George Floyd's killing continues to shake our nation, as people of all skin colors and nationalities march and protest in unity. But one crucial question remains: Has this swelling movement pricked the hearts of white Christians?
For some, the answer is yes. Plenty are protesting alongside African Americans. I recently drove by a predominantly white Presbyterian church with a marquee that scrolls the names of black men killed by police. United Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc. are also on the front lines, helping to organize marches and strategizing for legislative change.
But others, many of them evangelicals, remain quiet on the matter. They seem to have pigeonholed this explosive movement against racism as a liberal or Democratic thing. Their allegiance to President Donald Trump and comfort with the status quo stop them from participating in justice for their black brothers and sisters in Christ, or even acknowledging that justice is necessary.
I write this while remembering an experience five years ago. I spoke before a large, predominantly white, congregation. My message centered on overcoming difficult situations. Rather than break us, the difficulty makes us stronger, I told them. We can use that strength to persevere in God's calling for our lives.
I concluded with a story about my late grandfather, a black pastor and well-driller in Alabama. In the 1950s, he sued a white man over a car accident, only to be kidnapped and beaten by white supremacists. Despite the injustice, my grandfather kept right on preaching about God's goodness. Racial hatred and attempted murder didn't stop him from walking in his purpose.
I felt good about the message and its impact – until later that evening.
A staff pastor called, a white man. He didn't think my grandfather's story was appropriate in the integrated church setting. Bringing up the past made him feel guilty for things white people did long ago, he said. He told me he wasn't the only one who felt this way.
And therein lies the problem.
Like too many others, he saw racism as a thing of the past, something that has no place in today's church, not even in a story of inspiration. Slavery is over. Jim Crow is legally gone. Barack Obama was president. So, everything is OK now.
That mindset is troubling, especially from today's lens. Thank God, we no longer slave in the cotton fields, but racial tensions surely persist.
Consider the white woman caught on video feigning fear in a call to New York City police. “There's an African American man” who is “threatening myself and my dog,” she said in a vengeful attempt to get a black man arrested because he asked that she put her dog on a leash.
Meanwhile, corrupt police officers and wannabe vigilantes send African American men to their graves without justification. Statistics reveal black people experience higher rates of incarceration, poverty, unemployment and myriad indicators of oppression. Yet, some white Christians still deny that systemic racism and white privilege exist in modern America.
Meanwhile, black lives are on the line – and the Christian church is, too.
In the Bible, God's people were often agents of positive change, setting the moral compass for those around them. Today, many in the church sit idly by while a movement for justice and true peace permeates worldwide in spite of them.
Should anyone be surprised by statistics that continually show Christianity declining in America? Why would unbelievers, especially forward-thinking millennials, be drawn to a church where people are more outspoken about supporting Trump and gun rights than they are about black people being killed while jogging (Ahmaud Arbery), sleeping (Breonna Taylor) or lying face-down and handcuffed on a street in broad daylight (George Floyd)?
I agree with conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson who recently wrote that “Trump's refusal to isolate and repudiate the contagion of racism” is a threat to the identity of our nation. I believe an even greater threat would be for the so-called people of God to follow suit.
Silence is dangerous to the state of this country. At recent peaceful protests, I've seen white protesters hold up signs targeting other whites. Here's what they read:
“Stop disguising racism as nationalism”
“I refuse to silently go back to the 1950s!”
“All lives don't matter until black lives matter”
“White Silence is Violence”
Well said. I would add: Stop calling these tragedies “isolated incidents” or the work of a “few bad apples” on Facebook. Stop trying to dig up mess from the victims' past in some vain attempt to lessen the value of their lives. Stop pitting your support for good police officers against the movement. We can support good officers and decry systemic racism.
This is not a political battle. It's spiritual warfare. This is the Bible playing out in real life.
Recall the parable about a man who was beaten, robbed and left by the roadside. Two religious types see the man and walk by. Offering no aid, they continue their journeys. The third man, known as the Good Samaritan, sees the victim, cleans him up and pays for his care.
Today, white Christians must choose to be the Good Samaritan. They must act to help heal their fellow African Americans, to heal this nation from its racist past. If not, they can no longer claim to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Sharon Tubbs is a Fort Wayne resident.