There is unrest in America as three distinct experiences intersect, creating a dangerous climate for many people.
The unjust killing of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minnesota lit a fuse of anger that resulted in protests and lawlessness as the nation continued to navigate life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restrictions, cautions and guidelines for living during this deadly pandemic had dominated the news. Churches, restaurants, etc. were beginning to slowly reopen. Health care officials repeated the need of hand washing, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. Suddenly that changed, and the focus turned to the protests and lawlessness: two separate but related groups.
Over 1,200 health care professionals joined the protests stating that the danger of racism and police brutality were even greater risks to the health of minorities than the coronavirus. Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, was quoted in the New York Times, “Racism and police violence are major threats to public health in this country.” Trevor Bedford, an expert in the COVID-19 virus, according to The Times, stated that each day of protests would result in approximately 3,000 new infections and could potentially create as many as 50,000 new cases and as many as 500 deaths.
He said, “Societal benefit of continued protests must be weighed against substantial potential impacts to health.”
The legitimacy of lawful protestors was undermined by looters who destroyed buildings and looted shops and stores. Soon, the lawlessness, by and large, subsided as the protests spread to cities across the world. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Jamie Dew and Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear co-authored a statement stating that, “For our fellow citizens of color, incidents like these connect to a long history of unequal justice in our country, going back to the grievous Jim Crow and slavery years. We grieve to see examples of the misuse of force and call for these to be addressed with speed and justice.” (The full statement can be read here.) The statement was signed by SBC entity heads, seminary presidents, and the executives of the state conventions.
Racism — the belief that a particular race is superior to others, or discrimination and prejudice because of race — still exists in America. It is a sinful belief that contradicts the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Racism exists, and changes need to be made. A phrase that has been repeatedly used, especially among media outlets, is “systemic racism.” Systemic refers to something that is throughout the whole system and not just a part of the system. While racism exists, there is disagreement on whether it is systemic or simply part of the system.
Following Floyd’s death, which was videoed by bystanders, the officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck until he died was later arrested and charged with murder. Three other officers who stood by and did nothing to intervene were also arrested and charged.
Bryan Loritts, an African-American and new executive pastor at Greear’s Summit Church, stated, “I believe it’s past time to put a full court press on race and systemic injustice. The approach must be comprehensive enlisting the government, church and home.” During the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. articulated the hope that the church would play a significant role in fostering racial reconciliation.
Last year, Barna Research, in partnership with the Reimagine Group, issued a book-length report, “Where Do We Go From Here?” dealing with how American Christians feel about racism and what they believe it will take to move forward. The research project included 1,502 practicing Christian adults, 600 Protestant pastors, and a 14-member question-and-answer panel that included Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.
The report stated that 87 percent of whites and 82 percent of blacks agreed that “anger and hostility exist between different ethnic groups in the U.S. today.” Evangelicals were least likely to acknowledge the disadvantages of black Americans, yet 94 percent believe the church has a crucial role to play in racial reconciliation.
The report states that liberal Christians tended to see racism as systemic, while conservatives tended to focus on individuals. Seventy-six percent of liberals believe the effects of slavery are still felt today, while only 38 percent of conservatives hold that view. The younger a Christian was, the more likely they were to want the church to play a significant role in fostering moral reconciliation — not just in interpersonal relationships, but as an instrument of change on a community level.
African-American pastor Stanley Long, who was part of the question-and-answer group for the report, said, “One thing our church learned early is that to be a successful multi-ethnic church, you cannot make being a multi-ethnic church your main goal. You have to make Christ’s gospel your main goal.”