Note: This is an excerpt from Deidra’s forthcoming book, One: Unity in a Divided World.
I am a black woman, living in America. Just last month I walked down the street near a country club in our neighborhood and had a car of three young white men yell unmentionable things to me through their rolled down windows. They were wrong. Juvenile, at best. Worse, at worst. But they kept driving. They did not turn around and stop their car in front of me. They did not touch me or threaten me or wield some sort of perverted power over me. They did not discharge a weapon or violate my body. I got home safely. At least, my body did.
If we’re being honest, it’s hard to separate the body from what goes on in the soul, right? Imagine the damage done to those who experience compounded anxiety, depression, marginalization, and oppression in every moment of every day. Consider the United States’ mass incarceration situation. Think about the sex- and human-trafficking industry. Read about the inequities that run rampant in public school districts in poor communities. Take note of the rise in “despair deaths” among middle aged, white Americans who increasingly succumb to suicide, drug overdose, and liver disease associated with alcohol use. Remember that every single person in those situations is a person God loves exponentially.
Sometimes, I hear people try to rationalize their indifference to these situations by blaming those trapped in systems of oppression or addiction for the choices they have made. The truth is, you and I have made choices, too. We are all criminals. Every single one of us. We break the speed limit. We fail to pay our traffic fines. We drive while intoxicated. We smoke(d) weed and we snort(ed) cocaine (“back in college”). We drank beer before we were legally old enough to do so. Soliciting a prostitute. Shoplifting a candy bar. Breaking and entering. Vandalism. Sexual harassment. That pen in your pocket that belongs to your employer. All of these are crimes and, if we don’t find our particular variety in this list, that doesn’t make us exempt. Because all of us are also sinners. I am. And so are you.
We do not sin on a bell curve. When it comes to sinning we are each valedictorian. And, just as we take the image of God with us, into our workplaces and marketplaces and gathering places and worship places, we carry our sinful, criminal selves there as well. It behooves us to acknowledge this. Not because we should wallow in our shortcomings, but so that we can identify with the people whose shortcomings seem so much more horrendous than our own. They are not. We are just like them. All of us.
I’ve heard people say the thing we hate the most in someone else is the very same thing we hate in ourselves. What if that’s true? What if we are all the same, after all? What if we are, at the same time, us and them?
A lot of the time, the only thing that separates me and you from the people our society has labeled criminal, is the fact that we didn’t get caught smoking weed while we were in college. Or, if we did get caught, we found ourselves beneficiaries of a corrupt system that worked in our favor. You and I? We are criminals, too. In this we are all, truly the same. We are criminals, and God loves us. Straight up truth.