How to Grieve Racial Violence through Lament

Silence Speaks

The issue of race may be one of the most relevant and complicated applications of lament in our contemporary church culture. Lament has the potential to provide a first step toward uniting people when hurt and misunderstanding are in the air. The sacred song of sorrow does not resolve all racial tension or injustice. But it does give the church a prayer language of compassion and a starting point toward understanding.

How should the church respond to moments of high-profile racial incidents?

The issues are often so complicated and the pain so raw. My response in the past has been to err on the side of silence because I don’t know what to say. But my pastoral silence sent the wrong message.

Corporate Lament

This is where I think corporate lament can be uniquely helpful. For those of us who have not experienced pain or unfair treatment because of our ethnicity, lament can be the language we use to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). It allows our first voice—our first step—to be one of compassion. We can turn to God in prayer and join our minority brothers and sisters in their pain. We can identify the brokenness in our world, mourn the racial tensions that still exist, and offer our “complaint” to God about the history of injustice, misunderstanding, and racism. Together we can ask God for healing and for kindness in our hearts. Rather than allowing racial tension to drive a wedge between us or to frighten us into silence, lament can invite all of us on a journey toward seeking God’s grace together.

Lament provides the tracks along which the pain of racial issues can move forward.

Lament can also be the place for the expression of fear and hurt for our minority brothers and sisters. When national events resurface personal pain and shine a light on potential injustice or inequity, lament offers a redemptive framework as people are led to turn, complain, ask, and trust. Lament invites those who have been hurt by mistreatment to turn to the author of all healing. Through complaint they are able to bluntly share their pain. In asking for God’s help, they’re able to clarify for themselves and others what their heart longs for. And by ending with trust, people struggling with the lingering pain of racism can reaffirm their hope in the One who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23).

Lament provides the tracks along which the pain of racial issues can move forward.

A Starting Point

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not naive enough to believe that lament is the single solution for racial tension. There is much work to be done in listening, understanding, addressing injustice, and fostering hope. But I do think lament is a starting point—a place where people from majority and minority backgrounds can meet. The beauty of this biblical language of sorrow is its ability to provide a bridge robust enough to handle outrage and empathy, frustration and faith, fear and hope. Lament can be our first step toward one another when racial tension could drive a wedge.

It is a God-given means for vocalizing complicated and loaded pain.

For centuries lament has been the minor-key voice of people in pain. It is the language of loss that should be prayed together. While lament can be applied to moments of individual loss, its redemptive power is multiplied as we pursue it together. Whether it is expressed in a funeral, modeled in a sermon, prayed or sung in a worship service, applied in a small group, or voiced in the middle of racial tension, lamenting together is an essential ministry of the body of Christ.

There is a song of mercy to be sung under dark clouds. The church should lead the way. Through every injustice and every sorrow, followers of Jesus can help one another find their way through the pain.

Lament is the language of loss as we grieve together.

This article was originally posted on May 12, 2020 and adapted from Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop. His new book, Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, releases in August 2020.

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