by Reverend P. Edwin Harris
I took the time to listen carefully to your sermon of June 7, 2020; and I wanted to address what was preached that day. But before I start, I need to give you some facts about my life and ministry so you will have the context for why I am writing to you. Please excuse the length of this letter, the topic of race relations can be complicated. Trust me that I have edited this letter many times to be as loving and as brief as possible.
I grew up in racially mixed communities in the sixties and the seventies. I went to a predominately black high school, and many of my close friends are black. We keep in touch through Facebook. My family is interracial. My daughter in-law is from Nigeria. My wife is from Colombia, and three of our children are in inter-racial marriages too. As a pastor, church planter, and volunteer prison chaplain / evangelist: I have worked and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to different racial groups for more than 30 years. Even though I have never been arrested or served time in prison, for the last 10 years, God has led me to minister predominately to African-American and Mexican-American prisoners in the California penal system where I teach four Christian Theology classes a week. Therefore, I have extensive real-life experience and expertise in the healing of racial divides within the most racist environment. When I minister, I am locked in a maximum-security prison chapel alone with 20 to 30 convicted violent felons with histories of deep-seated racial hatred against White people. And due to God’s grace and my attitude to treat all these men with respect as men, I have never experienced any violent backlash. I have been the spiritual father to hundreds of inmates of every race. I am loved and deeply respected for my bold preaching of the Word of God that challenges them to look at their own heart issues and to take personal responsibility for their lives in Christ Jesus.
Through the years, I have confronted and rebuked White racist, Black racist, Latino racist, Asian racist, Armenian racist, and every other kind of racist you can find in and out of prison. I have seen many of these bigoted prisoners come to faith in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins and racist ways, forgive their abusers, and then love and care for their brothers in Christ of every race. Once I was invited to the home of a self-described Grand-Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan where I rebuked him of his evil racism, and appealed to him to repent, forgive Blacks and to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save his soul. He admitted to me that he was wrong but was unwilling to give up his ways when I last saw him.
When I was 16, prior to my new birth a year later, I was violently attacked by a group of men as I waited for the city bus outside my High School. They were black gang members who beat and kicked me mercilessly just because I was a “white boy.” They were still kicking me as the bus pulled up. The driver opened the door of the bus and I tried to crawl inside to get away from my attackers. But the driver closed the door in my face and left me there to suffer more abuse. Eventually, these criminals stopped sadistically beating me, and I was left lying on the ground. I still suffer physically from this beating over 40 years later. I could have learned to hate Black people because of this episode, but when I was born-again by the Holy Spirit, God removed the hate from my heart and I was able to forgive them and to love there eternal souls. Thus, God turned this horrendous evil perpetrated against me, into an empathetic heart for all those who have been victimized by racist events. God also gave me a heart to love my enemy and to preach salvation and deliverance to racist criminal gang members.
Also, it is important for you to know that I am former military and have experienced the joy of working with, commanding, and serving Black and Hispanic enlisted men and officers. Likewise, it is important that you know that my wife is a former police officer.
With that being said, I must tell you that I was deeply disturbed by the sermon on race preached by you on June 7, 2020. In all fairness, I hope and pray that you will take the time to read this “yes, but.” letter even though in your sermon you dismissed anyone out of hand who might have a “yes, but” objection.
I believe you misstated the problem of race and race relations in America. And I believe therefore, you unjustly condemned the innocent as well as the guilty. I do not assume omniscience to know your heart and motives for such a message and believe your intentions were to make things better rather than worse. But in the end, I believe the effect of the sermon was to promote a nonspecific philosophical agenda of racial division. And thus, created more racial problems than genuine healing. I believe you missed the opportunity to proclaim the principles of Biblical equal justice as the solution to racism. Again, I cannot judge your heart, or your motives, and I assume you were operating in good faith. But I sense the need to respond in love based upon my experience and expertise in racial healing. So please give me the same assumption of good faith even though this letter may be an uncomfortable challenge to your experience, education, presuppositions, and sensibilities.
So, what does the Bible teach about authentic justice? Here is a recent article I published on the subject.
“A false balance is abomination to the Lord, but just weight his delight.” Proverb 11:1
This small but mighty verse is the foundation for authentic justice and civil rights. What is a false balance? A traditional scale has two equal sides that are balanced on a pivot point. The goods to be purchased are placed on one side of the scale and then weights are placed on the other side. When both sides have equality or equal balance the price is determined by how much weight is required.
A corrupt merchant would keep three sets of weights. One with the true weight indicated, one with less weight as indicated and one with more weight than indicated. For people he did not like, he used the heavy marked weights and thus overcharged them. For people he liked, he used the light marked weights and undercharged them. But when the government inspectors came, he brought out the true weights for review.
Let us look at inequality in our nation. We have devolved into contentious tribes. With tribalism we have different sets of weights for different groups. We judge heavily for those not in our tribe and we judge lightly for those in our tribe. Therefore, we as a people have lost all objectivity when it comes to our social contracts. If Black Lives Matter is our only set of weights, then we will judge others without true objectivity and claim cops (the people of a different tribe) are systemically evil racist. If our weights say all cops are good and honorable in the operation of their duties, then we will weigh any critique of them as false and corrupt. The default mechanism of sinful people (all of us) is to dehumanize those who do not inhabit our perceived tribe. And thus, treat all people outside our tribe as sub-humans that deserve abuse like violent looting and riots or the misuse of police power.
But tribalism is antithetical to the Biblical justice system of equal balances and equal rights. The American ideal of E Pluribus Unum, out of many one, is an anti-tribal philosophy that is based on individual action and merit. Each person must be weighed in the balance for who they are, and how they contribute good or evil to our society. Thus, the symbol of justice is a blindfolded woman with scales in her hand. She is blindfolded so that the scales of justice can work without prejudice. Authentic justice must never tip the scales one way, or another based on tribalism, race, social status, gender, history, fraternal allegiance, or political associations.
‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” Leviticus 19:15
As we evaluate our neighbor let us remember: Some people deserve credit because they are builders and innovators. Others deserve credit because they are the protectors of what has been built. Yet, others are destroyers. They destroy what the builders build, and the protectors protect to serve the carnal interests of themselves or their preferred tribe. I have spent many years working as a carpenter. It takes time and hard work to build houses; but it takes just moments to tear them apart. Likewise, as a pastor, it takes years of hard work and dedication to build people up with the truth of Scripture, but it only takes moments to tear them down with false teaching, subjective propaganda, hate and prejudice.
Do you use just weights as you examine people, races, social groups, and political parties, or do you give unrighteous preference to your tribe? Do you take the time to study the objective facts or do you let subjective emotions tip the scales in your tribe’s favor? Let us get our fingers off the scales and see people for who they truly are, sinners with the potential for both good and evil actions. Reject the idea that your tribe is endowed with inherent moral superiority. Reject being the minion of a particular race or political movement. Be your own person and judge people and events with accurate objective measures on how they have contributed positively to build up and protect our society or have sought to tear it apart.
Reverend P. Edwin Harris – June 2, 2020
Therefore, Pastor, all injustice is a sin problem much more than a race problem. Likewise, we are all sinners capable of hate, violence, injustice, and prejudice. The man who killed George Floyd, in my opinion, did it because he was a sinner who unjustly killed a man, and it turned my stomach. But he had history with George Floyd and could have had many different motives for this killing. How do we know that his motive was racist and not some kind of personal animus based on their history? Do we really promote Biblical principles if we unjustly judge the motives of a man’s heart? Or do we unrighteously assume all white cop / black suspect interactions are racist events? This is Biblically unjust and unfair. Racism may well have been the motive, but assuming the white cop, or for that matter most white cops are racist is unsubstantiated bigotry against white cops, and unjustly tipping the scales. And this is what the term “systemic racism” implies. Only God knows the truth of what was in the man’s thoughts and heart at the time of the incident. Is it just to condemn whole groups of people without firsthand knowledge of their thoughts and hearts? No. This is just another example of tribal bigotry.
Pastor, have you read the website for Black Lives Matter in an objective way? What you will find there is the worst kind of racial stereotypes, radical destructive agendas, and propaganda against the nuclear family, Whites, white men, and police officers based purely on racial bigotry, emotional manipulation, and wild hyperbole. How does preferring one type of bigotry over another create racial harmony? Do you really believe white cops are hunting down black males? This is not supported by the statistics. There are over 1 million police interactions with the public every year. In 2019 there were only 9 unarmed black males killed by the police according to the New York Times. Even if we assume that all 9 were unjustified, that means only .0000009 percent of these encounters led to unjustified Black deaths. Obviously one of these deaths is too many, and every effort must be made to stop them. Even so, Pastor, do you claim omniscient power to know the motives for these presumed unjustified deaths? Were they all due to white racism? Or could there have been many other causes and motives? And why should the 99% of good cops be slandered and vilified because of a few, but still too many bad apples? In fact, statistically a black man is more likely to be shot by a black police officer than a white one.
In your sermon, I felt, you said, that if our thoughts did not automatically assume racism as the cause of George Floyd’s death then we must admit that we harbor racist tendencies. But maybe we did not assume racism because we did not assume to know all the facts about the case and because we humbly acknowledge that we are not omniscient.
I commend you for your great and warranted empathy for George Floyd, his family, and all other Blacks who have been unjustly persecuted in our country. I feel just as you do about it. But, where is the empathy in this sermon for all the thousands upon thousands of innocent victims of the looting, arson, vandalism, and murders caused by the rioters? Where is the equal and balanced outrage for the 80 plus police officers unrighteously assassinated by criminals last year? Where is your ire about the scores of people shot in American cities each week, mostly Blacks? Where is the moral outrage for the gross hatred and bigotry against the police within the rap and hip-pop culture that constantly call for violence and the destruction of cops?
Likewise, I believe you slandered the entire justice system of this country because more blacks are incarcerated than whites. And, unjustly rebuked those of us who want to trust the justice system in these matters. You used the example white and black drug use as examples of injustice. This may be so and should be addressed. But your conclusion that whites per capita commit the same amount of crimes as blacks is ignorant of many other facts that mitigate this argument. For example, black on black violence is epidemic this country. Where is your righteous indignation about this much greater problem to Blacks in the Black community? Also, there is more crime in black communities because violent street gangs are a dominate feature in them. Whereas violent street gangs are not prevalent in most white communities. Furthermore, there is more glorification of criminals and lawlessness in the Hip Hop sub-culture within the Black community inciting people to a life of crime. This music and lifestyle glorify gang-like violent activity and bigotry against women, society and especially the police. Most of the prisoners I deal with in my prison ministry are former gang members. There are very few Blacks or Latinos in prison who are not gang affiliated. And the repentant prisoners will tell you of the evils of the gang-bang culture themselves.
Furthermore, active gang members are the most tribal and racist people you will ever meet. The Black and Hispanic gangs hate each other, and they both hate the White gangs, and they all hate the cops who they mistakenly believe is just another rival gang looking for power. So, the real problem in our culture is the exponential rise of organized crime gangs preying on innocent Black and Brown people who depend on the police for survival. And in many cases, the police are the only protection they have. So, Pastor, where is your righteous indignation for these victims of gangland crime, and balanced thankfulness and praise for the police who stop gang crime and violence every day?
Therefore, the statistics do not tell the whole story. And lest you think me racist for telling you the truth, many black leaders and pastors will tell you the same thing if you are willing to listen to the vast number of them who denounce retribution based race policies and the Black Lives Matter agenda. Black writers like the brilliant Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Shelby Steele, Dr. Carol Swain and Dr. Walter Williams, have written extensively on the subject. You can find their videos on YouTube.
The system is not the problem. Sinners like you and me in the system are the problem. Where sinners exist, injustice exists on all sides. When we fight all sin and offer God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, we fight injustice. Thus, when the church’s primarily focus is on sound evangelism and seeking authentic revival, history proves all systems improve. But when the church focus is on human philosophies of relative social justice the systems degenerate. Fewer born-again people in the system means a degenerating system. Do you want to help people of every race? Preach the Word, the Blood, the Cross and the Resurrection of our Lord. The country does not need better humanistic institutions, it needs more redeemed people in these institutions.
Furthermore, Blacks and other minorities are not helpless victims of their backgrounds, personal histories, or the injustices of society. It is a very racist idea to think that many Blacks cannot be set free from the conditions that hurt them. That Blacks cannot overcome things like poverty, poor schools, family problems, absentee fathers, peer pressure and unequal justice systems, unless white people rescue them from the White sins of the past. This mindset, in the opinion of many Black intellectuals is arrogant, bigoted, condescending, and false. What ever happened to, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me?” Every minority prisoner and gang member I have ever met (thousands of them), know people of the same race and social economic background who have overcome their environment because of faith in Jesus Christ.
Minority people are awesome, they have the power, the intellect, the ingenuity and the ability, just like you and me, to make better choices, to have better lives, and to resist the temptations and pitfalls of society through the indwelt power of Jesus Christ. True, injustice may happen to people of color more often, but it never has the power to keep God’s adopted children from being overcomers. The authentic Gospel of the new birth makes anyone of any race more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul was horribly abused, did his circumstances keep him from being able to overcome his adversity? No.
Ultimately, it is not our job to save the world. It is our job to save people out of this world. Ultimately it is not our job to bring justice to a chronically corrupt and sinful world. It is our job to prepare people for the world to come though the washing of regeneration. It is not our job to build the Kingdom of God, only Jesus can personally do that when He returns. It is our job to recruit members for that ultimate kingdom to come. Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world. Let us try to make the systems better, and I have done this as a former elected political reformer. But most of all, let us get back to the business of seeking to save individual souls for the glory of God.
In your message you left out the ultimate reality and key application of the Book of Job. Job is not without failings and sin by the end of the story. Because he is victimized, Job allows his heart to harden against God. Job does not lose his faith during adversity for he speaks the key verse, “though He (God) slay me, yet will I trust Him.” But Job does loose his trust in God’s ability to be just. Job, like many victims of crime and injustice tend to see themselves as righteous because of their suffering and pain. Thus, Job during his trial became self-righteous and proud. He wanted to stand before God and demand justice. Like Job, victims of hate crimes like racism often lose their ability to see themselves as sinners. Thus, at the end the book, God confronts Job about his self-righteous and sinful attitude. See, in the end, Job had to humble himself and admit that he too was a sinner just like the rest of us. Therefore, when preachers lose sight that victims of crime are unworthy sinners too, they do them a great disservice. Without seeking the forgiveness of God for his sin, Job would have missed out on salvation because Job needed the forgiveness, mercy, and grace of God to be redeemed. George Floyd likewise needed the forgiveness, mercy, and grace of God to be redeemed and I hope this was true for him. Because the condition of his soul at his death should be vastly more important than the manner of his death to a minister of God.
But let us not forget, George Floyd’s killer has an eternal soul too. He also needs the forgiveness, grace, and mercy of God to be saved. And God’s forgiveness is available to him also should he turn to Christ for redemption. Or do we forget that both Moses and David were forgiven murderers and redeemed for God’s glory? In recent years, many pastors have ceased to use Biblical terms to categorize people like lost or found, sinners or saints, and saved or unsaved. So, the only categories left to “woke” church culture is the Karl Marx notion of the oppressors and the oppressed. If all we can see through our tribal rose colored glasses is innocent victims or evil oppressors the we have lost the Biblical perspective of Jesus Christ who sees all people as desperate lost souls that are both abusive sinners and the victims of abusive sin. Thus, we lose the ability to see everyone’s need for salvation and redemption. Therefore, because we all fall short of God’s glory, we all need the forgiveness, mercy, and grace of God to enter His future righteous kingdom; where all this pain, suffering and tears from abuse will be washed away by our Savior.