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Responding to the Unrest in Baltimore

I am tired of all of the uproar and unrest in Baltimore.

I understand how layer upon layer of unaddressed injustice over time can make people frustrated enough to behave irrationally.

Sustained neglect to this degree is easier to dismiss or keep on the periphery of life than to address head on openly and honestly, no matter one’s skin color.

I can appreciate that for some people rioting and looting in Baltimore, they are trying to assert that Freddie Gray’s death won’t be in vain, that they are upset, bewildered and disappointed.

But what I find frustrating are those who believe that because I can comprehend raw emotion that has bubbled over from years of disenfranchisement that I am somehow duty-bound to agree with it.

I am a 35-year-old black man and Christian with degrees in theology and African American studies, and a fair bit of diverse life experience if I don’t say.

I have lived in Waco, Texas; southeast Washington, D.C.; the eastern panhandle of West Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia, and so on. I have served congregations where I was the racial minority and others the racial majority.

I understand why people are upset, but I passionately disagree at what those who choose to riot and loot are doing about being upset.

And I find it nonsensical that the simple notion of having a divergent viewpoint about this sort of thing can somehow render you a sellout or an otherwise misinformed, biblical conservative.

I am actually none of that, but I do have an opinion and am comfortable in my own skin.

Say what you will, but nonviolence is not compliance. As much as I believe that, however, I can appreciate that this continues to be a long-standing debate.

I don’t need someone with an opposing perspective to agree with me and I doubt that it is helpful for us to doggedly malign each other. But to the degree that it can occur, understanding and respect are key.

Neither a doctorate, mega-church following, books to your name or a microphone before you are prerequisites to truly listening to people and exploring common-ground where you can, while also acknowledging when it is best to “agree to disagree” in love.

I have some mixed emotions about the unfortunate events that have occurred recently in Baltimore not only with Freddie Gray, but also with other cases as well, much like I did about the “Black Lives Matter” campaign.

For me, black lives matter every day not only during times of unrest or strife with systemic prejudice and disenfranchisement.

Black lives matter, but there are deep nuances to whether or not even all black people believe that black lives matter.

You can’t live in such a way that clearly displays an utter disregard for your own black life, not to mention the black lives of others, and then when it is convenient and popular come to the table shouting about how black lives matter. At least that doesn’t sit well with me.

If black lives matter, then they must matter all of the time and reflect much more than a slogan but point toward an ethic and lifestyle.

Moreover, if black lives matter, and they do, then as a Christian I also must affirm that the lives of non-blacks matter just as much.

It isn’t sufficient to say this is a given per the historical legacy of white supremacy and privilege in America.

In the Christian cannon, to be on the side of good, which God represents, isn’t a racial but rather a spiritual matter. And those with the spirit of Christ come in all colors.

No matter the starting point in life or hardships experienced along the way, everyone responds to feelings of injustice and prejudice differently.

There is no one way or right way that all black people or all Christians (to name a few groups) are supposed to feel about all of this.

No group is monolithic, which I think often easily gets lost in the sauce of news ratings and those who choose to let anger drive them to do and say some not-so-helpful things.

I can appreciate the variance of thought that exists when volatile, uncomfortable issues like these enter mainstream dialogue, but I grow tired of the messiness that often follows, as everyone seems to jockey for position with reckless abandon.

You have white people who refuse to recognize any unearned privileges, cushions or protections that their race alone provides.

And you have white people who babble about their white privilege so much that it borders low self-esteem and doesn’t allow for a balanced approach to issues that involve race and class.

You have black people who are so angry that they can’t see straight and, although they might not admit it publicly, who view white people as universally ill informed and untrustworthy.

And you have black people who feel no responsibility whatsoever to help others who look like them or hail from similar backgrounds to overcome obstacles pertaining to race and class. Their perspective is, “I got mine. Now you go get yours.”

Of course, these are extremes that hardly begin to touch the surface of the different interpretations and experiences that all of us bring to the table.

I just happen to believe that we can do better.

James Ellis III is a writer and senior pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, D.C. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PastorPoet.