Justice for George Floyd = Justice for All
We have just celebrated Pentecost, and in our Gospel reading, we hear the words of Jesus in John 20:21-22, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This past week, we all heard the cry of George Floyd as he cried out, “I can’t breathe”.
As Christians, we equate breathe with the Holy Spirit. The breath that comes from God that sustains us, nurtures us and equips us to continue the work of the Kingdom. For George Floyd, breathe meant life, just as it means for all of us.
There certainly is no peace in our country right now. Peaceful protests have been confused with rioting and looting in the streets. The protesters call for justice, those crying out in the wilderness are having their voices drowned out by those who mean harm to their community. We need to open our ears to hear the frustration in their voices, and yes even in some of their behaviors. While we cannot condone the violence and looting and destruction in the streets, we can understand the frustration that comes from oppression.
I am reminded of the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. written in April of 1963. King writes, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit ins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.”
It sounds like this letter was written recently, when in fact it was written 57 years ago. We can do better and we must do better.
I hear many people say that “Black people have it better now than they ever have”. Better than what? Slavery? Jim Crow Laws? Racial profiling? It is time that as Christians, especially white Christians, we call for justice for our sisters and brothers color. Justice which enables people of all colors to be able to drive a car without the fear of being pulled over. Justice which enables people of all colors to walk in the park or sidewalk without fear of having the police called. Justice that allows all people to be treated fairly by our law enforcement.
King went on to write in his letter, “The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.”
King was calling for the church to work on behalf of justice and peace for all of God’s children; to take stand and call out injustice. No longer can we remain neutral or silent. If one of God’s children suffers, we all suffer too. God is suffering, God is calling for justice. God sent us the Holy Spirit to equip and enable us to speak truth to power, to break out of the status quo, to work on behalf of justice for all of God’s children, regardless of ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status.
At our baptisms and again in our confirmations, we promised to “serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth”.
The death of George Floyd is a symptom of a bigger issue – the effects of racism in our country and today by working for justice on behalf of George means we work on behalf of justice for all of God’s people. The contemporary church is at a crossroads right now – what road will you travel?