typical racist white cop, but rather one with an exemplary record, and is even a police trainer on matters of racial sensitivity and profiling. Most agree that the combination of outrage, ego, and jet lag likely provoked the wrath of Skip Gates on a white cop answering a suspected burglary call and treating him like a suspect at his own home. From what we can piece together from the conflicting accounts of the angry words that ensued between them, it is clear to me that both got caught up in the script, and neither was able to extricate himself from it.
Much of the commentary on the event, also simply "followed the script." You could more or less predict the tone of an article before reading it, if you knew the general stance of the newspaper in which it occurred! We know the same is true of political and news debate here in Australia.
Jim Wallis talked about breaking the script.
....But the second lesson is about the script itself and how to get out of it. The best way to defuse, diminish, and ultimately dismantle its power is to show even excessive respect in potential situations of conflict. Let's call it "affirmative respect" as a parallel to affirmative action. Nothing defuses a potential conflict like proactively showing such respect in just these kinds of situations....
We all have our own scripts. In our house, if Wendy and I get in a fight, I can pretty much tell you how it will go. There's a script. It comes out of habit. It comes out of our own weaknesses and personal histories and woundings.
Churches, unfortunately, have their own scripts, too. Think about the patterns of grumbling that happen here when we are not happy. Think about the sides we take. How often do we follow a pattern, or script, that is not really related to the issue at hand! How predictable we sometimes are. It's like we have read a pre-script-ion, written for us by some bad doctor, as though that's the way we have to treat all our problems.
In the USA, the president, is trying to break the script in this case. He has invited the two men around to the White House for a beer. He'd make a good Australian neighbour, even if not a traditional Methodist!
Churches are supposed to be the place where we learn to break with the script we have been issued for life, and live in a new way.
1 Peter 2:9-10 says
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
There are any number of texts that echo this kind of change. Think about them in terms of breaking the script and living a new life. Not only are we to be a place to learn to break the scripts, we are meant to be a safe place to try out new ways of relating. We are to be a place of hospitality to meet people from "the other side," and re-learn ways to live.
Wallis has chosen well in his comment about excessive respect and affirmative respect. If our fellow members are God's people, and of a royal priesthood, surely they deserve respect. Any person, of our church or not, is made in the image of God. Surely they deserve respect.
Respect is one of the key foundations of discipleship of Jesus, for respect for others is a key component of love. Without respect there is no love.
Perhaps one measure of our discipleship is to ask just how well we are doing this. Are we letting the example of Jesus intervene, and sitting down and learning new ways? Or are we simply trotting out the old tired arguments?
You can read Jim Wallis' full article on the web Sojourners Blog
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.