Christians Should Not Encourage Resistance to Police

The latest in the on-going, media-created narrative regarding the disproportionate incidents of police brutality against black Americans involves a pool party in a suburban area of McKinney, Texas — the video of which has expectedly gone viral.

Time and again, people are content and assured in how they feel about incidents of police brutality to the exclusion of facts pertaining to the case, especially those facts that are contrary to their initial — and reflexive — feelings.

When these incidents are sensationalized, people are going to use them to advance a disingenuous social narrative and political agenda. Christian leaders have a greater responsibility to be voices and examples of reason to be heard and followed, respectively. Yet when people of the cloth are engaged in negligent and questionable behavior that perpetuates social paranoia, it’s even more concerning.

And in my opinion, that’s what one Anglican theologian has done.

According to his website, Preston Yancey is a member of the Anglican Church in North America and is also, “employed by the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast as Canon Theologian.” In addition, Yancey is a priest-to-be who hopes to be ordained next year.

With these kinds of credentials, his Twitter-based response to the McKinney pool incident was a disappointment. Last Thursday, in a series of tweets Yancey offers up some problematic statements which — aside from condemning white privilege — appear to be advocating police resistance.

Here are some of Yancey’s tweets:

View his Twitter profile, here.

First of all, Yancey is encouraging or defending the idea that (black) people should resist arrest and “fight back” against police officers. How else can what he’s tweeted be interpreted?

And what form does fighting back take? Is Yancey speaking literally or metaphorically? Under what circumstances is it acceptable and justified? And who decides those circumstances, Yancey, or someone else? Why them?

Contrary to Yancey’s opinion, there are clear examples that fighting back against police officers simply doesn’t work. Fighting back against police officers as they attempt to assess or control a situation is foolish and can be deadly.

The idea that a soon-to-be priest is encouraging those in police custody or those being questioned by police to fight back — especially as it relates to teenagers at a pool party — is dangerously irresponsible both of Yancey and those who may recklessly contemplate his advice. Considering how many blacks have lost their lives doing exactly what Yancey suggests makes his unsolicited advice look even more destructive. Yancey says that the ‘gritty work of the kingdom is ideals within a context of valuing life,’ but responding to law enforcement through physical force — or to “fight back” as Yancey terms it — not only devalues lives because of the potential consequences of such outcomes, some of which we’ve already seen (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, for example), but it has absolutely nothing to do with “kingdom ideals.”

Now let’s distill some of Yancey’s tweets.

Yancey disagrees with Christian pacifism, evidenced by his tweet, “Anywho, for whatever it’s worth that you know this, I reject Christian pacifism as the most viable expression of the Gospel.” He also tweeted, “Kids get a gun put in their face trying to defend a girl pinned to the ground by a cop? Pacifism is not the answer here.”

Who argued ‘Christian pacifism’ as an ‘expression of the Gospel’ was the answer here? “Christian pacifism” in the context of being detained by police is irrelevant but has everything to do with how one conducts oneself in the presence of police officers, whether the situation is calm but especially when pressed with tension. Comporting oneself with humility and respect toward an officer in an effort to minimize a potential escalation is simply being smart, Christian or not. Yancey’s projection and misapplication of Christian pacifism in this situation is simply wrong.

In my opinion, Yancey reveals the motivation behind these series of misappropriated tweets when he posts, “Christian pacifism is a blind luxury of white privilege. Let’s not rush to tell people being murdered by the State to ‘calm down’,” and “… I am not the oppressed. More often than not the roused God has anger toward me and my participation in oppression.” He also says that, “There’s a whole reality I never have to think about, like being wrestled to the ground at a pool party for simply existing.”

There it is — white guilt. White guilt is the reason for these tweets. Just to be clear — white guilt with or without Jesus and the Gospel is still … white guilt.

Yancey admits that he is not part of the oppressed (presumably blacks) but is part of the “oppressor.” Though he doesn’t elaborate as to his specific contributions towards the oppression he laments (or God’s anger toward him for it), one can assume that his oppression is a consequence of his white skin. That his white guilt provokes him to encourage blacks to challenge the authorities knowing full well the recent and deadly outcomes of those who’ve acted on his unsolicited advice in advance, demonstrates how little black lives are valued by Yancey.

Further, there’s bit of irony that saturates Yancey’s tweets. That he can offer such imprudent advice to “fight back” from the comfort and security in which he lives (he admits it’s a reality he doesn’t have to think about), knowing full well that he, with or without Jesus, wouldn’t suffer the same consequences as those he’s actively encouraging — or the fate of those who did “fight back,” reflecting Yancey’s call that ended in a loss of life truly is white privilege — a naive, white privilege at that.

That Yancey — a man of God and a soon-to-be priest, is suggesting the kind of confrontation with police that invariably leads to physical injury at best, loss of life at worst, however sincere, is an abdication of his calling and his obligation to properly shepherd his flock in addition to everyone else within his sphere of influence.

Church leaders should be saying the exact opposite of what Yancey is saying. To those who may encounter police officers, however aggressive, answer them calmly and politely — even if they’re wrong.

If you’ve been wronged, it’s easier to fight that injustice if you’re still alive.

Contrasting Post Charleston Sermons

Last weekend, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, held its first church service since the massacre that claimed the lives of nine members of its congregation.

Rev. Norvell Goff- preaching because the church’s regular pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, was one of last week’s casualties- delivered a Spirit-filled sermon that honored both the lives of those who were murdered and those people who came to- and responded in- Charleston with love, prayer and forgiveness. Goff’s fiery and inspirational sermon reflected not only the community of Charleston, but also the members of the congregation- encouraging both groups to persevere in the kind of Christ-like love that actively seeks to overcome the kind of evil and race-based hatred that motivated Dylann Storm Roof to commit his terrorist acts of evil.

As a Christian, one would hope that sermons like Rev. Goff’s that encouraged love and forgiveness would have been commonplace in churches- especially black churches- this past Sunday. Again, as Rev. Goff acknowledged- and which has also been seen and wondered about by news media outlets across the country- the response of the Charleston community wasn’t to riot or loot, or to profess threats and intentions of vigilantism unless local residents were delivered a sufficient amount of what they loosely defined as “justice.” Rather, there was a clear, noticeable and appreciative lack of social disruption and economic destruction in Charleston last week- as it should be. The proper- though difficult- Christian response to a situation such as this is love, prayer, forgiveness, and spiritual edification.

Which is why it was disappointing, disheartening, and somewhat confusing to watch a clip of Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, preaching this past Sunday. Charles H. Ellis III is Senior Pastor of Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan and is currently the presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (P.A.W.).

Ellis’ sermon was the opposite of Rev. Norvell Goff’s. Where Goff sought to encourage his congregation to stay the course in courage, faith, unity, and love, Ellis sought to lay blame and in many ways, maintain racial and political division by slandering what he called “the right wing” and “Reagan Republicans.”

What does Ronald Reagan, the so-called ‘Reagan Republicans,’ or the “right wing” have to do with the reprehensible acts of Dylann Storm Roof?

Absolutely nothing.

In his sermon, Ellis confusingly castigates Ronald Reagan for rightly telling then Soviet-leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall- insinuating that Reagan’s international act of clear morality is somehow hypocritical because Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, refused to take down the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse- which to Ellis, represents an wall of separation equal to the Berlin Wall (Nikki Haley has since endorsed having the flag removed, but not because of Ellis’ sermon).

Ellis’ disingenuous attempt at (im)morally equating Ronald Reagan with Nikki Haley and the Confederate flag fails because one has nothing to do with the another, whatsoever. Technically speaking, the Confederate Battle Flag has very little to do with Republicans but a lot to do with Democrats, but I doubt very much that this historical tidbit made it into Bishop Ellis’ sermon.

And Ellis sinks further.

Though the sermon clip is edited, Ellis appears to shame Nikki Haley for calling herself (and being) a Christian while, “stand[ing] up for segregation” and “for stand[ing] up for denying people their rights.”

When and where, specifically, has Nikki Haley ever defended segregation or actively fought against giving “rights” to any of the citizens of her state? Since Ellis made the claim, he should provide incontrovertible evidence to support such morally serious charges. Charles Ellis is slandering his sister-in-Christ with these harmful allegations.

Nikki Haley shouldn’t be shamed. Charles H. Ellis III should be shamed for engaging in a false, moral equivalence and for dissembling from the pulpit.

When Republicans and conservatives- and by extension, conservative talk radio and television (which are proxies for white people) are mentioned in combination with Dylan Storm Roof, whether it’s in Ellis’ sermon or anywhere else, it’s to intentionally identify and slander both groups as racists who’re guilty of having ideologically influenced Roof to murder the Charleston Nine- even though there is no evidence to support such vilification. I expect this level of dishonesty from politicians, television pundits, and Bill Maher- types who’re looking to score political points, but not from a pastor of Ellis’ stature and influence. For Ellis or anyone else to politicize the deaths of those martyred in Emanuel A.M.E. Church is to do a disservice to the lives lost and the faith they shared prior to their deaths. Again, that a pastor would do this from the pulpit is disgraceful.

Furthermore, that Ellis politicized these deaths and blamed Roof’s malicious acts on the ‘right wing’ and ‘Reagan Republicans,’ rather than on sin that brings forth and nurtures evil undermines his moral and pastoral credibility, and goes directly to his character. As Jesus said, things that cause people to stumble are sure to come, as day follows night, but woe unto them though whom these stumbling blocks come.

More to the point- how does Ellis’ sermon serve the purpose of racial reconciliation, particularly in the body of Christ? After all, some of the very people Ellis pridefully ridicules and condemns- Republicans and conservatives, including Gov. Haley- are actually his (our) brothers and sisters in Christ. Ellis intentionally perpetuates the unnecessary divisions that St. Paul warned against.

Where Rev. Goff preached a love and forgiveness- that transcended politics- worthy of the name of Christ, Bishop Ellis preached finger pointing and continued division.

Considering the racial acrimony and division the country has witnessed and suffered through the last several years, we would receive much more spiritual and civil edification if there were more sermons like the one Rev. Goff delivered this past Sunday at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, rather than the one shamelessly delivered by Bishop Charles Ellis III.