“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” – 2 Cor 5:16-18
Shortly after the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, president Obama weighed in with a seemingly odd commentary that “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” He’s caught a lot of flak from “the right” over the comment as a bit of unnecessary drama and perhaps even intentional stoking of racial tensions – sort of a “choosing sides” if you will. I think there is quite possibly a more collegial explanation though, that the president was merely trying to humanize the victim. There is an assumption by many black Americans (and I’m not saying whether it’s correct or incorrect) that white America doesn’t view them with the same compassion, the same empathy, the same equality of life.
Whether it’s true or not (and undoubtedly there has to be some grain of truth to it, perhaps just in the subconscious) it is not the way things should be amongst the Christians … and the nation is 80% Christian (by self-identification). As we see in Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, our relationship to each other, our loving each other as “formed in the image of God” is not contingent on race or gender. (Indeed, John goes one further in 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”)
Regardless of the president’s motivations, I imagine there have been moments since then when he regretted making the statement. First off, the president has to be the president for the entire country, and “picking sides” in these matters just doesn’t serve anyone. Secondly, I don’t recall the president describing the hundreds of black teenagers gunned down in his hometown of Chicago on a yearly basis as having similar appearance to a plausible son he might have. Is the tragedy somehow more heinous because the victim was black and the perpetrator was not?
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is fair for the president, or anyone for that matter, to describe this or that death as more tragic than some other based on the underlying circumstances. One might cry for a friend who has been gunned down, but if he was gunned down after he was caught in bed with another man’s wife the violence seems perhaps “less senseless” (we know quite well why he died).
If I had a grown son, he might look like Chris Lane …
A few days ago a 22 year old Australian named Chris Lane, who was in the states to attend college and play baseball, was gunned down by three teenagers as he went for a jog. Yes, the victim was white. Yes, two of the alleged assailants were black, one was … well, I’m not sure (I’ve only seen one photo, but he looks white). But the race of the victim and/or the assailants is not what makes this tragic
There was no purpose. Lane wasn’t killed by someone defending himself, or his wife & kids, or his house. He wasn’t killed in a misunderstanding with, and perhaps even profiling by, an over-zealous neighborhood watchman. He was killed as he jogged peacefully down the street in broad daylight, for no apparent reason.
If I had a grandfather, he might look like Delbert Belton …
My paternal grandfather died when I was two months old, I never knew him. This has saddened me from time to time not because I know what I lost out on, but because I know how my father felt about his father, and I know how I felt about my father, and I know that can only mean that I really wish I had met my grandfather.
My maternal grandfather died when I was 19. I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at the time, and my sister was a junior at NC State just down the road. We drove from Chapel Hill, NC to West Palm Beach, FL together for the funeral. Honestly, that road trip is one of my fondest memories of my sister, who died just last year in a plane crash.
While I certainly remember my mother’s father, I was one of thirty or so grandkids and our family was one of the farther removed from the homestead. We didn’t hang out that often. Still, I loved him, and admired him, and missed him when he was gone.
Just last night, Delbert Belton, an 88-year-old WWII vet who was shot in the leg during the battle of Okinawa, was beaten to death by two punk kids in the parking lot of the Eagles Lodge in Spokane WA. Yes, Belton was white. Yes, the suspects (and they are just suspects here, not even apprehended yet) appear to have been black. But Belton’s death would have been just as tragic had he been assaulted by two white punks. The man risked his life 70 years ago to defend freedom for their grandparents, and they beat him to death … for no apparent reason. (Yes, if the assailants were black then the “freedom” Belton fought for may not have been freedom they fully enjoyed yet. Regardless, he risked his life for the freedom of a nation, even if it wasn’t a fully free nation yet.)
Fifty years ago the murders of Chris Lane or Delbert Belton would likely pass with little national attention. Sure, there were prominent murders that made the news across the nation (like Medgar Evers or Emmitt Till), but by-and-large murders got local attention and little more. Not so today. In the information age much of the country is clued in to senseless violence like this on a daily basis. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing – I think it is a good thing actually – but you can rest assured that if folks are looking for reasons to confirm biases about tendency toward random violence by certain portions of society … stories like these don’t help. Stories like these … and statements by the president about how some victims look like him, don’t help.