“How long, O Lord?”
This opening sentence from the thirteenth Psalm entered my mind when I saw the video of a white police officer’s knee thrust into the back of the neck of an unarmed black man he had pinned on the pavement. Of course, this was only the newest example in recent weeks of unarmed, innocent people being murdered by police or those who believed they had the right to take the law into their own hands. These scenes are all too familiar.
The image of George Floyd’s murder is different. It has generated a whole new level of frustration, anger and despair that has resulted in both peaceful protests and violent confrontations. As my friend, Kasey Jones, associate coordinator of Strategic Operations and Outreach for CBF Global, explains in an article on the CBF blog, the image of Emmett Till sparked outrage that led to protests that eventually inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Civil Rights Act (1964), and the Voting Rights Act (1965). I pray the image of George Floyd can lead to similar positive change for our country.
As a middle-aged white man, I know it is impossible for me to understand fully what it is like to be black or brown in America. My privilege has never caused me to suffer racism, discrimination and prejudice the way it has my brothers and sisters of color. Most of the time, I get the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time, my black and brown friends have the opposite experience, as my colleague Timothy Peoples, pastor of Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, explains in a recent editorial in Baptist News Global.
Yet we who are white, especially if we profess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, must try to understand.
That is why for a decade and a half, CBFNC has sought to broaden understanding and provide resources on the issue of racial equity and justice. Under the leadership of CBFNC’s Racial Equity and Justice Team, we have convened conversations, offered workshops and developed curriculum to help church leaders equip congregations to engage in a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Racial justice was to have been a dominant theme at March’s Annual Gathering, which, unfortunately, was cancelled due to the Coronavirus.
But trying to understand, while a good thing, is not enough. We must do more.
What can we do?
I must confess that I don’t know for sure. People who look like me have made such a mess of things, I almost find myself paralyzed for fear of doing the wrong thing. I’m grateful to African-American colleagues for guidance. Here are some things that white Christians can do:
- Pray – Yes, we must do more than pray, but we dare not do less. Let us “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) for our nation, our African-American (and Latino) brothers and sisters, and our leaders.
- Repent – White Christians must repent of the part we have played in creating and perpetuating an unjust system.
- Listen – We must genuinely and deeply listen to the voices of people color, and of the experiences of discrimination, brutality and injustice they and their ancestors have experienced for four centuries.
- Speak – Those of us who have positions of privilege must speak up. Now is not the time to keep quiet. As Brian Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary (one of my alma maters) says in his statement on the death of George Floyd, “White Christians are not witnessing. Not enough.” And while witnessing involves much more than speaking, for we Baptists, it certainly includes it.
- Educate – White Americans, including white Christians, are woefully ignorant when it comes to race. CBFNC has sought to educate our fellowship on race for over a decade and we have a printed resource list, Bible study and five-week curriculum available on the Racial Equity and Justice page on our website. We must do more. In the coming days we will do more.
- Advocate – Starting with our own personal relationships and moving to our churches, communities, nation and world, we must advocate for just policies, laws and structures for all people – policies, laws and structures that address past injustices and create a more just world for everyone, especially those for whom justice has been both delayed and denied.
It’s been 401 years since the institution of slavery in the New World. It’s been 157 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s been 55 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It’s been almost 15 years since CBFNC began its racial reconciliation ministry.
“How long, O Lord?”
It’s been long enough. That’s what the images on our screens are telling us. And so are our Scriptures: “Behold, now is the acceptable time’ behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).