I got angry.
While attending the Faith Forward Gathering a few weeks ago, Dr. Daniel White Hodge, Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry at North Park University, recounted a recent experience he had in which he had been pulled over by police. Although he wasn’t guilty of anything more than a minor traffic violation, he put his hands on his dash board in clear view of the policy officer so he wouldn’t be perceived as reaching for a weapon.
Sadness and anger spread from the pit of my gut to tips of my toes. Having heard Dr. Hodge speak before, I knew him to be a brilliant teacher, theologian and activist. In that moment he was describing, he was reduced to nothing more than potential dark-skinned thug. I angry that someone I respected has to fear for his life during a routine traffic stop. I was even angrier that I NEVER think about the potential for being shot when I’m pulled over. I would have just reached into my purse for my license and rummaged through my glove box for my registration. That fear doesn’t fill me in those situations — because I’m a white woman.
I was hit again in the faith with my white privilege. I got really angry about it.
Here’s the thing. Anger is not bad. Anger can inspire us to action. Calm, directed anger can replace the fear that so often fuels unnecessary violence between innocent people. Anger can actually bring to light the love of justice that resides at the core of a Christian faith. Anger can and will change the reality for Dr. White Hodge and millions of people like him.
I am so grateful for finding so many others at Faith Forward who spent three days with me drawing the connections between raising people up in a Christian faith and the incredible implications that has for transforming the world with an angry, righteous love of justice. Faith formation is NOT just about finding the best tips and tricks for making Sunday school and youth group exciting. Faith Formation is NOT just for attracting people back to our declining churches. Faith formation is NOT for people who like to go off and “play with the kids.” The best faith formation, like when I heard Dr. White Hodge’s story, puts a fire in our belly; it galvanizes us to grapple with these unpleasant realities; it forces us hear each other’s stories; it confronts us with each other’s pain; and helps us strive, with hope, grace and love, to bring about God’s reign here on earth. If that sounds far-reaching or idealistic, good. It is supposed to. That’s the gospel.
After his plenary presentation, I attended Dr. White Hodge’s workshop, which served to galvanize my anger. He asked us how we were going to take back what we’d been discussing about race and faith back to our own context and community. I decided that, if I am pulled over by police, I will put my hands on the dash board in solidarity with my black and brown brothers and sisters; To remind well-intentioned police officers of the power they hold over the public and the fear they can inspire. Maybe seeing that reaction unexpectedly in a white woman will help them think differently the next time s/he pulls over a person of color.
Thank you, Dr. White Hodge for inspiring my anger, for reminding me why I am passionate about faith formation. Let’s get angry together and do something about it.
About 6 months ago, I was pulled over in WV. The first thing I did when seeing I was being pulled over, was that I rolled down my window. When I stopped, I put my hands on the top of the steering wheel and waited for the officer to come to my window. He asked me for my license and insurance card and registration. I asked if I could get my license out of my purse, and I told him that both my insurance card and registration were in my glove box. I asked for permission to get them. He asked me if I have law enforcement in my family. You see, my father was in law enforcement, and, before I was able to get my license at the age of sixteen, he sat down and told me it was a matter of respect and personal safety to refrain from making any sudden moves or to reach for anything an officer may not be able to see. He told me this may save my life someday because the law enforcement officers are unable to read minds, and they know anything could happen in their line of work. I am a 53 year old Caucasian women, and I feel it is a sign of respect for the officers and a necessity, for both the officer and myself, to remain safe.