#GeorgeFloyd sparked this post, but by the time you read it, it could be another.
The video popped up on my Twitter timeline yesterday, and before I even watched, I could see what was about to take place from the posture of the policeman.
Oh, Dear God, no.
A sinking feeling. A sense of powerlessness. Despair.
I want to look away, but what I have to see, others have to live.
Worse is the realization that these murders of black men and women have not simply proliferated in our modern age. Camera phones have just given black communities the ability to put these images in front of willfully ignorant white folks like me. People who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. People who really would just rather not know.
The whole situation reminds me of Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), a missionary to India white evangelicals love to champion. When Carmichael arrived in India, her ministry began simply enough: going house to house, village to village, with a group of ladies seeking to spread the gospel with whomever would listen.
Carmichael quickly began to realize that there was a system of oppression that served as a stumbling block to evangelism. She writes, “Caste is a thing with an iron hand: it grips, and it grips to death.” Whenever a woman expressed interest in the gospel—for the men had absolutely no interest whatsoever—it was the same story. The brothers of one young lady said, “Baptized! [That is always the crux, because it involves loss of caste]. She shall burn in ashes first. She may go out dead if she likes. She shall go out living—never!”
Amy’s heart was drawn to those most oppressed by the caste system: widows and children. Young girls were often auctioned like chattel to whomever offered the highest caste, wealth, and position. Missionary nurses who frequently cared for these child-brides witnessed heartbreaking atrocities first hand. Carmichael’s publishers censored the grizzliest tales from her books:
Carmichael continued to write feverishly about the plight of young women and children in India, pleading with evangelicals back home to care. She began to unfold for her Western audience in books like Things As They Are and From the Fight the way innocent children were been systemically polluted through the practice of temple prostitution:
In response to this system of oppression, the Dohnavur Fellowship was born—almost by accident. On March 6, 1901, a seven year-old girl named Preena was rescued from temple prostitution and brought to Amy. Word spread of Amma’s compassion (Amma means “Mother”). Three years later, she had care of 17 children. In 1911, she wrote: “We began the nursery work in a little, long, low mud-room, which was kitchen, food-room, night and day nursery, all in one. Now we have spread into nine nurseries and a kindergarten… and are in the throes of building several new cottage nurseries.”
My point is not about orphanages or India. Carmichael’s publishers were worried about offending the sensibilities of their Western readers: They don’t really want to know.
Carmichael’s words will haunt me forever:
“Where the dotted lines come, there was written what cannot be printed…It cannot be written or published or read, but oh, it has to be lived! And what you may not even hear, must be endured by little girls.”
In this era of camera phones, we are being forced to reckon with what lies behind the dotted lines.
In our clean Sunday best and our pristine church programs, we were never forced to look at what was taking place in the neighborhood on the other side of town. We never had to look into the face of a man pressed into the pavement. We never had to witness the truth. But the truth has found us out.
The legacy of Amy Carmichael confronts us. It will not be enough to shake our heads and say, “Well, we just have to convert the lost one sinner at a time.” What Carmichael realized in India was a satanic system of oppression that served as an effective shield against salvation. What is worse, she saw a system that degraded an entire people made in the image of God.
The system had to be dismantled. Holes had to be punched. Tunnels had to be burrowed through the wall. And as they did, masses of women and children came pouring through the breaches to experience the healing and safety of Christ’s embrace in the arms of Amy.
In The Continuation of the Story, Carmichael writes about an eight year-old whose widowed mother passed away in the hospital. A nurse rescued the girl before temple priests could get their hands on her, and brought her to the Dohnavur Fellowship. At first the child was aloof and cautious. However, Carmichael writes:
Brothers and sisters, we cannot look away.
To use the words of Amy Carmichael, what we are witnessing on our Twitter feeds does not even begin to “skirt the abyss” of the wickedness and evil we willingly ignore.
“In the name of all that is just and all that is merciful it should be swept out of the land without a day’s delay!”
Sweeping change requires evangelism. Amy knew that. So do we. Sweeping change also requires the courage to actively dismantle the system. Amy knew that, too. Do we?
Ignorance is one thing. But once we have seen what lies behind the dotted lines, we are accountable.
Will you feel sad again?
When will feeling sad finally prove an empty gesture?
Wherever we have been scattered as elect exiles, God has put us there to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). We are the in breaking of the kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world fall and Christ’s Kingdom rises as the Spirit works in us to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)
What will you do about what is happening behind the dotted lines?
I have no doubt that the Amy Carmichaels of America will rise from the ranks of our dark-skinned brothers and sisters. To my white brothers and sisters: Listen to their earnest pleading! Join them! Follow their lead! We must become the breaches in the wall–a wall we have intentionally or unwittingly help build. Only then will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
God have mercy on us.