Imagine: A black man and his son grab guns, hop in their car, and chase down a white jogger. The young black man gets out of the car, confronts the unarmed jogger and, after a brief altercation, shoots him.
Imagine: Hundreds of black people—most openly carrying firearms—swarm a state capital, yelling in the faces of police officers who stand as a barrier between the people and the legislative chamber.
It does not take a particularly active or prophetic imagination to envision how these scenarios would most likely play out. It does not require a very deep understanding of white privilege to recognize that, at least in the United States, the right to bear arms means something different for white people than it does for black people.
This past Wednesday, a group of six armed people of color escorted Michigan state representative Sarah Anthony, who is black, into the state capitol. She understandably felt scared and intimidated by the presence of armed and angry white protesters, and her escorts wanted to protect her. Some of those escorting her also wanted to make a point that black people have as much right to open carry as white people. While Anthony is grateful for the concern shown by her escorts, she also does not want to further the narrative that more guns are what will keep us safe.
That is the ultimate question these days, isn’t it? In regards to dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic: What will keep us safe?
What will keep us safe? As a pastor with a background in English literature and creative writing, I don’t have much to say in answer to this question beyond what I can glean from experts. Doctors, epidemiologists, and public health officials can share what keeps people safe from a deadly virus. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and sociologists can help us figure out what keeps our spirits and social structures safe during a time like this. Economists can point to ways to maintain financial safety during such a disruption. I’m no expert on what keeps us safe.
But there is an underlying question here; an essential question: Who is “us”?
This second question—that’s where I come in. As a professional interpreter of the Bible and as a person committed to following Jesus, I have some firm beliefs about “Who is “us”?
If the earliest church leaders are to be believed, us is every single person created in the image of God—which is every person. Us is Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28)–people of every religion, race and ethnicity; every social and economic class; every gender.
And if Jesus is to be believed and followed, those concerned about us must especially pay attention to those most often excluded from power and privilege: those who experience racial oppression, those who are poor, those who are sick, those with disabilities, women, children . . .
What will keep us safe?
Whatever will keep black men jogging in suburban neighborhoods safe.
Whatever will keep lawmakers of color trying to do the best job they can safe.
Whatever will keep children with diminished access to school meals and supportive adults safe.
Whatever will keep my pregnant daughter and your 90-year-old father and someone’s partner with asthma safe.
Whatever will keep the bus drivers and grocery store clerks and those who have lost their jobs and those too stressed to do their jobs safe.
I do not know the full answer to “What will keep us safe?” For now what I’ve mostly got is: stay home when you can, where a mask when you’re out, and don’t let the church choir start back up any time soon.
What I do know is that we have to make sure the “us” in that question includes all of us.