Pastor, teacher, and my friend Ramón De Suze was kind enough to answer some questions I had relating to race, his experience as a black man in America, and where the church ties in to all of this. My questions are in bold.
Many white Americans are expressing total shock at the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Were you personally shocked by these murders?
As a human being, I am disgusted by the excessive force used to take the lives of these people. The one thing they had in common, which should alarm us, is that they were black; African American. So yes, I was shocked to the core. I am a black person. Any time a black person dies at the hands of law enforcement, presumably because of their race, that tells me it could have been me. That hurts me deeply.
Can you speak into your experience as a black male in America? In what ways is your experience different from that of a white-American male?
Well, that is an interesting question. I am a Hispanic man and I am also a black man. I’ve been called a gangster by a colleague, I’ve been stared at by store clerks, women have clutched their purses to their bodies when they’ve seen me coming. When I go for a walk, I’m aware that some people may see me as a threat, not because I am, but because black men have been stereotyped as violent. I always try to be extra nice. I feel like I have to be “on my game” whenever I am around people I do not know. White males on a regular basis don’t worry about not going home after being pulled over by a cop. They don’t have people move away from them in the elevator, or walk on the other side of the road when people see them coming. They can go for a run and no one would think anything of it. This is not the same experience for a regular black man in America.
Do you feel the issue at hand needs addressing from the pulpit? If so, how should leaders proceed? How should they not proceed?
This issue most definitely should be addressed from the pulpit. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If there is a group which has endured oppression and the people of God don’t speak against it, then the fullness of the Gospel is not being preached. Jesus elevated everyone. Jesus went out of His way to go speak to a Samaritan woman, who were hated by the Jewish people. She was even shocked that He would sit there and talk with her. He spoke truth to her and His disciples were shocked when they got to the scene. She was saved and her entire village was saved. They were saved because Jesus cares for people regardless of their ethnicity. Leaders should not only preach on it, seek to educate themselves and their congregations, but also find practical ways in which they can create spaces for people of different races to connect. Avoiding to talk about it is exactly what they should not do.
How can Christians navigate the often overlapping political and religious and social issues which may cause a variety of resistance from individuals and the community at large?
Jesus said “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” We need to focus our attention on the things that matter to God, which were modeled by Jesus. Jesus cared for the outcasts of society, he cared for the poor, for the hurting. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of men. The Kingdom of God begins in the soul of a person. We must stand with God and not allow our political ideologies, agendas and party preferences to cloud our focus and mission as Kingdom minded people. We were born again to be an extension of His Kingdom, not ours. We need to stay in our lane. We live in a polarizing culture. We don’t have to take sides; Jesus never took sides.
As Christians, what is our response to these blatant (and sometimes subtle) injustices to be?
We need to stand for what is right. Call out injustice when we see it. We need to champion the cause of the oppressed. Jesus did it. The religious leaders of his time only cared for their own, we cannot adopt that model. We must bring hope to a hurting world and let them know that God cares. The church at large should use her influence to bring attention to these issues of injustice which continue to perpetuate a cycle of disenfranchisement. We need to let people know that we believe that not only everyone was created equal, but that everyone should be treated, cared for, as an equal.
Can you speak into how churches can go about getting the conversation started?
Recognizing that it is a problem and we don’t have a silver bullet to take care of it. Being willing to embark on a long learning journey in order to bring racial reconciliation. By saying we don’t know it all or understand it, but we are willing to stand with you and love you through it. By reaching out to people in their congregations and communities and learning from their experiences. Educating themselves on these issues. Having honest conversations on these topics. Bringing in experts to teach on unconscious biases and how to fight it.
Spanish pastor and Youth Leader at Quincey Faith Community Church (Washington), Ramón grew up in Panama City, Panama and moved to Vancouver, Washington in 2000 to attend Bible college. He holds a doctorate degree in Missions and currently works in public education.