In the letter below, you will see that I do not address it to “leaders” but to Christians, White Christians in particular. You will also not find the word “condemn” or “condemnation.” Recently, a popular radio program unfortunately used these words to describe my open letter. Instead, you will find a passionate plea for White Christians to speak to justice by rescinding the Stand Your Ground Law. Make no mistake, I’ll condemn ideas and behaviors (like murdering an unarmed teen and passing a law that incentivizes racists to kill young men) but I do not issue blanket condemnations of persons. Finally, this letter ends with a nod to Karl Barth who knew that our silence in the face evil indicts us. Not wishing to be complicit with such silence, I wrote the following “open letter.”
~Pastor Michael Bledsoe, February 26.2014
An Open Letter from Pastor Michael Bledsoe, Riverside Baptist Church Washington DC
Dear White Christians of Florida:
Far be it that I, a white clergyman who is not a lawyer, instruct you as to the illogical nature of your “stand your ground” license to kill but let us note something that is apparent now after two cases where your predominantly white juries could not agree to convict a man who admitted he killed an unarmed teen-ager: if you convict a person for attempting to murder ten teens but fail to convict the killer for actually killing a teen, then you have incentivized killing since, not only on the face of it but in actuality, you have told the person we will not convict you for killing a black, unarmed teen-ager but we will imprison you for attempting it.
The stench from your houses of worship is wafting its way across this country, polluting citizenship, demoralizing parents and families, mocking accountability and blaspheming the Holy God whom you say you love and worship. If that offends you, try reading Amos.
Here is my premise and I dare you to prove me wrong: if white Christians in Florida stood up and cried out for justice, demanding an end to the license-to-kill-stand-your-ground law, it would be rescinded immediately. Where is your conscience? Where is the little light you promised to shine for Christ? You have put it beneath a bushel and suffocated it. You know as well as anyone that teen-agers should not be killed for playing loud music. But then, we all know don’t we, that Jordan Davis was not killed for playing loud music. He was killed for being an uppity black kid who dared to smart off to a drunken white man with a concealed weapon’s permit. Speak up, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of your conscience and because you know in your heart of hearts that had a black man killed your white son playing music in a car with friends, you probably would not have to be demanding he be tried because a mob of white folks would have administered mob justice. Shame. Shame. Shame!
White Christians of Florida, speak up for justice. Stand up and demand that this license for murder be removed from your books, from your lives. Stop defending it. It is but a few steps removed from lynching. And you recall, do you not, that the center of the Gospels is the story of the passion of our Lord who was lynched by Romans who perceived him as a threat?
I’ll end with a word from the great neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth, a man acquainted with evil in the form of Nazism and who, along with a small group of other ministers, signed the Barmen Declaration, refusing to swear an oath to the Fuhrer. This is what he said in the 20th century—it is as apt today for your hearing as then: “The time is not always ripe. It may be past, it may be still to come. But woe to the church if when the time does come it is silent….”
Speak up for justice. Rescind Stand Your Ground for the blasphemous sham it is. Do it because were the roles reversed, you would want someone to cry out for your murdered child.
In the Name of the Murdered and Risen Christ,
Dr. Michael Bledsoe