SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — It is a sad morning for our country. A horse drawn carriage is carrying the lifeless body of young Philando Castile, draped in a glistening white suit. The crowd, gathered in remembrance of a life gone far too soon, is weeping at the sight of the all white casket. The gravity of grappling with celebrating this life's full potential with the depth of emotions that swell from knowing how quickly it was snuffed out during what should have been just a routine traffic stop, is overwhelming.
I grabbed Diamond Reynolds — Philando's girlfriend who recorded the aftermath of Philando's homicide — as she was about to collapse at the sight of the coffin holding her fallen boyfriend. Though the family is not Catholic, the incredible beauty of the Cathedral of St. Paul seems a fitting backdrop for the celebration of Philando's life. The church opened the doors to the Castile family to hold the funeral here.
Simultaneously in Dallas, a private funeral is underway for Sergeant Michael Smith, one of five fallen police officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice when their lives were deliberately taken by a lone sniper in Dallas. I just returned from attending the memorial of those five heroes whose lives were assassinated by a deeply misguided man full of hate.
Our television news and smartphone screens are flooded with images of the dead. I am a New York City pastor, author of the bestselling book entitled Street God. During my childhood, I personally witnessed far too much death. I now travel to these locations of crisis to be a voice of peace and healing.
In the past week, I have been praying directly with officers' wives in Dallas and ministering to the Castile and Reynolds family, all of whom have been thrust into a whirlwind of the most tragic of circumstances. No one is happy about the state of affairs in our country. Not one of these families are calling for violence. How amazingly these families have been able to hold themselves together thus far is in itself an answer to prayer. There is no doubt that God has granted them astounding grace and strength to weather this immediate storm. Though wrestling with unimaginable pain, their mourning has not suffocated their heartfelt pleas for peace.
During the funeral, Father John L. Ubel, the rector of The Cathedral of St. Paul, said, "God intends the future to be better than the present." The surviving mothers have been left heavy hearted, wives and fiancée are weeping from the depths of their souls, and children are now fatherless. This is a significant loss for our nation, and we have gathered in the name of Jesus the Christ to weep with those who weep.
As preachers give eulogies and graves are freshly dug, one wonders if our country will finally shift from spilling the blood of the innocent in our land. As I sit next to the Castile family and gaze among the crowd, I see all races gathered to mourn this morning.
The Bible says God hates, "A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood" (Proverbs 6:17).
This death has exposed the need for public mourning.
Later on in the day after the funeral, I feel compelled to wheel out my sound equipment at the rally still gathered in front of the Governor's Mansion to minister peace and Jesus to the hurting people amassed. They need to know the governor showed up to mourn and pay his respects to the family. My small role is to tell the people about Jesus, who understands injustice and who can heal the seeds of pain in their hearts.
In my book, Street God I tell of the lost of my friends to senseless violence. I also tell about police officers who helped me through tough times. All of us with drugs or guns by our waist are still children of God. I was a juvenile delinquent who made poor decisions but I did not deserve death. My officer friends have similar stories of delinquent behavior but they did not get caught. We are all flawed people existing in a broken world.
In a few days the victims' families will be home alone. True mourning will set in. Most of the country would have moved on to the next big thing like the presidential conventions or the latest tragedy most of us awoke to in Nice, France. I know this reality all too well. As a pastor, this is when we buckle in for the long haul. We send food and make prayer calls to support the victims and help them figure out next steps. Court dates will still be on the calendar as well as official business and paperwork that must be completed in order to receive financial bereavement gifts. Some of the deepest emotional scabs ripped off anew when finally confronting what to do with their loved one's clothing. Churches are places of hope after all. Once the cameras have long stopped rolling, the church sends teams, usually of other victims, to help families through these behind- the-scenes things.
Let's all pray that this season of death in America will come to a close. I wish you could see what my eyes have seen. I have seen every people group at every service, whether at a protest, funeral or memorial. I have witnessed cops hugging people in Dallas and Minnesota. I have seen protesters crying and helping each other through the pain.
The media needs to use much more caution in responsible, careful reporting that does not ignite a race war. Black Lives Matter is comprised of all races — young White, Latino, Asian and Black people — all protesting together against deaths meted out upon unarmed blacks. The man who shot and killed officers operated as a sick lone wolf. Dylan Roof who killed 9 African American people in a Bible Study in Charleston, South Carolina, was also a deranged misguided young man.
I personally attended a number of events in Charleston in the immediate aftermath of those merciless killings. The attitudes expressed from every people group were those of mourning, condemnation of the diabolical acts of Dylann Roof, but largely of forgiveness. Let those same attitudes be extended in the wake of the viciousness of Micah Johnson rather than broadening the blame to others.
Just as the larger white populace was not vilified by Dylann Roof's acts, it should be understood that Micah Johnson does not represent the minds of African Americans or the Black Lives Matter movement. We need to learn from Charleston and Black history in America to not tie a lone wolf to a group.
I am not defending the Black Lives Matter movement. I simply implore conservatives to refrain from expressing their anger of the acts of one towards the larger body of African Americans; doing so only causes more racially motivated killings that pushes us further in the whole. I also implore those participating in protests to not misjudge the whole of law enforcement due to tragic actions of some. Let me repeat Proverbs 6:17 which describes what God hates, "A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood."
At all protests, there will likely be some young people present who will undoubtedly do some stupid things. Lots of young people say and do stupid things. Understand that they too are Americans, image bearers of God, who are full of pain.
We in our hearts and actions must be better than the terrorists who blindly kill all indiscriminately because they label all as infidels. A lot of innocent people exercising their Fourth Amendment will be killed. At protests, people gather who differ in appearance and beliefs. The church, LGBTQ, undercover officers, and city officials all show up to these meetings. There are teenagers who want to see what's going on, college students who want to understand both sides of the pain, and victims' families.
Please pray for peace in our cities to prevail. Again, we appeal to the media to do their part to not incite a race war. Our citizens are better then the craziness we see in the world.
Let's pray for forgiveness to prevail. Let's pray for justice to prevail. Let's ask God to heal the land.
Remember these inspired words from 2 Chronicles 7:14 which read, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."