In the end, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the only person who received true justice from our U.S. system was Officer Derek Chauvin.
Derek Chauvin was accused of a violent crime, and trained police officers took him into custody without kicking in his door with a no-knock warrant and without bystanders being shot. As an accused murderer, Officer Chauvin was not beaten or tased, nor did any officer kneel on his neck in the process of arresting him. He had adequate legal counsel with every protection afforded him under state and federal laws, and his counsel put on a robust defense. His trial was relatively speedy, and his case was heard by a judge and a jury of his peers from his community—half of whom looked like him. And, in the end, this fair and impartial jury issued a verdict of “guilty” based on the evidence provided.
The system worked for Officer Chauvin, as it did not work for George Floyd. As it did not work for Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Antonio Valenzuela. Jesse Romero. And that is why we who claim Jesus Christ as our Savior, Guard and Guide, dare not let yet another moment pass without taking a hard look at ourselves—especially those of us here in the United States. We are now called to do some truth-telling, soul-mending, and systemic change-making in the wake of ongoing death-dealing racism in this nation.
We have a problem with racism and white supremacy in this country, which by definition is a U.S. white-dominant Christian church problem. We are a nation coming apart at the seams, torn asunder by racism, racial hatred, and racial mistrust, standing shakily on unjust, racially stratified systems that uphold white people as “good” and all others as “bad,” unwelcome, and unworthy. Racism has such a deadly, cancerous hold on our personal, spiritual, and civic lives that it infects, weakens, and wearies our nation, to the point that our ideals of liberty and justice for all are but noisy gongs and clanging symbols.
It is Christian silence, Christian assent, and Christian fear of having honest conversations that confront systemic racism that has left our nation in tatters. More than any other institution in history, American Christianity has shaped our educational, political, and criminal justice systems. The spiritual and moral values held by many Americans are rooted in religious doctrine. So, if racism is a problem in this nation—and it surely has been for centuries—it is because people of faith have failed to teach racial justice as a Christian value.
The Hebrew word for “justice,” mishpat, which occurs more than 200 times in the Old Testament, is evidence that God has set an anti-racism agenda for us and expects us to live that out in our relationship with Christ and one another. And mishpat means more than meting out punishment—it means protecting the vulnerable, ensuring equal rights for everyone, taking up the cause of the poor and marginalized, and at all times bringing God’s reparation, God’s justice, God’s truth and God’s mercy to the world.
We, God’s anointed, flawed community of faith, are to renounce the forces of sin and wickedness, to preach release and flourishing, to cast out demons of hatred and bigotry, to invite people to know Jesus as Savior, and to come together in God’s love. We’re in God’s mishpat business and God has loved us, saved us and called us for this moment. It is time to get serious about being God’s church and end racism for good. And it must start with hard conversations and penitent prayers and action.
So, let’s have those conversations now. What happened this week in Minneapolis is not a watershed event. The watershed moment will be when this nation’s entire Christian community, particularly its white Christians, use their power to finally dismantle racism, repent of injustice, and join with People of Color and the whole world to co-create a more just society. Only then will the church of Jesus Christ be what God intends: the Light of the World.
Books for church discussion/action groups :
- Long Time Coming: Reckoning With Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson (St. Martin’s Press, 2020)
- White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
- To Protect And Serve: How to Fix America’s Police by Norm Stamper (Bold Type Books, 2016)
Resources from Religion and Race:
“Being An Ally With People of Color” by Katelin Hansen
“Meaningful Conversations About Race” by David Anderson Hooker
“God Has Work For Us To Do” (adaptable for worship) by Mark Miller
“Church: Building God’s Beloved Community” by Dr. Miguel de la Torre
“Preaching Courageously Against Racism,” a discussion among four United Methodist pastors
When replaying videos of racist violence (tip sheet)
“Communion Liturgy—Black Lives Matter” by the Rev. Michael C. Johnson
Originally published by the General Commission on Religion and Race on April 22, 2021. Republished with permission by ResourceUMC.org.