In this season of Pentecost, we lament the injustice and division that still remains among us, and we seek the God of unity to bring us together and to reverse the divisions of Babel. Come, Holy Spirit, fall upon us, and bring justice, mercy, peace, and unity to us and to our land!
Here are some reflections on Jesus in light of George Floyd:
Of all people ever born, no one has come from a position of greater power or privilege than Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of God’s nature, creator of all things in heaven and earth, and upholder of all things through the word of his power. He is the radiance of God’s glory, and all powers in heaven and earth are subject to him. And yet this same Jesus, with sustained and sacrificial intention, chose to leave behind his power and privilege for the sake of people to whom he owed nothing, and in fact to those who rather owed everything to him. I am one of those persons, as are all of us.
As an educated white man raised by educated white parents in an affluent, mostly white community in the Midwest, I too come from a position of significant power and privilege in both the United States of America and the world as a whole. And as a follower of Jesus, and a pastor in a church that belongs to him, I am both called and constrained to walk in the ways of this same Jesus who with sustained and sacrificial intention left his own place of ultimate power and privilege and laid down his life for the likes of me. As I grieve with the nation, and especially with my black brothers and sisters, at the recent wrenching and horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, I am stopped in my tracks by Jesus, who says to me simply and unequivocally: “Follow me.”
I have for years taken the path of discreet silence in situations like this, in some measure thinking that the only other options available to me were public protest or passionate social media posting, both of which are legitimate options, but neither of which seemed to me to be the most effective ways to put my power and privilege to best use. But at this moment in history, discreet silence is in my view nothing short of sin, as I have come to believe it likely has been for me for some time. Lord, forgive me. Lord, have mercy.
So for me to follow Jesus in these days of George Floyd, what does God require of me? How can I speak and act like Jesus, who bore our griefs in his own body, laid aside the privileges of divinity, and emptied himself for the sake of his very enemies? How can I, like Jesus, leave my place of power and privilege and take on the insults and indignities that others, especially my black and brown brothers and sisters, must endure every day? How can I, like Jesus, live not to please myself, but to bless and benefit my neighbor, for her and his good? And regarding my black and brown neighbors, who owe me nothing in the way that I owe God, the very reverse is true – it is far easier to argue that I owe them, for it is on their backs and those of their forbears that my own position of power and privilege at least in part rests.
So as a starting point, to P-L-E-A-S-E my neighbors and seek their good, as Jesus did mine, I must:
PRAY: I am called to cry out to the God of all mercy, truth, and justice for the sake of my neighbors of color. I am called to cry out to this same God against those who support and perpetuate all that stands against mercy, justice, and truth. And I am called to search my own heart for the sins of implicit bias and unexamined privilege that still crouch there, and for any ways that I am complicit in injustice, and to invite and participate with God in exposing and removing them.
LISTEN: I am called to actively seek out, inquire of, and attentively listen to my sisters and brothers of color, that I might understand and enter into their experience of the world. I am called to make my heart and mind actively permeable to being impacted by their words and their lives. And I am called not primarily to advise, but to be present and available, as God makes himself present and available to us.
EMPATHIZE: I am called to be tender-hearted – to actively and imaginatively enter into the experiences of my neighbors of color that I may acquire and embody God’s heart toward them. I am called to willingly embrace and help carry the pain of others, and to engage in lament, even as Jesus carries our pain, and laments on our behalf. And I am called to do so in ways that actively honor and never behave condescendingly toward those I seek to identify with.
ACT: I am called to go beyond mere privately held ideas and sentiments regarding racial injustice, and to actively put what I believe into constructive action. I am called not merely to agree or disagree with what others say or post in social media or elsewhere, but to seek God for concrete active steps I can take in my own family, church, community, and beyond to right wrongs and support their victims. I will resist in myself all cowardice, passivity, cynicism, and despair that undermine my willingness to act in the world for the sake of justice.
SPEAK: I am called to wisely and faithfully use whatever forums are available to me to speak and write words of grace and truth that bring the ways of the kingdom of God to people of color in my own and other communities. I am called to use my words to influence people like myself, support communities of color, and courageously speak against injustice and those who perpetuate it. I am called to guard and regularly examine my own heart before God, knowing that what fills my heart gives rise to the words I choose to speak and not to speak.
ENGAGE: I am called to humbly place myself in conversations and situations where I can employ the full range of resource given to me in service of mercy and justice involving communities of color. I am called to seek out and submit myself to the leadership and input of people of color, and of organizations they control, and to follow their lead in helping to address the priorities they identify. I am called to persevere in doing good, and to encourage myself forward in love and good deeds, even when I am weary and it is costly and inconvenient to do so.
As I write today from my desk in Columbus, Ohio, a mile or two away a state of emergency has been declared in the face of the third day of chaotic and sometimes violent protests at the recent string of widely publicized killings of unarmed black men and women in this nation. While it is easy to focus on the occasional excesses of protests like these, the legitimacy of peaceful protest in the face of such systemic violence against black people is undeniable. The powerless, and those who align themselves with them in solidarity, must give appropriate voice in all available contexts to the ways that truth and justice continue to be systemically subverted in our own communities throughout this nation. As we too seek to give not only our voices, but our very selves in service of these ends, may God give us courage, wisdom, perseverance, and most of all love toward both friend and enemy, and may God have mercy on us all.