Over the past several days, I have been reading and praying about a Brethren response to the ongoing violence against people of color, the senseless murder of George Floyd, and the resulting riots in our cities. I have decided that there isn’t a solely Brethren response to this event. But before we go on, we must acknowledge that Mr. Floyd’s death is not a new story. It is a tragedy in a long line of tragedies. The death of George Floyd poured jet fuel on the smoldering embers of the power struggle that has been burning since the birth of this nation. While the patriots of the American Revolution revolted against a tyrannical ruler (King George I), enslaved black men and women worked in the cotton fields of the American south. It was not the poor, white indentured farmers and servants who rose up against the King. It was the men and women of means who revolted. I tell you this because America divides itself along lines of power.
I read a post this week entitled “why do they riot?” Kyle J. Howard wrote, “When white America riots, it has always been either an expression of power or due to overflow of anger at losing power over others. We see this in the recent demonstrations that have taken place. A few years ago, we had white supremacists rioting and they even ran over a young girl killing her. During this COVID pandemic, we have seen white men marching with masks and guns demanding that service workers go back to work in order to serve them. When black people have rioted, historically speaking, it has always been due to the overflow of trauma & the reactionary rage that occurs when a community has been squeezed too hard for too long.”
George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in broad daylight, in full view of spectators and cameras. It should not be shocking that our black brothers and sisters riot and protest; not only from a sense of powerlessness but also from an overflow of hundreds of years of trauma. As members of the body of Christ, we should be protesting with them. This is not an attempt to condone violence. Looting and stealing is not the answer to the problem of power. Actually, I call us all to the long term work of proactively seeking equality, justice, and reconciliation. This is difficult and uncomfortable, yet necessary and urgent work.
Jesus broke the cycle of power that has been used to abuse people throughout the history of mankind. In my reading of scripture, Paul actually talks about this understanding of power. In Philippines 2, Paul says,
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
No one gives up power. No person’s natural inclination is to take on the posture and position of those who are beneath them in the power structure. Our culture has always taught us to move up, out of the lower, powerless levels, to the more powerful ones. The racial divide in the United States is no different. We have always struggled giving people of color equal footing with white people. We have been so bad at it, that we have had to pass laws requiring it, amendments to our constitution requiring it, and we have even fought a war over it. And even after the war was over, white people, all over the United States, implemented social constructs to keep from giving up their power.
This is not the way of Christ. Rather, Christ made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. Christ came and elevated the poor, the sick, the hungry. Christ came and talked with the prostitute, touched the leper, and ate with the tax collector. And, Christ came and called out the powerful and called the rich to a level of sacrifice and self-emptying that makes us cringe.
My brother and sisters in Christ, I beg you to consider the position of power you have. Whatever that position is, I beg you to use it for the good of those who do not have it. Demonstrate your Christ-like mindset, embrace humility, and seek to learn more about the experiences of persons of color in America. That means we must protest the murder of the powerless at the hands of the powerful. We must seek to be a part of the solution in our own communities. This isn’t just a racial reality, it is an economic one as well. Many of you reading this may live in a place where there are very few people of color. But I promise, there is a power-line at play in your community.
This kind of communication from a person like me is often seen as divisive or out of place for my station in life. But I don’t write this because I am the chief executive of a religious organization, I write it because the love of Christ compels me. If my white children can walk through the streets of an American city without fear, I must demand the same for those who walk in fear every day. This is the ethic of Christ. It is not a liberal ethic or a conservative one. Philippians says it this way. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
I pray that God brings us peace, but before we have peace, I pray that God brings Justice for those who cannot find it for themselves.
The Brethren Church
You are right about power, but you are wrong to speak to it as though anyone who is white automatically has that power. Oppression comes in many forms and colors. Mostly it's the poor of the world who have no power no matter what race or what color they happen to be. To speak to "white people" are as though they are automatically the oppressor is not truth. To not address the wrong of someone holding a grudge or unforgiveness in their heart toward a whole race of people (as it seems you are saying it's okay for all blacks to do against all whites) is to condone a prejudice. God does not have favorites and he speaks to us about the sin whatever the color. He's really hard on us when we don't forgive. If we don't forgive, we are not forgiven. His words, not mine. So I hear all this talk about the white privilege and how all white people are guilty of it because of their color (I do beg to differ that all white people are privileged and have power. Try actually living in an inner city full of the poor, including whites), but I never hear from the Christian community about how those who are black should be forgiving. And so the cycle continues because people are also being told it's okay to hold unforgiveness in their hearts. After all, they are oppressed so they are justified in their anger and hatred. So I hear lots of talk such as yours above, but I don't hear much talk about forgiveness and grace toward those (real or imagined) that some in the black community feel wronged by. Isn't that the job of the church? To speak to the hearts of all men and women? To tell them about Jesus, redemption, forgiveness? To call out all wrongs no matter the color? To not show favoritism? The church should speak to social justice, but mostly it should share the good news of the gospel. That's the calling of the church and it's the only thing that brings about true and lasting change in the hearts of an individual. Of course we are to count others better than ourselves, but that includes anyone holding unforgiveness in their hearts toward a whole race of people, too.
Anonymous — you are right that prejudice and unforgiveness is not the heart of God. And there are poor across all races. But two things can be true at once! There can be disadvantaged white people in the world. This does not erase the fact that America has long-oppressed people of color. Arguing that "other people are hurting too" when someone (or a whole people group) only deepens the wounds already caused.
Privilege is not only limited to economic status, and the reality exists that many, many black men have been killed in the hands of law enforcement. Recognizing that the color of our skin creates inherent privileges is the first step. Spend some time with people of color in your midst. Do you have people of color in your midst? Are you having one on one conversations about this with them?
Reconciliation has long been the call of the church, and this post is a call to just that. Not a call to arguments of why white privilege might not exist, or how there are exceptions. It is time to humble yourself, spend time listening, and take a posture of submission to our brothers and sisters. Grace and peace to you.
Thank you, Steven. You're right, we need to take a posture of humility, listening, learning, supporting and elevating the voices of people of color and work to set the power imbalances right.
Thank you for this well thought and courageous letter knowing that in the Brethren church many people will not like it .
It is sad that Christians would be so divided that they consider racism a liberal issue and abortion a conservative one but even more sad that there would be huge differences between the « white evangelicals » and the “ black evangelicals “ as if they were two gospels ...one for whites only ...and the other for blacks only...
We are sinners and should kneel to ask God for forgiveness ...
I deeply enjoyed and appreciate your article on Mr. Floyd. You have hit the nail on the head- We as the body of believers need to be working with all people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds to spread the love of Christ and the hope that only He can offer. But I must as you to consider the impact of the words you use. As your article goes on you use the term "racial divide". I assume you are speaking of the different treatment of "people of color" compared to the treatment of "white people" The problem with this is allowing the opposition to frame the argument in un-biblical terms. God created mankind- singular. There is no record of God created white, black brown, yellow, red, tan, or purple people on different days or at different times on day six. Until the church family can get past that and only see God's creation of people regardless of their appearance we have no hope of being effective in breaking down the walls that separate the people groups in this country. The most controversial truth of the New Testament is that Jesus came to die for ALL people and to reconcile All people to God. Not just a select group. We must learn as Christians to see through God's eyes and love all of his creation, not just those who look like us or sound like us.
I appreciate the sentiment and passion here, but let's get one thing clear. To reduce everything to a mere power struggle is not only ignoring the complexity of issues, it also plays into the hands of socialist-Marxist thought. I highly recommend that before we go about with reductionist statements we learn from the horrors of the twentieth century. I highly recommend reading, "The Gulag Archipelago" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It is wise to not feed into a solution that oftentimes becomes far, far worse than the problem it seeks to address. By the way, white people protesting just wanted to get back to work. The overwhelming majority were not seeking to force others back into service jobs. I am not seeking to be argumentative or contrarian, and I pray this is recieved in the manner it was intended. I only mean to be helpful and to warn against ideologies that have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.