Outrage erupted across the country this week after video surfaced of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nearly 10 minutes. In the horrifying video, Floyd begs for air before bystanders plead for his life. In the end, Floyd, an African American suspected of no violent crime but of “grocery store forgery,” died.
The four police officers involved were fired almost immediately. The FBI opened an investigation, and the Justice Department pledged to make the case a top priority. While, in the past, police have often defended fellow officers in similar incidents, this time, as the Washington Post reported, police chiefs across the country “denounced the prolonged suffocation of Floyd.”
Earlier this week, Detroit-area pastor Chris Brooks, a former Colson Center board member and close friend, posted a picture of Floyd on Facebook along with a quote attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” I admit, for the last few days, I’ve struggled to know what should be said and what could be done.
We must say, first, that George Floyd was an image bearer of His Creator. His death is awful. It’s tragic. And it should not have happened.
Floyd’s murder has opened up, yet again, so many larger, painful cultural issues we face–especially those having to do with race. Also revealed, again and painfully so, is how essential justice is, especially for victims and family members but also entire communities. Civilizations can sustain many things, but not when perpetual injustices go unaddressed.
Still, we must not forget, in the midst of the important discussions we must have, that George Floyd was a real person. Too often when videos like this one go viral–and God help us and forgive us, there are too many–we automatically run to ideological or political corners, turning victims like George Floyd into a prop for our own positions.
The most obvious example is those using this killing to justify looting stores and destroying property. Other examples include resorting to “what-about-isms,” as if some other unrelated wrong somehow diminishes the evil of this act or implying that one can only support either the police and law and order, or African Americans and justice… as if these are mutually exclusive options.
Dichotomies like that are dangerous and disingenuous. We must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can support the institution of law enforcement and acknowledge that the terrible injustice that happened here happens too often. We can denounce lawlessness and still listen carefully to our African American neighbors describe their deep pain and disillusionment. We can support a right to protest and still denounce using protests as occasions for evil.
Above all, I, a follower of Jesus who happens to be white, can listen. I can, indeed if I am to love my neighbor as Christ commanded I must, care about the suffering of my fellow citizens, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church can lead the culture in addressing this suffering and its root causes, advancing justice, and caring for victims. Who else can?
This Monday is the launch of the third module of our Truth Love Together virtual event, entitled “Becoming People of Truth and Love.” It could not be more timely. The Enemy uses situations like the police killing of George Floyd to drive us away from both truth and love, to their counterfeits. We must not deny the truth of what happened to George Floyd, and we won’t reach justice, much less reconciliation, without hard, sacrificial, and biblical love. Please come to Conference.ColsonCenter.org to watch module 3, “Becoming People of Truth and Love.”
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.
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