The Urban Grind

Standing Between Two Worlds Pt. II | Police & Community


I stand between two worlds.

I stand between black and white, but I also stand between law enforcement and community engagement. I am a recently trained and certified member of the inaugural Chattanooga Police Department Chaplain Corps. I am also pastor to gang members and community residents in a neighborhood where tension, antagonism, and distrust between the two run high. It’s complicated. It’s challenging. It’s a unique opportunity to pursue reconciliation as a person of peace standing between these two very different worlds.

Let me offer some insight that may be helpful in communicating how fragile this position is. On Saturday a young black man was shot by police. A terribly familiar story these days. I received a text from Chattanooga’s Public Safety Director: Are you available at 4:00pm for an emergency conference call? (sent at 3:28pm). Not a comforting text to receive on an unusually warm December Saturday. The urgency of Dr. Smith’s voice conveyed the seriousness of the situation. At that time I wasn’t aware of the situation but knew something bad happened. The call was brief as we were briefed by the Chief of Police. By we, I mean all of the respected black pastors of urban churches in Chattanooga… myself included. The situation appears to differ entirely from the unjust contexts of Mike Brown, Freddy Gray, and others. The investigation is currently ongoing but you can catch yourself up here on what happened.

I am a white pastor counted among the prominent black pastors in the city. Humbling. I am an urban pastor who, as chaplain, is counted among the "law enforcement family.” You can imagine how delicate this particular situation is. I am responsible to pastor my people and our neighborhood through a violent situation where rumors are flying and platforms are being constructed. I am also responsible as a pastor to Chattanooga PD. I stand between these two worlds and I’m not sure what to make of it. I attend block parties thrown by gangs and participate in ride alongs with officers. I roll with crews and ride in squad cars. I am trusted, respected, protected by Rollin 20’s and Blue Lights.

Ultimately, I see this unique position as providing a ridiculous path to reconciliation and trust between communities of color and law enforcement. Until then I must wrestle with the tension because tension is all that exists. In her article, Eschatology and the Black Lives Matter Movement, Ekemini Uwan argues that we must examine systemic racism and injustice through an eschatological framework in which sin and redemption cannot be excised from the reality of suffering. However, we cannot use this as an excuse to excuse or ignore the oppression of black neighborhoods or the sinful failings of law enforcement officers.

I am and advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement though white. Why?

"The gospel calls us to enter into the sufferings of the afflicted and 'mourn with those who mourn'...By the grace of God imparted to believers, 'we learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause' (Isaiah 1:17). The church ought to reflect this reality analogically and practically, all the while bearing in mind we live in the already but not yet.”

I am comfortable in the tension between these two worlds because I know that reconciliation is possible. It is a grind. It is awkward and uncomfortable. It is difficult because of sin.

"Nevertheless, we press on and advocate for the marginalized with sober expectation, but expectation nonetheless. Figuratively, the Gospel has hands and feet, and it embraces the hopeless, afflicted and marginalized. Yet it also convicts oppressors and reveals their brokenness and need for Christ who is the hope of Glory (Col. 1:27), for the oppressed and the oppressor.”

I stand between two worlds. You do too. We all do - the now/not yet. The challenges to reconciliation are great, but not insurmountable. The tension between police and community are deep-rooted, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ can pull them up and replant them in the soil of his Kingdom. If you are a member of the Kingdom of God you are a minister of reconciliation. We choose to stand between worlds in order to proclaim a present-future reality in which God will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more, neither will there be mourning nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Behold, I am making all things new are words from the resurrected Jesus that are happening now but wait to be completed fully upon his return. In the meantime, I will continue to stand between worlds. We all will.

The question is: will you work to reconcile worlds or drive them apart?

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