16 Min Read
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” – 1 John 4:20-21 NIV
When we turn our attention to the news we are caught off guard by the prevalence of images that demonstrate chaos, violence, disorder, injustice, and fire.
From burning businesses to police vehicles engulfed in flames, angry citizens who are driven by their thirst for vengeance or chaos are hellbent on destroying every institution that is connected to the image of the thing they hate.
If we spend ten minutes on social media we will be exposed to violence in the streets of Minneapolis, looting in Chicago, beatings in Los Angeles, vandalism in New York City, and sentiments of insurrection worldwide. From New Zealand to Germany and now, of all places, Montreal and Edmonton, we see people filled with anger taking to the streets to protest.
A Christian may stop and think about why this is happening? Why are these people so angry? Why have city centers become a battlefield between police officers dressed in riot gear and civilians armed with rocks and bricks?
In simpler terms, it is this: people are tired of witnessing injustice; racial injustice to be exact.
If you have been in a hole for the past week you might have missed the incident that ignited this global outrage, further damaging race relations in the United States of America; and to that effect, the world.
Minneapolis police officers were called to a convenience store because a cashier suspected a man of paying for his items with a counterfeit bill. This is not the issue.
His name is George Floyd, an African American man, loved and respected by his family, friends, and community.
George is then accosted by police, handcuffed, and later pinned to the ground by the same officers. What happens next is played and replayed on every video platform in the world millions of times.
One of the four officers involved in this arrest drives his knee into the neck of the suspect, whose only crime until now is being suspected of giving a store clerk a counterfeit bill. The bill was later proved to be real. The policeman continually kneels on George’s neck, compressing his spinal cord, restricting his ability to breathe which sends excruciating pain down George’s back.
George, as you may see in the video, is handcuffed and there are two officers kneeling on his legs, one is kneeling on his neck as his face is hard-pressed into the hot concrete street, and a fourth officer is attempting to disperse the surrounding crowd as George begins to complain that he cannot breathe.
He gasps for air, begins to bleed from his nose; he complains of pain everywhere on his body. At one moment, he calls out to his mother, who is deceased.
This officer kneels on George Floyd’s neck for a total of eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
Eight minutes. Forty-six seconds.
George closes his eyes, struggles to breathe, and then stops breathing altogether. That was George Floyd’s last moments on this earth.
An emergency medical team arrives on-site to attend to George and only then does the officer finally remove his knee from George’s neck. He is taken to the hospital where he is pronounced dead on arrival.
The officers then disperse the angry crowd who have witnessed the killing of this innocent man. They return to their precincts, still employed and protected by the shield and system that allows them to get away with such a heinous crime.
It wasn’t until days later that the four officers involved in this killing were fired. Only one of them was later arrested and then charged with a crime. A week later, all four had been charged with taking George Floyd’s life or aiding in the crime.
These killings are not uncommon in the United States.
According to the Southern Law Poverty Center, far too many people of color have faced prejudice, disfavor, and violence by a systemic institution that hates them simply because of the color of their skin.
Here are five sad stories that have immortalized this reality in American history:
- April 9, 1962 · Taylorsville, Mississippi
Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., a military police officer stationed in Maryland, was on leave to visit his sick wife when he was ordered off a bus by a police officer and shot dead. The police officer may have mistaken Ducksworth for a “freedom rider” who was testing bus desegregation laws.
- September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama
Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) were getting ready for church services when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing all four of the school-age girls. The church had been a center for civil rights meetings and marches.
- June 21, 1964 · Philadelphia, Mississippi
James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, young civil rights workers, were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.
- August 20, 1965 · Hayneville, Alabama
Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, had come to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County. He was arrested at a demonstration, jailed in Hayneville and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff.
- April 4, 1968 · Memphis, Tennessee
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, was a major architect of the Civil Rights Movement. He led and inspired major non-violent desegregation campaigns, including those in Montgomery and Birmingham. He won the Nobel peace prize. He was assassinated as he prepared to lead a demonstration in Memphis.
It would be a disservice to believe that these horrific and violent undertakings have stopped. American civil rights activists, many of them devout Christians, protested peacefully, suffered shame and bodily injury, and some gave their lives so that black and colored Americans could be seen and treated as equal, not just in the eyes of the law but also in the eyes of the white American church.
We cannot forget the sad and disgusting trail of slavery the United States was founded on. We cannot forget how the country was so divided on if they should or should not be allowed to retain the ability to own and abuse slaves. Black slaves. More Americans lost their lives during the four years of the Civil War than in any other war where Americans were involved. An estimated 620,000 men had to die so that slavery could be abolished. Let that number soak for a minute.
After African-Americans were liberated from their masters, many had nowhere to work, to live, or to go. Many if not most did not know how to read or write. Their body’s carried the scars and marks of years of abuse and rape. Their psychological framework was destroyed by the generational destruction of their identity. They endured three hundred and thirty-nine years of slavery only to be delivered from bondage to poverty. The reconstruction era allowed for free slaves to return to their former masters and work for pennies. Free only to return to a different form of slavery.
At the same time, shortly after the war, the south side of the country created a racist faction who called themselves Klansmen, whose sole purpose was to terrorize the black community and anyone who dared defend it. They raped, intimidated, beat, shot, hung, dragged people by their necks with vehicles and horses. These klansmen would lynch black Americans boys and men because they made eye contact with white women. Klansmen would bomb meetings, gatherings, churches, and peaceful protests. They would fire their rifles, shotguns, and pistols indiscriminately into homes, schools, churches, and public spaces where they knew black Americans would congregate.
Shortly after this era, Jim Crow laws were put into effect by local and federal institutions to prohibit the development of black Americans within their community. They were not allowed to ride on the same bus as white Americans and if they did they would have to sit in the back of the bus. They were denied loans from banks. They were denied the opportunity for jobs they were qualified for. They were denied entry into all-white schools. They were denied the opportunity to live in a better community simply because that community was an all-white community.
Thus the diaspora of the negro man, woman, and child into the United States through slavery, the war that was fought to keep them enslaved, the klansmen who were bent on their destruction, and the Jim Crow laws that prevented them from evolving and advancing led to the Civil Rights era where blacks and whites, mostly Christian people, walked side by side for a better world where one would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Slavery is gone. The American reconstruction era is gone. The klansmen have been outlawed and deemed a terrorist organization. Jim Crow segregation, red-lining, and discriminatory laws have been outlawed.
But what fueled all of these ungodly crimes against people of color in the United States of America is still with us and very much alive today.
It is called racism.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
We would be dishonest with ourselves if we turned a blind eye to how the church has dealt with or better said, ignored the topic of racism in the past.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest accumulation of baptist churches in the United States admits to its past of prejudice, division, segregation, the not hiring ministers and clergy of color, intentionally and unintentionally excluding African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership. They not only failed to support the Civil Rights Activists of the 1950s and 1960s but opposed their ideas altogether.
We would be remiss to think that sentiments of segregation vanished from our church gatherings at the end of the civil rights era.
First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida, had intended on electing a new senior pastor to their church in 2019. Marcus Hayes, a very much qualified minister was loved and accepted by FBC members and his name was cast in the ballot for the possibility of becoming their next senior pastor. Minister Marcus Hayes is an African-American man. Once votes were counted Hayes accomplished an 81% approval vote from the church body to take on the role and leadership of the church. But, because he failed to meet the required 85% vote count necessary he was not permitted to fill this ministerial role. 1,552 members voted “yes” whilst 365 voted “no.”
News later surfaced to the church board that there were sentiments, letters, online chat groups who made it their goal to vote against minister Marcus Hayes because he was an African-American man. A concerted effort by possible 365 members to fight against the possibility of being under the leadership of a black man.
FBC’s executive pastor, John Edie, when speaking about racial prejudices that were behind this “no” vote said he “wants to make sure this cancer is dealt with.”
This cancer permeates through Christom time and again because it goes unmentioned, hidden, ignored, and at times, suppressed from the pulpit. History has shown that the people who devoted their lives to Christ on a sweltering hot Sunday morning church services were the same people who were throwing rocks at people of color during the civil rights protests. Many of them brandished their leather bibles from the pulpit by morning and would later visit a radio station where they could brandish their venomous tongues against their colored counterparts.
It is not an easy past to admit but it is one we must revisit because we are seeing the residue of a prejudiced church resurface and that cannot exist.
We must understand our brothers and sisters of color. We must see our brothers and sisters of color. We must listen to their cries for help when they are oppressed by a system that sees them as less than.
We must acknowledge the value of their life for Christ did the same with us. When we fail to do so we fail our local calling. For when a brother or a sister mentions the brutal violence they experience at the hands of unjust authorities or when they share horrifying stories of being racially profiled we must listen.
The modern slogan “black lives matter” has faced more criticism, more opposition, more vapid anger, defamation, vilification than any other utterance to date. Many people attempt to discredit the root cause of this movement, by stating that “all lives matter” referring to every race or “blue lives matter” referring to the police force. But imagine a situation where your child has died and in trying to honor their life you are interrupted by people who say all children need to be honored.
Imagine your house is on fire and as you rush to phone for help because your house matters you are met with firemen, police officers, neighbors, city officials, and fellow church brethren who tell you all houses matter.
By turning the discussion to generalizations we remove the attention from the situation at hand.
We must call sin for what it is and racism, prejudice, discrimination, and ignoring these horrific realities is a sin.
Let us remember that Jesus tackled injustice and prejudice head-on by loving the very people everyone hated.
It was Christ that allowed the woman in sin to weep at his feet
It was Christ who explained to Jewish Scribes that “their neighbor” was worthy of love and honor, even if their neighbor was a Samaritan.
It was Christ who led Paul to Peter to confront him about his racism and prejudice toward outsiders.
It was Christ who visited a Samaritan woman, an outcast, a sinner, at a well to minister to her soul.
It was Christ who reached out and touched the leper.
It was Christ who restored a man’s sight.
It was Christ, God in the flesh, innocent of any crime, who was betrayed by his friend, arrested in the dark of night, tried by a kangaroo court where his accusers were his enemies and the witness were bought. It was Christ, not Barabas the insurrectionist, who was kept to be tortured, beat, mocked, to have his beard ripped from his face, smacked and punched for the crowd’s amusement. It was Christ who was paraded before kings and leaders for entertainment. It was Christ who was dressed like a criminal, whipped and punched, covered with his own blood, given a crown, and of thorns and led to a desolate hill outside Jerusalem to be lynched by government officials. His hands and feet were driven through with unclean nails so that when they lifted this cross from the ground he would not fall off. It was Christ who thirsted and was given gall to drink. It was Christ who hung naked on a cross for his spectators to gaze on and mock. It was Christ who struggled to breathe as He called out to His Father in His last moments on earth.
It was Christ, an innocent, colored, middle-eastern man from Judea who was executed in plain view for all to see and look on and laugh.
If there is one person in existence who is able to understand injustice, hatred, violence, and lynching, it is our Lord Jesus.
What was done to Him was horrific. It was wrong. We can say it was the heart of man at its best enacting its most glorious deed! They managed to string up and kill God!
And yet, today, we are comfortable ignoring the lynching of our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the color of their skin.
This should not be.
I pray our local church, with its vast reach, can in time be a beacon of hope in our small city for all people of all races. That it becomes aware of injustices taking place around it and that it takes an initiative in demonstrating the love, person, and presence of Christ in times like these.
We cannot sully our testimony in an all-loving God by allowing hatred of His creation to fester in our churches.
For the world will hate and learn and find ways to hate better.
But the body of Christ must thrive in love, protecting all people from all agencies that do not reflect or honor the sanctity of human life.
Because if we ignore racism in the church the end effect of this disease will be like that of ignoring cancer in one’s body. With time, you will stagger, you will succumb to the pain of a growing tumor and you will die.
Let us live in the Lord and let us love His creation. Let us stamp out the light of prejudice. Let us shine a light on injustice. Let us bring forth from darkness the oppressed that they are set free not only from the bonds of sin but also from the shackles of racism.
For if this generation fails to adhere to that divine demand, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” If this calling is ignored by the people who claim to have received so much love, forgiveness, grace, hope, and more, then we will be the most ridiculed hypocrites of Christian history, beating the slave owners of American past and the Crusaders of Europe past.
God will pass on from us like His shekinah glory passed on from the Ark of Covenant as it was taken captive by a Philistine army.
God is patient, not wanting people to perish, and He can wait for the next generation of believers who will take up this case against prejudice in the name of Jesus and fight tooth, nail, and in the Spirit.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12
God be with you, Church. May God strengthen your resolve to stand up for what is right in the face of opposition and adversity. The same Lord who gave Stephen the martyr, the boldness to stand at the threshold of eternity and finite reality, to see Christ standing beside the throne in one instance and men with stones in another, will embolden you. May our God intensify your sensitivity to sin, vileness, wrong, darkness, and racism so that you may shun all forms of evil. Not allowing a hint of it to singe your soul.
For facing this evil together we honor George Floyd. We honor Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Henry, Schwerner Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the millions that have not been named.
In facing racism together, in Jesus’ name, we honor Christ and His creation.
“From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth….” Acts 17:26