Updated: Feb 9, 2019
An unarmed man was killed because his killers felt threatened by his presence and misunderstood his intentions. They feared for their lives and they shot him until he died.
As I have been scrolling facebook today I have come upon some discourse and debate about whether John Allen Chau “deserved” what he got. And there has been understandable outrage about the insensitivity and the audacity of the question.
Some folks in the church are responding by heralding him as a martyr of the faith and in some ways, sensationalizing his tragic and untimely death. Others are saying he shouldn’t have done what he did and his actions were foolish. He could’ve caused the extinction of the Sentinelese people he was allegedly trying to reach that he was reckless and that he deliberately broke the laws.
I have no doubt the young man was sincere and well intentioned. He seemed quite adventurous and kind. If he was in fact a missionary, I have no doubts he is with Jesus in glory and paradise as we speak. I have no doubt that Jesus probably even honored his sincerity.
This post isn't about him though, it's about us.
It's about our hypocrisy.
Over the last 6 years I have had countless conversations with a lot of the people who are quite vocal in their admiration of Mr. Chau as well as their disdain for folks who are thinking critically and voicing their opinions about the theology that catalyzes modern missions and evangelism. I believe this is a wonderful discussion and a necessary one. However, those same people who have found a way to speak on this issue were silent about similar scenarios that affected people of color around the country. While some of us were lamenting, when we typed #blacklivesmatter and shared it on our timelines, we were met with disorienting opposition. The words and the reasoning of our peers seemed to consistently bend in the direction of vilification the dead man while bending over backwards to see things from the perspective of the person who killed him.
They bypassed mourning and compassion in the name of waiting for "facts". They accused us of being too emotional when it came to Oscar, Trayvon, Tamir, Philando, Alton, John, Freddie, Walter, Eric, Jordan, LaQuan, and hundreds of others whose names became hashtags. These men, like Mr. Chau were killed because of misunderstandings about their intentions, because they seemed threatening to the persons who killed them, and because their murderers feared for their own lives. We were told that the officers were in a horrible predicament, that none of us knows what we would do in the situation.
When we insisted it was injustice, they said “well, he should have obeyed the rules”. When we plead for them to give the benefit of the doubt, and to see that in fact he wasn’t a threat at all, they said “what about the officer? he feared for his life”. When we cried: he should not have been killed in this way! He deserves dignity and respect, they said “well he must have done something wrong ”.
To those people at that time, there was nothing even remotely wrong with their sentiments, in fact they were being sound and biblical while those of us who mourned were being sentimental and liberal. Any other perspective on the issue of police brutality was inconceivable.
Now it seems, the tables have turned.
How can the logic and sympathy they reserve for the person who is standing over a dead black body in our neighborhoods not extend to the Sentinelese tribe in the case of Mr. Chau? What is so wrong, with looking at the situation from that perspective in this case?
Why has Christian compassion in our country always bent away from those who do not look or think like the majority? There is something seriously wrong with that, and we have yet another opportunity to examine ourselves and respond to what is being revealed in our hearts.
It is extremely inappropriate and hypocritical for the church to go to such great lengths to memorialize a man like John Chau, to fight against his vilification, to demand that his intentions and motivations be at the forefront of our grappling with his tragic death and to simultaneously be unwilling to do so when it comes to a man like John Crawford.
Our desire for mercy and justice, our efforts at preserving the dignity and vocalizing the misunderstood intentions of an individual cannot only be reserved for those who look like and think like us.
Some folks will say, this situation is different. Those black boys weren’t missionaries they were thugs and the people who killed them didn't have time to think, they were only trying to protect themselves and the community. To those folks I would say—if that is an acceptable justification when an unarmed black man is killed while minding his own business, then surely you can understand why it’s baffling to some of us that using the same logic regarding this situation is being met with so much resistance.
But this is not a post about John Allen Chau’s sincerity, its a post about our own.
I have no doubt that God will get glory and that good and righteous things will come out of his death. I am quite interested to see how his efforts play out in the completed narrative of redemption history, I only hope that we will begin to have the faith to believe the same about the hundreds of unarmed black men who's lives were cut short due to misunderstanding and fear. There is an opportunity here for repentance. There is an opportunity here for empathy going forward.
May the feelings you have today about John Allen Chau and his memory help you to have a more compassionate understanding of the feelings that birthed the hashtags you have so easily ignored.