News and Views

A Call to See: A Reflection from BMCR

Posted by on

 By Rev. Antoine Love
Chairperson, Black Methodists for Church Renewal

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’”

On Feb. 1, in Memphis, Tenn., at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, the life of Tyre Nichols will be remembered as family, friends, neighbors, community leaders, clergy, supporters and concerned persons gather in tribute to a person “gone too soon.” It is my prayer that the remembrance of Tyre will lead us toward a healing that leans into a hope that launches us into a holy moment of transforming justice.  

 Like many of you, I have chosen not to watch the video of the horrific beating Tyre suffered at the hands of police officers. At this time, I have decided that my soul care is most important.  My soul needs to be guarded.

 And yet, even without seeing the video, my soul still cries out: How could this happen? How does this continue to happen? These questions ring clearly in my ears – all the way down to the depths of my soul. 

 I know we must have reform that addresses police brutality and the systemic violence of racism. No doubt!

 As a younger man, I can remember looking at pictures that captured moments of the Civil Rights era. One picture, in particular, is etched in my memory. It is a photo of men, black men, wearing signs around their necks that said “I Am A Man.” Without knowing the specific historical context, I thought to myself how sad it was that black men, my forerunners for justice and equal rights, had to remind their community and our nation that they were men; that they needed to be seen as men. 

 After doing research on the photo, I discovered that the picture was taken during the 1968 Sanitation Strike when as many as 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs to protest the deplorable working conditions, racism, discrimination and abuse, they endured at the hands of their employer, the city of Memphis. As the workers protested, they were joined by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who during the strike said “You are here tonight to demand that Memphis do something about the conditions our brothers face as they work -- day in and day out -- for the well-being of the total community. You are here to demand that Memphis see the poor.” 

 How could police officers beat and abuse Tyre Nichols? How could black police officers violate another black man so badly? I am reminded of that picture and my thoughts turn to the Gospel.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25 from verse 31 forward, the story of the separation of the sheep and goats is recorded. The King divided them into two groups: the sheep saw the least among them when hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needing clothes, sick or in prison and offered care; and the goats did not see the least and failed to attend to them.

For those who will not enter into the Kingdom, the question was asked, “when did we see you …?” That’s where the rubber meets the road. If I don’t see you, then I can’t be held accountable. 

The use of the word “see” in the Scripture lesson doesn’t mean “to see” just with our eyes. It’s far richer than that. It also means “to know, to acknowledge.”   It invites me to understand that having vision or sight for something is not enough. It’s not all that the Lord requires. I must be willing to invest myself with another person. I am being asked to be present with, to recognize and to regard, to have an awareness of and for another person.

The world too often teaches us to see through people, to see around people, to look over people. Don’t make eye contact, because if you don’t see people, then you can treat them any way you want.

 That foolishness has got to stop.

I think the church, my faith family, needs to help us reclaim seeing people. To see people and their humanity; to see people and their sacred worth; to see people as fellow sojourners in life that deserve respect and are to be valued and treated fairly.

Here we are again, back in Memphis nearly 55 years later, and we still need to learn how to see one another.

Rest in peace, Tyre Nichols. We see you.