Photo: Heidi Zeiger
Welcome to Chicago. The city that attracts tourists from around the world with its reputation for bright lights, good eats, a mile of magnificence, and diverse culture. However, Chicago is the same city that prompted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to say the following:
“This is a terrible thing. I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say I have never seen –even in Mississippi and Alabama– mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago.”
By court demand, authorities recently released the video of Laquan McDonald, which shows a White Chicago police officer (Jason Van Dyke) fatally shooting McDonald, who is African American 16 times. As a diverse group of pastors held a prayer vigil for justice at the Chicago Police Headquarters earlier this week, Pastor Daniel Hill of River City Community Church, stood out after repenting on behalf of white Christians who have failed to value the lives of Black people. Read on to discover why Pastor Daniel Hill made such a bold statement and what he believes can help Chicago overcome its racism.
JET: What were your thoughts after witnessing the Laquan McDonald video?
Pastor Daniel: Anger. Disgust. Outrage–deep sadness over the loss of another precious life. I was also particularly struck by the level of cover up that had gone into the concealment of the video. The 400 days included the Mayor’s office, the State Attorney’s office, the Aldermen, the Police, etc. We all fear stuff like this happens regularly, but this without question, revealed the gap between the powerful and the (so-called) powerless. Laquan was a ward of the state. And when he was killed, his life was treated as unimportant – covered up by multiple agendas of the powerful.
JET: What role do white Christians play in justice for African Americans?
Pastor Daniel: That’s a question that I regularly ask my African American friends, co-workers and mentors. And it’s a question that we as white Christians should pay close attention to when answers are proposed. One thing I do feel clearly convicted of is the need for white Christians to actively and collectively repent for our complicity in the creation of our racist landscape. While I’m grateful for the exceptions that have stood in solidarity with the oppressed, the overwhelming history of our country reveals a picture of white Christians standing on the wrong side of justice, and often serving as the ones to perpetuate injustice. So there is much to repent for.
JET: Why do you believe white people need to repent?
Pastor Daniel: Most white Christians understand repentance at a personal, individual level. We understand that sin is more than just bad behavior – it is a disease that infects every part of our very nature. What I wish more white Christians were able to understand is that the same pattern applies to the corporate, communal level as well. Our collective sins are more than just our bad behaviors. White supremacy is a disease that has infected every dimension of the systems and structures in society. Even the “good” white people who care about equality are still part of everyday structures that value them as white people and devalue African Americans (and other non-white groups). It seems so obvious to me that the Bible calls all of us to repent for sin on a regular basis, in the hopes of experiencing God’s redemption. I repent daily for my complicity in these unjust systems, and wish for all my white brothers and sisters to do the same.
JET: Have you received backlash for your views?
Pastor Daniel: Yes. A lot of hateful/threatening emails, voicemails, and social media attacks. It’s sad.
JET: In a perfect world, what does racial reconciliation look like?
Pastor Daniel: That seems like the million-dollar question in many ways. Perhaps just as important is: who gets to ask and answer the question of what racial reconciliation looks like? I have a lot of mentors and co-laborers whose thoughts on this question have shaped me deeply. As a pastor, my starting point in this work is what is often referred to as the doctrine of the imago dei (Latin for image of God). The Bible opens with this dramatic declaration – that all human beings are created equally in God’s image. So at a bare minimum, reconciliation must mean that we value every human being as one who is divinely created in the imago dei. And when we don’t… when we allow for any level of a dehumanizing narrative to exist, then we affront the very character of God. There just can’t possibly be a way that Christians can take seriously the ministry of reconciliation and sit idly by when persistent injustice like this exists.
JET: How can Chicago overcome its racism?
Pastor Daniel: I come at this as a Christian and as a pastor, so those lenses inevitably shape my opinions. I do believe that the starting point for transformation begins at the heart level – we all need to experience repentance and redemption. We need to confess our sins, our selfishness, and our apathy, and we need the grace and love of God to transform us into “ambassadors of reconciliation” (one of the phrases that Saint Paul used to describe Christians).
That is what creates the possibility for unity – where we can create coalitions of like-minded folks working towards a common goal together. It’s what Jesus was describing when he taught his followers to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not easy, and I realize there are a lot of historical and present tense realities that have to be overcome to move in this direction. […]But I believe there is nothing closer to the heart of God than the pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
Nikki Carpenter. Writer. Social Media Manager. Community Activist. www.nikkiandthecity.com.