What has remained consistent in these 5 years, is that one after another, videos and accounts of aggegious violence against Black people have surfaced. What is more, they have been continually met by White people at large, and Christians specifically with a “you cannot lump all officers into one category.”
And while this is true and well intentioned, the sentiment serves as a diversion from taking seriously rampant white supremacy. This reality causes us to habitually disbelieve even the most thoroughly documented accounts of police brutality, and give the benefit of a doubt to officers who, in public eye have tampered with evidence, falsified official police reports, and lied to defame the character of their victims. We see, in all of these instances, the rampant and normalized nature of toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and gun violence.
We are seeing this cycle again with the release of the first person video documenting the Sandra Bland’s blands encounter that led to her death 3 days later. I had only one hope: that White Christians in particular, would see the evidence, and let it move them.
The video shows Officer Brian Encinia opening Bland’s door, screaming at her to get out of her car, and pulling his taser on her while aggressing her out of her vehicle. His behavior renders his police report (and its already known perjury) about his life being threatened in the encounter evidently false.
After watching the video, one may be tempted to view his behavior as extreme and bafoonish. He appears as an officer of the law who cannot tell the difference between being threatened (as he claims in his police report) and his own fragile ego feeling disrespected. But we know all too well that this officer is just another deadly example of patterned police brutality against Black people. We know this because we have seen these videos over and over on our newsfeeds and in the media at large for the last half decade.
And yet, it seems that nothing will convince many Conservative Christians, specifically White evangelicals, of the value of Black Lives.
Some might be tempted to argue that it is because we have just grown numb to seeing Black people killed. In an age of recorded violence, regular instances of police brutality, and the numbing effect of constantly seeing school shootings in the media, we have become all but numb to violence.
Others may be tempted to say that it’s because Americans have come to believe that every claim of racism is just “fake news.” When coupled with the rhetoric of the religious right and the constant justifying of Black death at the hands of law enforcement, Christians have developed a reflex to disbelieve the narratives and trauma of Black people, opting to see it as hyperbole or political posturing.
But I don’t believe these are the real reasons.
So why are many Christians so dead set on disbelieving or remaining silent about accounts of racism and specifically police brutality?
The real reason White Christians so often dig in their heels and support even the most blatantly abusive police is because white Christians reap the felt benefits of the current system of policing. They are indeed served and protected, but at what cost?
One does not have to claim White supremacist values to uphold White supremacy. They need only remain loyal to political and religious leaders that have a baseline disregard of and disbelief of the marginalized.
While many churches claim to be a-political, I have never met a church for which this ideology is actually true. All life is political as politics impact how our bodies are seen and treated. In this case, it dictates if and how our stories are believed.
Since the election of Donald Trump, already years into the Black Lives Matter movement, we have seen a rise in hate groups, incidents of racial violence and a normalization of white nationalism in all levels of social life and government. We have also seen that regardless of how much Donald Trump emboldens white supremacist ideologies, flatters hate groups and takes money from white nationalist organizations, that Evangelical Christians approval rates have remained consistent or risen.
Additionally, because Trump has courted military leaders and law enforcement officials, we have seen a narrative that more heavily values police being appreciated, respected, legally protected, and given more authority, than the actual lives of Black and Brown people being protected, valued, believed, and protected. The embedded combination of normalized white supremacy, along with noble narratives of police respect being more important than the bodies of Black people, creates the context for Christian complicity and silence in valuing Black people.
There is an additional theological issue that cements Evangelical disregard toward instances of police brutality against Black people. Because much of Evangelical and Christian theology at large rely on some iteration of faith that invites us to believe (often without any evidence) in the way, doings, and intentions of the divine authority, we often ascribe a similar type of faith to those who hold power in our society.
The overemphasis and sloppy interpretation of “submitting to governing authorities” or obeying the law of the land, frames suspicion about the intentions and actions of law enforcement as, in effect, rebelling against God. For a community that often interprets faith as belief without evidence in the name of honoring God, it is no surprise that a similar posture is adopted when relating to the military and police states. “Faith is believing police without evidence.”
The disproportionate emphasis on these texts over and above the way of Jesus which disproportionately sees, hears, and believes, the stories of marginalized, generates the context where police are (even if inadvertently) deified in the Christian consciousness. “Serve and protect” is seen on par with the fruits of the Spirit, even if it only primarily means serving and protecting white people.
This syncretism of American patriotism and pseudo Christian ideology, in conjunction with a White supremacy that constantly demonizes and disbelieves Black people, reifies the theological and social impetus that fuels Christian silence, indifference, and active antagonism regardless of the evidence.
For a community who is set on seeking truth, it seems that many Christians either cannot see it when it is in front of them, or actively choose to ignore it. Christians do not have to actively submit to and actively espouse White supremacist ideology to uphold and perpetuate it.
But, we as Christians are told that the truth will set us free. And for us to see the truth, we must stop the cycle of disbelieving, discrediting, and disregarding Black and Brown people. We cannot continue to exist in a theological and social environment that walls us off from developing and exercising a reflex for compassion.
We need the scales to fall off our eyes so we can watch this video of Sandra Bland being harrassed by an agent of the state and see, not unwarranted guilt, but a beloved child of God being arrested and forced to her death.