On George Floyd, Riots, Racism, and Our Hearts

“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.  Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21, CSB)

I don’t like to rush to speak about that which I don’t really know… I prefer in those things to be “slow to speak.”  I like to sit back and reflect, wait and watch, so that when I do speak, I’m at least somewhat informed. I prefer to speak when it’s useful, reflecting on Ephesians 4:29:

“No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” (CSB)

I also personally don’t feel like posting to social media is anywhere near productive for being understood, especially given the nuance of spoken vs. written communication.  But I have to admit that in this moment, I’m feeling pressure to speak, even though I struggle with feeling that I have not much useful to add to the discussion.  Admittedly, I can’t say for sure that the pressure is from God, from the fact that I see so many of my brothers and sisters posting their thoughts (some of which include a demand that other brothers and sisters must speak or they can’t possibly care), from the responsibility of the position that God has placed me in as a pastor, or simply from seeing how much pain, division, and frustration exists right now in our nation… probably all of the above.  Regardless, here I am, writing a blog that maybe many will never read, putting in my two cents where they are perhaps not needed, perhaps not useful, and perhaps will be celebrated, or chided, or condemned by those who see them.  I’m not sure my voice matters, but I simply can’t stay silent.
 
So what do I think and feel about the events of recent days, from the death of George Floyd to today?
 

Before I answer, I need to acknowledge that as far as the “white privilege” boxes go, I check them all.  I’m a white heterosexual male Christian with a master’s degree and have a “white-collar career” (I don’t see ministry as that, but many do) that provides my family with a middle-class income.  I do not and cannot fully understand the plight of my black or brown-skinned fellows of the human race.  But I’m trying.  All I can say at the opening is this: I love Jesus, and I love people, including you if you’re reading this.

 

First of all, the death of George Floyd is a tragedy.

And a crime. Undoubtedly. As I said, I’m usually one to hold back and wait to judge on things like this. After all, I wasn’t there. I don’t have all the facts. But here, completely unnecessarily, an image bearer of the Almighty was snuffed out because of the ignorance and arrogance of police officers who know better and have sworn to do what is right… to protect and serve. The crime Floyd was accused of is immaterial. The police do not get to summarily carry out a death sentence, regardless of the accusation. If he resisted, that also doesn’t matter. He wasn’t resisting for the several minutes that the cuffs were on him and he laid there with his neck pinned to the ground under Officer Chauvin’s knee, telling the officer that he couldn’t breathe, and when he finally succumbed to unconsciousness, he certainly wasn’t resisting then. I suppose one could try to argue that Floyd’s underlying health condition mitigates this somewhat, and I guess from a murder/manslaughter perspective according to the rule of law, you might have a point.  But since legally this is a question of intent, and we have no ability to look into Chauvin’s heart from this distance, this will be a question for first a jury, and ultimately for God to determine.  We can only speculate. Was it racially motivated? Probably. Would a white man making a purchase with a forged $20 have received the same treatment from Officer Chauvin and the other three?  Almost certainly not.  But can we say that definitively?  No. Regardless, it is both horrific and tragic. It’s just wrong. It’s evil.

 

So people should be upset. We should be bothered. We should even be angry. We should demand justice.  And as Americans, we have that opportunity and that right.  But Christians, Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, “Be angry and do not sin.  Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity.”  We should be “slow to anger,” as I opened in James, and focused on the righteousness of God.
 

But justice doesn’t look like riots…

where businesses are burned, property is stolen, people are beaten, shot, and killed, and more lives are shattered unnecessarily.  Yes, I said it: unnecessarily.  I’ll get pushback on that, I’m guessing.  I’ve seen more videos than I care to see about the senseless criminal activity that has occurred in the names of justice or equality.  One that has haunted me involved a woman being attacked at the exit of a Target in Minneapolis.  She was attacked for no other reason than that she was in the way. In her wheelchair. While a looter was attempting to pull a cart full of stolen merchandise past her and couldn’t.  She attacked this poor woman in a wheelchair because she happened to be in the way, while another looter emptied a fire extinguisher on this woman unable to defend herself. I saw video of a looter with a backpack full of power tools attempting to dismantle a safe to get to the money inside.  I’ve seen rioters pull a semi-truck driver from his cab and beat him.  People are dying in these riots.  These aren’t the actions of people in mourning or full of some form of righteous indignation.  These are criminal acts of selfish people taking advantage of a situation already filled with emotion and tension.  Smashing windows, stealing everything one can get their hands on, attacking people just trying to drive to work, and setting fire to buildings aren’t acts of protest.  They’re crimes.  They’re just wrong.  They’re evil.

 

But sadly, for many in our society right now, the perspective is that this is an all or nothing situation. If I say that Floyd’s death was wrong, then I must declare that rioting and looting are right. If I say that the rioting and looting are wrong, then I must support police brutality, and I’m labeled a racist and part of the problem, because I am apparently saying that Floyd’s death is somehow justified.

I know I’m painting with a really broad brush here with sweeping generalities, and it bothers me to do so. 

But isn’t that how this is being portrayed by many?  With broad strokes and generalities?  Unfortunately, false dichotomies make more compelling narratives in the media and on social media, I suppose. The fact is that just about the entire nation was in agreement that what happened to George Floyd was terrible.  I never heard a single person or saw a single post that said he probably deserved it, but I saw many, many that mourned over his death.  And just about the entire nation is in agreement that the riots and looting (not the protests) are terrible.  I’ve seen some argue that even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in some way approved of riots, quoting, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”  But to say that was him giving approval to riots is taking that sentence out of context.  He was saying that unless racial disparities are corrected, riots are likely to be a regular occurrence.  But he always condemned riots. In the same speech (“The Other America”), he said:

“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating.  I’m still convinced that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice.  I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve… So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way.”

There are many who are holding peaceful, meaningful protests; protests that honor not only George Floyd, but others who have suffered because of the spectre of racism.  I fully support the beautiful, God-given rights that we possess as Americans to do this, and I fully support those who do so.  But protest and riot aren’t the same thing. To criminally destroy the lives of other innocent citizens because we are frustrated, or angry, or sad… citizens who are also very likely frustrated, angry, or sad about this as well? 

That’s not justice.  That’s not protest. 

So this dichotomy, where we can only possibly be against one or the other thing is absolutely false. It’s not either/or. Both are wrong. Both are part of the overall problem of racism. 

And racism: the idea that someone is worse or better simply by dint of their skin color or heritage, that someone is more or less valuable simply by dint of their skin color or heritage, that someone should be treated differently simply by dint of their skin color or heritage, is just wrong.  It’s evil.  But sadly, people thinking in these terms is a reality.  One that I’m trying to educate myself on, so that I can stand against it in ways that are useful, productive, and meaningful.  I would challenge you to do the same.

Can we just call wrong wrong

We who are in Christ should declare that all of these things are wrong and evil: the death of George Floyd, the riots and looting, and the thinking of racism and the acts that flow from it.  But beyond that, we should also strive to do what is right to all (Galatians 6:10), and we should stand up with others who hold this same perspective, and stand up for those who are the victims of these evils.  Love others with God-sized love.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:9, 15).

Ultimately, the bottom line is that this is a heart issue in each of us.

We are all, in some way, prejudiced against others in our natural selves. It could be based on skin color or on any number of other things. We are all, in some way or another, self-focused. And we learn wrong ways of thinking from parents, friends, enemies, media, and just by watching the world around us. We need new hearts.  And our hearts will only be made new one way: through the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only One who can correct the issues we deal with at their source, because they flow from our very hearts (Matthew 15:19). 

Oh, that we would pray with David: “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” (Psalms 51:10, 13, CSB) 

It’s only in Christ that we can truly be made whole.  Praying for you, for our nation, for our division, and for me.