Today I witnessed an attempted murder.
A day following the brutal vehicular slaughter of more than 80 in Nice, France, I found myself in a courtroom listening to an attorney twist facts, elaborate on irrelevant information, speculate on intent and assault character in what defending counsel called “appalling provocational vindictiveness.”
It was an effort to kill one of my boys.
Dr. Aaron Parker preached a sermon entitled “Kill the Boys.” Following the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, black America was in a fog. Anger, defiance, confusion and fear were the words of the hour.
Like so many on this steamy Sunday morning, Dr. Parker approached the sacred desk that day to bring a word of challenge and clarity from the Lord. Coming out of Exodus 1, Dr. Parker reminded the gathered that this was not the first time history had recorded an assault on the boys.
“Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives… When you help the Hebrew women give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him…” Exodus 1:15
While the murder of black men is nothing new in America - we are reminded of the brutality of the middle passage, and slavery and the Jim Crow eras of course; the assassination of Malcom and Martin; the public beating of Rodney King (which mirrored the experience of many fellow gen’Xers); and then Trayvon’s death brought new light to many similar cases that have occurred in the contemporary period – Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray...
So, in that context, Dr. Parker’s “Kill the Boys” asks an important question: Just how should we respond to the slaughtering of our sons?
As any good Baptist preacher would, he has three recommendations:
1. Save as many as you can.
2. Bring some pressure.
In Exodus 3, 4 and 5, Moses and the elders are sent to see the king and, through the next several chapters, they partner with God to bring some serious pressure. This is not a short exercise and it is not without sacrifice. The slaves are made to work even harder and under even worse conditions. Nevertheless, the pressure was effective. Many of the Egyptians began to see their sin and joined in the movement. They too began to bring pressure on the king.
But that wasn’t enough. We are also instructed to…
3. Proceed in faith.
As a final means of bringing pressure, in Exodus 12, God determined to get the attention of the king by killing some Egyptian boys if necessary.
With that in mind, God told the Israelites to adopt a new tradition. While enduring yet another threat to kill the boys, this was a scary time for them; and Moses’ request seemed a little strange – so this required a leap of faith. God, through Moses, gave some very specific instructions for killing, cooking and eating a lamb, placing blood on the door frame and keeping their families safe. The Israelites did as instructed, their boys were spared and their community was released from bondage.
Something else interesting happened as the Israelites were packing to leave Egypt. Now that cocaine and heroin addiction was killing some Eqyptians, it became a health crisis. Now that sentencing guidelines were hobbling Egyptian families, prison reform was on the legislative agenda. And, the Israelites observed that if they kept the pressure up and proceeded in faith, when mental health issues and gun violence begins impacting Egyptian neighborhoods more frequently, some attention will be paid to those issues too.
Note however that killing the boys wasn’t just about killing the boys – it was about killing the nation. Similarly then, saving boys isn’t just about saving the boys – it also is about saving the nation.
As I sit in the courtroom, my own first born son is at a writing camp across the country. Later that afternoon, while in an Uber on the way to the airport, I received a text message from him. Henry IV had written and performed a poem today entitled “Because a Black Man Died Today.”
You kept us from reading, now brand us uneducated.
You kill our daddies, and call us “fatherless…”
I am dead,
or I will be.
I am becoming desensitized.
Do you slaughter us in the streets
and put the blame on us,
so that we will turn in against each other?
So that we will stop caring?...
It seems that my teenage son is, a few thousand miles away, wrestling with this edict to “kill the boys.”
Today I witnessed an attempted murder. I saw it for myself! An order was given to “kill the boys.”
Fortunately, things worked out about as well as they could have. You see, the womenfolk stepped in. Her Honor disobeyed the king’s command. She is among the number determined to save as many as she can.