I woke up just after 3 AM on Tuesday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. As I lay awake, I had the distinct impression I should put aside this week’s already prepared Langstaff Letter and instead write about the present situation in Minneapolis. However, at first, I wasn’t sure what I should write, as so much has already been written about the death of George Floyd and the events that have occurred as a result. It was then that I felt the Lord gave me a strange phrase, ‘You can walk and chew gum,’ a phrase that is all about doing more than one thing at a time.
In many situations in life, especially when in the midst of conflict, we often need to do two things at once. Just over a week ago George Floyd, an African American man, died while in police custody here in Minneapolis. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced yesterday that he had upgraded the charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to second-degree murder. The other three officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — are now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter (Fox9.com). A hard to watch video shows Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes. The four officers involved were immediately fired, and the FBI has opened an investigation. What happened was a terrible, tragic, horrific occurrence that should never have taken place. The outcome of what happened has been both peaceful protests and violent riots, both here in the Twin Cities and in other cities across the nation and even the world, in places such as Sydney Australia and Amsterdam.
In the midst of all this, there has been an increasing division with the community as some people have used the situation for political purposes. Let me suggest that two main issues need to be addressed. And we need to tackle both issues at the same time, not just concentrating on one of them.
Before I take a look at these two main issues, a personal note.
A PERSONAL NOTE
We have received many emails and even one phone call from a family member in Australia asking if we were alright. Dorothy and I live in the suburbs of Minneapolis, about twenty miles away from the center of the rioting. If we didn’t listen to the radio, watch the news on TV, or online, we may not even know what was going on.
THE FIRST ISSUE – THE NEEDS OF AFRICAN AMERICANS
There is a cry going out for ‘justice.’ While a person is considering innocent until proven guilty, in this case, based on the video recording, the police have already been found guilty in both the media and the court of public opinion. Watching the video, one can easily draw that conclusion.
I do not believe most white people, myself included, fully understand the pain and suffering that African Americans face from aspects of racism that go back 400 years through the generation of slavery and their denial of civil rights. We all need to acknowledge that terrible injustices have taken place across the years. Racism has existed and still exists.
I recently listened to a story of a 17-year-old African American young man who was a track star. As he was out running in his neighborhood, a white woman in her car asked him if he was running because he had just robbed a store. As white people, we need to recognize how the African American community feels at a time like this. We need to understand and care about them.
THE SECOND ISSUE – THE NEED FOR PROTECTION AND SAFETY IN THE COMMUNITY
Again, the videos have been disturbing, as you can watch businesses being looted and set on fire, with no one stepping in to stop it from happening. Looting, destroying another person’s property, and violence only takes away from the legitimate and peaceful protests. To be sure, extremist agitators are ready to stoke the fires to bring about social unrest and division. Possibly even to foster a civil war, if that would be possible. But no matter what injustices are involved, you can not forsake law and order, which has happened. Our leaders, be it the Governors or City Mayors, have not given strong leadership regarding the violence and looting. For example, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s office wrote this statement addressed to individuals who took to the streets following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, “The City encourages everyone to exercise caution to stay safe while participating in demonstrations, including wearing masks and physical distancing as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” The City of Minneapolis has made hundreds of masks available to protesters this week”(minneapolismn.gov/news). It was as if social distancing was more important to the city than the violence, looting and riots.
Again, it is not one issue or the other; not left versus right; liberal versus conservatives. We should tackle both issues, and “We can walk and chew gum.” We need to be able to recognize both the needs of justice and the need for law and order. We need both.
THE REAL CAUSES
What are the real causes behind the events of these last two weeks? Firstly, let us look at it from a personal point of view and reflect on ourselves for a moment. Jeremiah 17:9 declares,”The heart is deceitful about all things and desperately wicked, who can know if?”
We need the light of God’s word to shine into our hearts by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us anything that would express racial sins and attitudes.
Secondly, beyond that, we need to realize that there is a spiritual dimension to all that is happening. Jack Brewer, a former African American Vikings player, puts it this way, “He says that the problem is primarily a spiritual one, that racism is a Satanic spiritual thing that has to be dealt with spiritually. He says that identity politics has greatly worsened the situation and that identifying whites as inherently evil or racist or blacks as inferior is a spiritual disease and a huge Satanic problem. So, what about a mass movement of prayer and reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness. This is not a prayer as part of a superficial cover-up. Let us pray that evil will be rooted out. That racism would be destroyed. That evil actors in the police forces would be rooted out. That the evil responding anarchists like Antifa would be thwarted. Let’s pray first of all that the Gospel will go forth and bring the depth of repentance and reconciliation that is needed. This cannot happen by mere human efforts. We need black churches and white churches and mixed-race churches to come together, to pray, march, witness, etc. O for the Church to rise up” (tikkun.tv).
During the twelve months following my retirement from pastoring a church in 2019, I visited around fifteen churches in the suburban Twin Cities area. At that stage, even though I had planned to, I had not yet attended any inner-city churches or primarily African American churches. I can report that by and large the churches were alive and well. But I became aware of one common feature, with one notable exception.
All the evangelical and charismatic pentecostal churches were overwhelmingly white. Now, I am aware that in many cases, this was because they reflect the demographics of the area in which they are located and the people they attract. However, it reveals something about the Church. We have not been an expression of the unity that we have in Christ that knows no color line. We are all one in Christ. Suburban churches need to find ways to support inner-city churches and churches of color and thus demonstrate our unity in Christ.
When I was pastoring a Church in Chaska, I had a couple in the Church who were both part of the Minneapolis Police Force. One of them is still currently a Minneapolis K-9 officer. Talking to them, I realized the pressure they face and the attitudes they are often met with. I had an increased appreciation for the police as a whole. Do you know that over 100 police officers were killed in the line of duty last year? (forbes.com)
Yes, there are bad cops, just as there have been bad ministers or priests, or any other category you can name. Even so, I do not want to have my family live in a community that does not have law and order. Let us remember to both thank God for our police force and pray for them.
Christianity Today has an article entitled ‘George Floyd left a Gospel Legacy in Houston,’ where they state, “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades-a mentor to a generation of young men and a “person of peace” ushering ministries into the area”(christianitytoday.com). George Floyd lived in Houston for decades, and it would seem he was a Christian believer. He moved to Minnesota in 2018. “He was there for a discipleship program including a job placement . . . He had plans to return this summer” (christianitytoday.com).
“May God grant comfort to the family of George Floyd, peace to the city of Minneapolis, justice for the officers involved, safety to those affected by the related violence, and power to Christ’s Church, so that we would be the agents of peace and reconciliation, the people of Truth and Love, our world needs so desperately right now” (breakpoint.com)