On Monday, May 25, 2020 I watched the video clip of George Floyd being murdered by a Minneapolis Police Officer. It was horrifying to see the officer so callously keep pressing his knee upon the neck of George Floyd while Mr. Floyd was struggling to breathe and began crying for his deceased mother to come help him.*
Words are inadequate to describe what happened. I can only imagine how the family of George Floyd feels as well as the many black Americans who witnessed yet another black person unjustly killed in America. George Floyd’s name joins a long list that includes recent names like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Philando Castile along with other well known names like Martin Luther King Jr., Emmett Till, Mary Turner, and many others.
Since the murder of George Floyd, protests have erupted across America and even in other parts of the world. We see the frustration and hear the cries for justice. It is unfortunate that along with the protests, violence and looting has also occurred but we cannot allow that to silence the righteous protests against systematic racism and police brutality.
America has a long history of systematic racism rooted in white supremacy. Denying this history or downplaying the problem only makes matters worse. With the way that systematic evils work, people can unknowingly be complicit in maintaining this injustice without having a shred of racial bigotry in their souls and regardless of their race/ethnicity. That, of course, only makes addressing the problem even more complex but that should not never be a deterrent. I want to be clear though that I unequivocally condemn racism and racist acts, and stand in solidarity with all who are striving for racial equality in all of life — especially my neighbors who are black. Those who are racists must repent [full stop].
Having a black nephew, having witnessed overt racism among a church years ago, and having served as a minister mostly in multi-racial congregations, the Spirit has routinely convicted me to speak out against the evil of racism with whatever platform I have. However, I am also understand the need to be constructive and help cultivate justice and reconciliation. So this is my concern and when Christians ask about what they can do, I want to say “be the church” but that requires some explaining too.
When I say that Christians need to be the church, I have in mind the life that the gospel envisions. This is rooted in a conviction that the church, manifested in local congregations embodying the gospel as followers of Jesus, is the living portrayal of true life where justice and reconciliation exist.
As people learn to follow Jesus, they begin embodying the gospel and in doing so, other people of different races and ethnicities are seen as people made in the image of God. Embodying the gospel also allows people to be honest with the truth, including both personal and corporate sins, which opens space for confession and repentance. That’s because in this new open space of confession and repentance, the gospel is also the grace of God which forms people to forgive and receive forgiveness. From the gospel, people also learn how to love one another so that a community of justice and reconciliation forms.
In the meantime, one practical step that Christians can take is becoming more informed about the issue of systematic racism in America. First, have a conversation with other church members, coworkers, and neighbors who are black. Ask questions, listen and learn from their experiences. Sometimes doing so might come with other pleasant surprises. With one church, I was visiting with an elderly black couple who migrated from Georgia to New Jersey when they were young. Their basement was a display of all the pictures, tools, and other artifacts that had been passed down in the family. It was quite a history lesson on what life was like for black sharecroppers working on peanut farms in Georgia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Reading books and watching films are also another way of becoming more informed. So I would like to make several recommendations:
- Here are some books I recommend which are all written by black authors.
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, rev. ed., New York: The New Press, 2010, 2012.
- James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stoney The Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, New York: Penguin Press, 2019.
- Sean Palmer, Unarmed Empire: In Search or Beloved Community, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.
- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, New York: Penguin Random House, 2014; Spiegal & Grau Trade Paperback Edition, 2015.
- Jemar Tisby, The Color fo Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.
- James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., New York: Harper Collins, 1986.
- Here are several fairly recent movies I have watched that reveal the struggles that black people have lived with in America.
May the church of Jesus Christ live with humility and love, in the power of the Spirit, so that by the grace of God, his kingdom, in which there is true justice and reconciliation for all, may flourish! Amen.
* This post is a slightly revised article I wrote and sent to the Newark Church of Christ on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The revision is the italicized portion in the fourth paragraph.