By now, I’m certain you’ve heard or read the news surrounding the officer shooting of an unarmed man in South Carolina. You’ve probably watched the video, too. And you’re probably aware that Officer Michael Slager–the man recorded on a bystander’s video as having shot and killed Walter Scott–has been fired from his job and charged with murder. If not, you can check here to get updated on the facts of the case.
This incident is a tragedy of epic proportions: an innocent man killed; children now left without their father; family members mourning the loss of their loved one. Miles and miles away from the Scott family, what can those of us who love and follow Jesus possibly do? First, pray for them–for God’s love and comfort that can fill the emptiness and make the hurt bearable. For the heart to forgive the police officer who killed Walter Scott. For wisdom to know how to respond to those who will certainly put the character of their son–the victim–on trial.
You might nod your head and think, Of course. Of course we pray for them, that God will comfort them with the solace that only He can give. There might be more that we can do, you and I from our own homes, although for now, praying is the most (and least) I can give.
So now that we agree on the need–indeed, the imperative–to pray for this family, let’s address the need to figure out how we respond to the person possessing the other name most connected to this horror: Michael Slager. The man who stands accused, the White officer unknowingly filmed shooting an unarmed Black man to death in the back. The individual who is set to stand trial for murder who first attempted to obfuscate the facts and cover up his involvement.
Here’s the thing: Praying for this man is not just praying for an expectant father whose wife will soon give birth to their child. This involves, on a very real and broad level, praying for our enemies. Although I don’t know Michael Slager, and he’s never done anything hurtful to me personally, he most certainly is acting as an enemy.
When a man entrusted with the care and protection of a community violates that trust, he is acting as an enemy. When an individual whose own life is not threatened shoots a man eight times in the back, he is acting as an enemy. When a man charged with upholding the law chooses to break it, he is acting as an enemy. I don’t think anybody is yet able to say–apart from the shooter himself–whether (or how) race was a motivating factor in this incident, but race will certainly become part of the conversation surrounding this. As well it should be.
This officer is also an enemy to a long-lifted-up prayer request of mine, a prayer for racial unity–particularly, racial unity in the Church. Not just MY church, but in THE Church. I used to pray for “racial reconciliation” but then learned from godly leaders that White and Black believers in the U.S. have not actually experienced racial unity in the past, not as a whole. So there’s technically not a relationship to reconcile. So unity…I pray for unity. For the body of Christ all over the world to be known for our love for one another and for our unity. And when another unarmed Black man is shot or killed or both at the hand of a police officer, the obstacles to racial unity just seem to loom larger in my view. Divisions just seem to grow; the rift in understanding one another seems to widen. (I know that each case is different, and the Walter Scott case is not the Michael Brown case or the Eric Garner case. But there are other incidences, too. A police-chief-turned-pastor addresses this issue with an article called “Police Killing Unarmed People Must Stop.”)
So what will I do–in my heart, I mean? What will I do with this person Michael Slager? I claim to be a follower of Jesus, so (if I am following Jesus) I had better pray for this person. This man who acts as an enemy? Pray for him. Jesus clearly stated that we should pray for our enemies. How, then, will I pray for Michael Slager?
I’ll pray for him to humble himself, to acknowledge his wrongdoing. To repent. Not just to regret his actions, not just to call them a “mistake,” but truly to repent. To admit that he chose to take the wrong course and to take ownership for his actions and the consequences that he created.
Of course I will pray for the family of Walter Scott. Of course I will also pray for Michael Slager. God has produced new life within me; I know He can do the same in Michael Slager. And I’ll pray for his wife, too–I can’ t imagine being 8 months pregnant and watching my life blow up in my face. God is bigger, though, and He is able.