A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastor in Dallas criticized white churches for not speaking up alongside blacks demanding justice in the killing of an African-American man in his own apartment by a white police officer.
On Sunday George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, used his pulpit to address protests engulfing the city since Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, 30, fatally shot 26-year-old Botham Jean, a native of Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, on Sept. 6.
Guyger, a four-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, claims the shooting was accidental. She said she mistakenly got on the wrong floor of her building, thought it was her apartment and mistook Jean for a burglar.
After the shooting, police searched Jean’s apartment for drugs and reportedly found a small amount of marijuana and smoking paraphernalia. His mother criticized authorities for trying to defame her son, a graduate of a Christian college in Arkansas who served as worship leader and youth pastor at Dallas West Church of Christ until his untimely death.
Mason said he attended Jean’s funeral and later in the week joined a diverse group of clergy ranging from colleagues like Jeff Warren at Park Cities Baptist Church to Pentecostal megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes in a meeting with District Attorney Faith Johnson.
After the DA left the room, Mason said, “things got honest.”
“One black pastor thanked the white pastors for being there but expressed frustration with what he called the way white churches have privatized the gospel so much so that it keeps our congregations from understanding that the call for justice is not optional for Christians,” Mason told his congregation. “And he wondered why we don’t speak out more. We leave it to them. They’re on their own.”
Mason said Jakes, author, filmmaker and pastor of The Potter’s House, “talked about how hard it is convincing the black youths in his church to stay with the Christian way of following a non-violent Jesus when they’re hearing lots of things from other people who say ‘that’s not getting us anywhere’ and a culture that is dominated by white preaching that is continually defending policies that are rooted in white supremacy and racism.”
“He said, ‘I believe you care, because you are in this room, but we need to know more than where your heart is,’” Mason reported. “We need to hear you say clearly in your pulpits and in the streets that white supremacy and racism is wrong and no more generalizations.”
On Sunday protestors tried to disrupt the Dallas Cowboys home opener with a demonstration demanding that the officer be fired and charged with murder instead of manslaughter. Nine protestors arrested for blocking an intersection near AT&T stadium were in jail longer than Guyger, who was released shortly after her arrest on a $300,000 bond, prompting complaints of preferential treatment because she is a police officer.
Mason said “even if race didn’t factor” into the shooting itself, “preferential treatment of the officer by the criminal justice system reminds us that justice in this city, in this country, is still not colorblind, whether you are white or black or brown or blue.”
“And then the smear campaign of the dead man’s character started immediately after his funeral, which is a long and nasty practice used against people of color to gain sympathy for the defendant,” Mason said. “Lord have mercy.”
Mason said during Thursday’s funeral service, he was touched by stories of Jean’s faith as well as the faith of his family and church community. He also recalled thinking, “I don’t want to have to attend one more of these funerals ever again in my entire life.”
“If we want to call ourselves by the name of Jesus, we have to stop defending things that Jesus would condemn, and we have to start loving people like he did.”
Mason exhorted church members to respond to calls to justice by heeding the command of Jesus “to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.”
“If we want to call ourselves by the name of Jesus, we have to stop defending things that Jesus would condemn, and we have to start loving people like he did,” the pastor said. “It may cost us friends, it may even cost us our life, but after three days, give or take, there’s always a rising with Christ.”
On Monday Mason, Warren and Jakes joined 16 other faith leaders in a letter published by the Dallas Morning News demanding “full transparency, consistency and integrity in the days ahead as the judicial process progresses.”
“Whether one’s skin is white, black or brown and whether the uniform is blue or that of a civilian, there should be no difference in treatment in a just society or in its courts of law,” the clergy said. “True justice is impartial to race, wealth, status or social position.”
The open letter said Guyger’s “blue uniform should grant her no advantage in the current investigation nor upcoming prosecution” and called “for the acknowledgement of any undeserved privileges already unjustly granted to Officer Guyger by virtue of her uniform. “
Other signers included Albert Reyes, president and CEO of Buckner International, and Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church, a multi-site megachurch aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention.