Three weeks ago the city of Minneapolis became the focus of global attention as video cameras graphically recorded the tragic killing of George Floyd. Subsequent days saw the looting and destruction of Cub and Target stores as well as many small mom-and-pop businesses. Every day since has seen large-scale peaceful protests around the country and the world.
Most view this primarily as an issue of black versus white. But there are hundreds of ethnic groups across America, and they are all affected by these racial tensions. An Asian proverb says, “When elephants dance, the grass gets trampled”. There are a lot of people feeling trampled right now in the tension between blacks and whites. Many are experiencing deep pain. Often their tears are drowned out by louder voices screaming out in anger. Too often we fail to listen to those who are hurting and need support.
Global Youth Interchange is a ministry founded to serve the spiritual needs of our immigrant communities. One of our ambitions is to address Christian values in such a way that will resonate with believers of any ethnicity, nationality, generation, gender, denomination or political perspective. That’s a tall order, and we’ll never get it just right. During my 13 years in China I learned to see the world through Chinese lenses. In the past 2 years I’ve begun to learn what the world looks like through immigrant lenses. I don’t know much about how the world looks like through African American lenses. But I’m beginning to listen to wise voices from that community, and I’m starting to learn.
I will not pretend to give final answers on how Christians should think about the events surrounding the death of George Floyd. But I will do my best to set forth biblical principles I hope most believers will be able to agree to. The more common ground we can find as we begin our discussions, the more profitable those conversations will be, and the more likely we will be able to identify ways to love and serve together. I invite any of you to share feedback and constructive criticism with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are three biblical principles I can think of that will help us establish some common ground. I believe we need to listen to others; affirm others; and advocate for others.
LISTEN: We must maintain the unity of the Body of Christ by listening to one another.
Jesus is very passionate about the unity of His Church.
John 17:21 That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus prayed with passion that his Church would be united. Are we answering his prayer? Jesus did not pray that the Latino Christians would be one, or that the Baptists would be one, or that the members of any particular local church would be one. He prayed that they all may be one. If I can’t get along with Pentecostals or Reformed, there’s something I am lacking. If I can’t get along with Hmong or Latinos or Democrats or Republicans, I need to change. I am a barrier to Jesus’ prayer for unity being answered.
One of the primary ways we build unity and understanding with anyone is by listening.
James 1:19 Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
In the past 3 weeks it seems like everyone is clamoring to make their voices heard. That’s not necessarily bad. But it does seem like few of us are listening. Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person wasn’t listening? When they just kept talking about what interested them? We’ve all been there. It’s not like the other person is speaking to us, but talking at us. In these cases, no real conversation is happening and no real relationship is being built.
A consistent message from the African American community is “You’re not listening to us. You’re not hearing our stories. You aren’t hearing our pain.” There’s some truth to that. Few of us have cultivated the skills to become good listeners (anyone can learn to listen well). Many of us have no good African American friends, especially those that live in less wealthy parts of town. An invisible wall divides us and keeps us from hearing each other.
But there is a way. In the months since coronavirus many of us have been worshiping online. We’ve had our small groups over Zoom. And we’ve learned that we can build relationships with people who live nowhere near us. We can listen to their stories online. Many of us whites are intimidated about listening to the stories of blacks. Some of the voices we hear on the news are furious, if not vulgar. We can feel attacked and threatened, and that makes us not want to listen. Beyond that, we don’t know where to start. We don’t know where to turn to find rational black voices who can help us make sense of what’s going on out there.
But they are out there. I have begun to listen to the voices of African Americans in our community who post their perspectives online. These are Christians who love whites and want to help them understand what they are going through. They don’t pull any punches. But they speak in such a way as to give us valuable insights into worlds few of us understand.
Laurel Bunker is Vice President for Christian Formation and Church Relations at Bethel University. Osheta Moore is in a mixed marriage and writes Shalom in the City. I’m not saying you or I will agree with everything they have to say. That’s not true of anyone I’ve ever met. I am saying that these are wise, highly-regarded Christian leaders who write to help the rest of us understand the African American perspective that is foreign to us.
One of the most positive aspects of the recent protests is their diversity. It isn’t just African Americans protesting. It’s people from many countries and ethnicities, rallying together around a common cause. And most of them aren’t Christians. This is an indictment of the church. If non-believers of many backgrounds can swell in large numbers to speak out for a common cause, why can’t we? If the church remains divided along ethnic lines, does that make a statement about the absence of God’s love and power among His people?
There are, however, positive signs of pastors and churches coming together across ethnic and denominational lines to address racial tensions and the violence that has recently shaken our community. Transform Minnesota is a ministry networking local Christian leaders together from many ethnicities to address these issues. I have recently been on their Zoom calls with over 200 participants connecting to pray, fellowship and strategize. Their Facebook page is a great place to find out upcoming opportunities to serve the community. It is a very positive sign that many members of the Body of Christ are working in unity to address racial tensions and to provide for material needs.
AFFIRM: We affirm that while looting and vandalism are destructive, peaceful protests bring about positive results. Some have objected to protests because of the looting that has happened. Let’s make it clear: looting is done by looters. Protesting is done by protesters. Protesters are no more guilty for the looting and vandalism than today’s Christians are responsible for the slaughter that happened during the Crusades.
Of course we agree that all destruction of life and property is wrong, and deserving of prosecution to the full extent of the law. But Christians also have a long history of supporting peaceful protests. Most of us affirm the protests that brought Communism to an end in Romania. Last year many affirmed the protesters in Hong Kong who stood up to the Chinese government. Many churches march at state capitols every January to protest the passage of Roe v. Wade. We affirm the march on Selma and other protests of the Civil Rights era. We have a long history of affirming peaceful protests. It’s even in our name—we are called “Protestants” because we protested abuses within the Roman Church.
Even the Apostle Paul insisted on a public display when his civil rights were violated. In Acts 16 the government of Philippi had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and imprisoned without a trial and in violation of their rights as Roman citizens. That night God sent an earthquake that loosened everyone’s chains and opened the prison doors. The ending of this story is usually overlooked but it is quite interesting:
Acts 16:35-39 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
Paul had the ability to walk out of the prison and quietly leave the city. But he did not. He made a big stink about his false arrest. He called for the First Century equivalent of the mayor, police chief and city council to come to the jail, make a big public apology, lose face before their citizens, and escort him out of town. He could have just let it go. But it was important to him to make a public statement to the local officials: you can’t trample on the rights of Roman citizens in this town and get away with it.
Some may wish that today’s protesters would just go home, not make a big scene, and trust the process to take care of things. But often we aren’t patient with the process. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic we’re looking for a vaccine. We know that the FDA has a rigorous testing process before any medicine is released to the public. The government saves lives by not approving meds for public meds until they are proven reasonably safe. But many have objected, “This is a pandemic! Lives are at stake. Forget the bureaucracy and put the vaccines on an accelerated schedule.”
That’s exactly what the protesters are doing. They believe that justice was not done for Brionna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery, and wouldn’t be done for George Floyd either. One of the main points of the protests is that the system doesn’t deliver justice, we’ve had enough, and we aren’t going to take it anymore. There are tangible results that have happened as a result. The chokehold has been disapproved and it’s possible the police will end its relations with the union. These things would not have happened if it was business as usual. The protesters knew that if they kept the pressure up, the gears of bureaucracy would finally bend and change would come. As Christians we need to affirm that all who have peacefully protested have done a good thing that has resulted in progress.
ADVOCATE: We must speak up for others and meet their needs.
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Here Proverbs tells us that we must speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves. Now, listening to today’s headlines may tell us that our black communities are fully able to speak out for themselves. After all, they are protesting in the streets with very loud voices. It is true that our African American friends have a voice in the community. But we whites have a bigger and louder voice. It’s not just that there are more of us. It’s that our higher levels of wealth and education, and even the color of our skin itself, gives more weight to our words. The reality of our present world is that a white opinion is more likely to be taken seriously than a black opinion. One of the reasons that the recent protests have produced results is that peoples of other ethnicities have joined together with black voices in protest. As we’ve already seen, Paul was willing to make a public demonstration of ways in which local authorities violate civil rights. We have that same ability today.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to be on the streets protesting. During the period of social distancing, it’s very wise that many have remained in shelter at home. There are ways that all of us can find to identify with the needs of others from where we are.
One of those ways is to provide material resources for those in need.
1 John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how does the love of God dwell in him?
In the last weeks many large groceries and small mom-and-pop shops have been destroyed. Some of these were in areas designated “food deserts” where there were not nearby groceries to begin with. Many of the residents of these areas have disabilities, don’t own cars, face less reliable public transportation, and are hard pressed to find access to food, medications and other daily needs. Currently ministries are scrambling to set up temporary food distribution centers. Before long we will need to design intermediate-term, systematic structures for these purposes. And we will have to look at the long process of rebuilding what has been destroyed.
The blame for this destruction does not lie with peaceful protesters. It lies with looters who were motivated by greed not love. The victims are community residents of all colors and ethnicities who have limited access to their daily needs. As we face Jesus’ commands regarding the unity of the Body of Christ, those of us who live in the suburbs or the countryside cannot say that this is someone else’s problem.
Be the Church's OneFund is a collaboration of ministries serving the African American communities of the Twin Cities. You can follow them on Facebook. Donations to this fund will be distributed to ministries that combine relief efforts with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
This is a time of heightened awareness and sensitivity for believers in the Twin Cities. Some feel threatened and defensive, and just wish the protests would end and this whole thing would go away. Others are seeing things from a new perspective for the first time, and are sensitive to the hurts and needs of others. They are open to change, but unsure what that looks like. None of us know for sure what will unfold in the coming months. The wind of the Spirit is blowing, and we must hoist our sails so his wind can carry us where he wishes us to go.
As the Church of Jesus Christ we do not control how long the protests will last or what is covered in the media. But what we can do is begin to build relationships with other believers who are not like us. We can meet with them in person or dialogue with them online. We can listen and ask questions. We can brainstorm ways to work together. As we do, every step of the way we will give pleasure to Jesus Christ by answering his prayer “that they may all be one”.