*Editor’s Note: On January 7, 2023, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was pulled over by Memphis police for reckless driving and was tased and pepper-sprayed. He attempted to flee and was then beaten by police officers so mercilessly that he died three days later of his injuries. Bob Turner is the senior minister of the White Station Church of Christ in Memphis, TN. As a church in and for the city of Memphis, Bob and other church leaders led the church in a Sunday morning lament of this heartbreaking event that took place in the city they love. The following are thoughts that Bob shared in the January 29 church service.
Psalm 102:1-2 says,
“Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!” (Ps. 102:1-2, ESV)
The Bible has a rich tradition of lament. Complaint. A plea. These psalms of lament express the feelings that are hard to put into words but which we all feel. Lament is the words put to feelings that we can then return to God in the form of worship.
“These psalms of lament express the feelings that are hard to put into words but which we all feel.”
This week has been really hard for many people. If you finished Saturday night a little more tired than usual, then you were in good company. Businesses closed early on Friday. People went home from work early. National news crews came to Memphis, preparing for possible riots.
White Station is a church in the city and for the city, so these events hit us hard.
If events like this seem remote, Tyre Nichols was beaten to death just a few blocks from my wife Andrea’s childhood home. During this month, other parents in that neighborhood with young children looked out their window onto those streets feeling that their kid could be next. That the person they love more than anything in the world could be treated like a punching bag in the middle of the street.
“White Station is a church in the city and for the city, so these events hit us hard.”
I don’t understand all of the complexities of this. But I know a few things:
We have a power problem.
The misuse and abuse of power is a theme that goes back into all of human history and is informed by the Bible. It’s the downfall of King David. It’s the downfall of Judas, who has privileged access and uses his knowledge and access for financial gain.
Henri Nouwen, in his book In the Name of Jesus, wrote, “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people.”
“The misuse and abuse of power is a theme that goes back into all of human history.”
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” (Matt. 20:25, CSB)
We have a violence problem.
The level of brutality used against Tyre Nichols displayed the lowest possible view of human life.
As a church, we affirm that the image of God is within each human body. Tyre’s body was treated like it had absolutely nothing to offer. For that moment, at least, the officers showed darkened hearts. Paul says in Romans 1.
“They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.” (Romans 1:29-32, NRSV)
“The level of brutality used against Tyre Nichols displayed the lowest possible view of human life.”
Their story is not over yet, though. And we pray that all five officers will see their error, repent, turn to the Lord, find God to be extravagant in mercy, and experience new life in the name of Jesus.
Love Your Neighbor
The Scripture we’ve been memorizing this week for Inside Voice [White Station’s Bible memorization/internalization project] is perfect for this occasion.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:18, NIV)
Who is our neighbor?
- A man who lives on the other side of the city is my neighbor even though he has a different color skin.
- A woman who arrived here from South America is my neighbor even though we don’t speak the same language.
- A child who grows up poor is my neighbor even though I’m not poor.
God calls us to love our neighbor.
And God also calls us to suffer. We know that God does not ignore the suffering we experience but that God also does not promise to take it away. There is no escape from our suffering. The promise of Jesus is not that we can avoid it but that he will walk with us in it. On the cross, Jesus does not take our pain away—he takes it on.
“On the cross, Jesus does not take our pain away—he takes it on.”
So we pray that God will hear our prayer, that we will turn from power and violence, and that God will walk with us.
We mourn the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols.
His senseless death came through a profound abuse of power.
No parent deserves to watch their child be beaten in such a grotesque way.
We are thankful that justice has been served in some ways, as the officers have been dismissed and charged. But we are also prayerful that justice will be advanced in other ways.
As a city, we must commit ourselves to a common morality that places love above hate, unity above division, peace above violence, forgiveness above revenge, submission above power, and generosity above greed. This is the only way forward.
We pray that God gives comfort to Tyre’s family during this awful time.