Dear CBC family,
Once again, the Twin Cities are at the center of a racial storm, as the disturbing killing of George Floyd at the hand of a Minneapolis police officer has been broadcasted across the United States. This horrific event once again reveals the sinful racial dynamics that attack God’s creation intention for humanity and are the result of human rebellion and seeking of power. These dynamics have marred the history of the United States and continue to inflict pain and violence on people of color. This morning, we see scenes of burned out buildings and cars, and hear of another human life lost. These tragic scenes once again reveal to us the pain that too many have had to endure for too long.
As I have reflected on what to say to our congregation in this time, I found myself moved by the words that Edrin Williams, the Pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, wrote to his congregation. Though these are not words written directly to our congregation, and though I could write my own thoughts and reflections here, I believe it is critical that I, who have been in the majority and benefitted from my majority position in American society, listen to my brothers and sisters who have not been in that position. I want to encourage each of you to read and ponder these words, and to ask God to speak to you and to our church congregation. I pray that God would guide me, and CBC, to continued growth in Christlikeness as we call out to Him to change us, guide us, and show us mercy, and lead us to actions that shape us as a people of peace and God’s justice in a world of violence and brokenness.
Just last week...
I gathered a group of leaders from within the Sanctuary community to lament, process, strategize, and share hope about the ways in which we could lean into our Christ-centered, justice-minded identity. It was one of the highlights of what has been a challenging year for us all. I was and continue to be proud of how you leaned into our identity and recommitted yourselves to be a part of what God is doing in and through us. Since then, I’ve heard from many of you, and I know that you’re doing more than simply reveling in that moment. Instead, you’ve been taking tangible steps forward: learning, having tough conversations with loved ones, assessing the places and spaces where you can make a difference, and more! I see so many of you doing the work and I’m proud of you!
Today presents us with yet another opportunity to be God’s people in the world, as we learn more and more about the killing of a Minneapolis man, George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police on Monday evening, and video of his death has been broadcast across the world by now. In a nearly 10-minute video, you can hear him pleading with officers for help, as an officer pins Floyd’s handcuffed body to the ground, using his knee to place the entire weight of his body on this man’s neck. As if he were a robot gone mad, the officer seems unmoved by Floyd’s cries. We can hear the unfortunate echo of Eric Garner, another Black man killed by police, as Floyd spends his last few moments of consciousness saying to the unfazed officer, “I can’t breathe.” As other officers look on without intervening, Floyd eventually goes unconscious after what feels like an eternity and dies shortly after. That’s evil to me!
But this is bigger than just me. This is about us.
Who will we be in this moment? What will we do in this moment?
What kind of society are we if this is commonplace? What does it say about the state of policing if their best training leads them to deal with an allegation of forgery by killing a man? What does it say about the culture of policing when other officers stand by while one of their own takes the life of a citizen? What does it say about our economy and our morality when being poor can get you killed?
It says to me that, perhaps, our most beloved systems - the education system, the justice system, the political system, the financial system, even the healthcare system - are actually one incredibly efficient system of injustice. It says to me that if we don’t do something about it, we’re all susceptible to being similarly victimized by it. I lie to myself if I don't admit that what happened to George Floyd could very easily happen to me. Well, I’m not going to wait in line to die. I won’t wait for another hashtag, either.
I want to set 4 challenges before you:
Get Your Heart Right - Today, as has been the case too many times before, a family has had a loved one ripped away due to state-sanctioned violence. I challenge you to feel the pain that Mr. Floyd’s family must be feeling. I challenge you to feel something for what his life might have been like, leading him to that deli. I challenge you to see his humanity, his life, his personhood. What did he like? Who were his friends? When was the last time he hugged someone, told a joke, sang his favorite song? Make space in your heart for a child of God who lost his life on a hard Minneapolis street.
Get Informed - Before treating this as an isolated incident, I challenge you to get an understanding of the historical context for this killing. I challenge you to see how America has used police for centuries to control Black bodies; a story that is far too familiar to poor people and other people of color. I challenge you to think critically about the prison industrial complex, which is fed a steady stream of people who are very similar to Mr. Floyd. Find a copy of Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Gilliard and see how this is, indeed, an issue for Christians to concern ourselves with.
Get Some People - Dismantling the persistent injustice of our current system is far too big for any one pissed off person or any one woke people group. It will take a vast, multicultural coalition to get this right. One of Sanctuary’s greatest opportunities is to see this situation and respond with compassionate, multifaceted action. I want to challenge you to see your presence among our church and within the community of North Minneapolis as no accident. You possess skills, insights, and resources that are essential for the work ahead of us. I challenge you to step forward to say, “Count me in!"
Get to Work - The work of justice is long-term work but it requires us to start somewhere and stick with it, especially when things get hard. We commend Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey for their decisive action in firing the officers involved, but the work is not over. I’m challenging all of us to do something now. Justice cannot be relegated to ideas, models, and concepts. If so, you’re cheating yourself and others. There’s a time for talking about justice, and then the time comes to actually be about justice. I want to challenge you to decide again and again to be about the work of justice. The work won’t look the same for every person, but there’s work for all of us to do.
It has been a strange day for me with many emotional ups and downs. Even more strangely, I’m absolutely hopeful that Mr. Floyd’s death will not be in vain. I don’t think we’ll let that happen. Without a doubt, his death matters because his life mattered. May we pray and work so that his death will be far more than another tragic murder of an unarmed black man. May it be a moment that moves us so deeply that we no longer tolerate this or anything like it ever again!