Why the Church Can’t be Silent

6/1/2020

by Rev. Donald Smith
North Alabama Conference Executive Director of Ethnic Ministries

A man was killed in broad daylight on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. The taking of life happens far too much in America these days, in cities, towns and neighborhoods, by and to people from all walks of life, colors, creeds and nationalities. Maybe The Church like many others have become desensitized to the consistent and persistent loss of life. To recount the number of times The Church has been silent in the face of injustice in this country would fill volumes. It is beyond irony that just a couple of weeks prior, United Methodists from around the world would have been meeting in Minneapolis to discuss and discern the future of our beloved denomination. At a time when a global pandemic affects and takes disproportionately the lives of Black, Brown and Red people. When people of Asian descent are attacked and accused wrongfully of being the carriers and transmitters of the coronavirus, The Church cannot be silent.

What should we do? What do we say?  Should we wait until the investigation is complete and make our announcement? The Church is not being asked to take sides or give an opinion. It’s not about whether you are conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive, centrist, or moderate. A man was killed by someone who has sworn to protect life, in broad daylight, it was captured on video for all to see, and irrespective to political, ideological, or theological perspectives, the real issue is justice. For those who are followers of the itinerate preacher from Galilee, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, justice is an issue for which we are always concerned. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 16, 1963, in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This quote was penned at another incident when The Church was not silent, but actually complicit in an unjust event in time.

I don’t have all of the information on what he was being arrested for, or whether he resisted arrest, but it didn’t seem to be a crime that called for or was deserving of death. Furthermore, the concern of many in the African American community is whether the perpetrator of the crime against Mr. Floyd will be given the punishment deserving of the crime committed. My sensitivity is shared by many African American parents who see in George Floyd their sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, grandsons and grandfathers. That is why they must have, “The Talk” with their male children about how to respond during an encounter with the police. The Talk is conducted because too many black men have been senselessly killed in incidents from Emmitt Till to the Scottsboro Boys, to Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. Recent events in the deaths of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery by two citizens in Georgia; the false accusation of Christopher Cooper for threatening the life of a white woman in New York and Archie Charles Williams who spent 37 years of his life in a Louisiana prison for a crime that he didn’t commit, all add to the cries of justice and the need for The Church to respond.

I didn’t know George Floyd or his relationship with Jesus Christ, that really doesn’t matter. Some relate to the fact that he was being questioned by police as a reason for The Church to stay out of the fray or wait. Perhaps God is wanting to tell us something. Historically, God has used every type of person and personality to send and carry His message of peace, freedom, grace, love and justice. He has used murderers like Moses, deceivers like Jacob, liars like Abraham, drunkards like Noah, persecutors like Paul and sinners like us. Jesus Himself personally recruited fishermen and tax collectors as His first disciples. My hope and prayer are that this incident will work as an opportunity for The Church to be the hope for the world and speak to injustice at a time when we desperately need something or someone to bring us together.

We heard the physical cries of George Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe,” but we also heard the cries of his spirit calling on the words of the Prophet Amos, “But let justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

Rev. Donald Smith

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