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Battle Hymn of the Redactor

In the early morning hours of December 28, 1998 a 19-year old African-American girl named Tyisha Miller was dropping her friends off when her car got a flat tire. She called some family members for help. An hour later, her cousin came to the 76 gas station and found Tyisha unconscious, mouth foaming, with her car locked and a .380 semiautomatic pistol in her lap. An ambulance arrived with police backup, and when they tried to force entry, she jumped up and reached for her gun. All four Riverside Police officers fired 27 shots and hit her 12 times, killing her. I was a junior in high school when I saw this story on the news, and I was outraged. This happened in my own hometown, at the 76 gas station that I pass all the time! A young girl who, admittedly was out late, drinking, and shouldn’t have had a gun, but to be shot a dozen times when she just needed help?! I had to do something.

The following weekend, Jesse Jackson was leading a protest to City Hall and I was determined to be there. I even made a sign (I think I wrote something like, “No Justice, No Peace”) and although I didn't see any other Asians in the line, I was glad to represent. The march was peaceful, and we all intently listened to Rev. Jackson decry police violence and call for accountability for what happened to Tyisha. I guess now, 18 years later, I'm a bit older and not quite as revolutionary as I was then. I've been shocked at the videos of unarmed black men being shot by police, and the escalation of violence and hate.

When it comes to the recent controversies surrounding police violence, I find myself conflicted. Because I’m not a college student anymore; I’m a soon-to-be-parent. My role as a husband and father is to protect my family. I live in L.A. and I’m afraid to drive through some rough parts of South Central because it isn’t safe for someone like me. I have friends who are police officers, and I can only imagine how difficult of a job it is. At the same time, as an Asian and fellow person of color, there is something within me that shares in the indignation to see such violence inflicted on fellow minorities in a helpless state. I can feel that youthful activism and idealism rise up in my heart again.

When Paul wrote to young Timothy, perhaps it was as a wise uncle counseling a young, brash college student (that Paul once was): ” Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” 2 Timothy 2:3, 4. Paul often used the analogy of being a soldier, or making war, to the work of the Gospel ministry. He was encouraging Timothy to keep focused on spiritual realities, and not to let the “affairs of everyday life” get him tangled up. What could those things be? Well, later on in the same chapter, Paul refers to “wrangling about with words,” “worldly and empty chatter.” Paul doesn’t want Timothy to get distracted from his spiritual mission to preach the Gospel, by getting into controversies and arguments, as well as discussions that don’t go anywhere.

James White also warned against getting sidetracked from our church’s true mission in one of his last editorials: “We as a people, as Adventists, have before us an all-absorbing subject, and a work of the greatest importance, from which our minds should not be diverted. . . . It should be our duty to adapt ourselves, as far as possible without compromising truth, to all who come within the reach of our influence, and at the same time stand free from the strife and corruptions of the parties that are striving for the mastery.” Ibid., March 11, 1880.

Sometimes when I log onto Facebook and see some of the comments and videos, my blood starts to boil and I’m tempted to jump into the fray with my own strong opinions. But sometimes as I finish writing a critical comment and am about to post, something stops me. And I believe it is the Spirit of God asking me: “Will this comment lead to peace and edification?” (Romans 14:19). And quite often, the answer is no. I usually end up deleting my post.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be informed, have an opinion, or be detached from what is happening in our nation. But it does mean that we need to be careful about the spirit with which we involve ourselves in the discussion.  (Although in today’s inflammatory political environment, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to join in the discussion, without taking sides).  By joining in, we may risk getting so tangled up in controversies that we compromise our true spiritual mission as soldiers of Christ. What is that mission? I believe Paul said it best in 1 Cor 9:22:  “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”

Chris Choi is a husband, father, and a volunteer missionary candidate with Adventist Frontier Missions. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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