The president of Converge, a closely related denomination to Westbrook, wrote this as a response to George Floyd's death. We especially appreciate his specific steps to action, as confusion and frustration can cloud our ability to find the right next thing to do. To go to the original article, follow this link: Converge Response to George Floyd's Death
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:2-3).
On Monday in Minneapolis, police were called to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a man attempting to use forged documents at a grocery store. According to the report, when the officers approached George Floyd in his car, he seemed intoxicated, and as he exited the car resisted arrest, so the officers wrestled him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs.
Up to this point, the story of this arrest seems like normal procedure. However, what followed was captured on video by a bystander. The nine-minute video shows the officer placing his knee on the neck of Floyd for several minutes. In this position, Floyd began to express distress. “I can’t breathe,” he repeated over and over.
“He’s not even resisting arrest right now, bro,” one bystander told the white officer and his partner in the video. “You’re stopping his breathing right now! You think that’s cool?” Others begged the officer, “Get off him!”
After about five minutes, Floyd stopped moving and appeared unconscious. People in the gathering crowd pleaded for the officers to check Floyd’s pulse. The officer on Floyd’s neck did not lift his knee until medical personnel arrive and carried him to an ambulance. Floyd died at the hospital.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey spoke bluntly about the event.
“This officer failed in the most basic human sense. He should not have died,” Frey said, apologizing to the family and the black community in Minneapolis.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Frey said. “What we saw is horrible, completely and utterly messed up.” By evening the police department terminated the employment of the four officers involved in the incident.
Outrage over the incident has spread across the country. People are angry, disturbed, heartbroken. That includes me. I am frustrated that these incidences continue to happen with no change in sight. I grieve with my brothers and sisters in the African American community, along with all minorities who have similar experiences in life. I can’t possibly understand how this makes you feel, but I choose to believe you when you talk about your fears and frustrations.
Unfortunately this narrative is a repetitive one. It cycles through seasons of high profile and then tapers off only to return with a vengeance at a later date. In the last few weeks it has flared up as the new stories of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have made national news. And like the stories of the past, this story will also lose the attention of the national public. However, for some, it will not be forgotten. It is another story in the rising pile of injustice narratives toward people of color in this country.
There are a few things that break the heart of a person of color in America. First, is the sense that people of color are viewed and treated differently than others. Our vocabulary has many words to describe this treatment: racism, implicit bias, profiling, systemic injustice, bigotry. The narrative includes statistics: economic inequities, hiring practices, social circles, health care access, political division. And it also includes stories: Michael Brown, Emanuel AME, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, just to mention a few in recent years — but there are thousands of others. Talk to people of color and most will have droves of personal stories of mistreatment and mistrust.
The second area of heartbreak for a person of color is the silence of the white evangelical church. While there are some noted exceptions to this trend, the large majority of churches have said little and done little to acknowledge the problems or speak against the issues.
It is this silence that confuses and frustrates the minorities in the church. They wonder, “Why would the church not speak out against injustice? Scripture is replete with examples of God calling his people to stand up for righteousness and justice (Ps. 82:3, Is. 1:17, Micah 6:8, Mt. 25:40, Luke 11:42, Eph. 2:14-15, James 2). Where is their voice?”
The silence is deafening. The loss of trust should be disturbing.
The gospel not only changes lives, it changes communities. In Acts 17:6 the Thessalonians described the impact of the gospel as turning the world upside down. Paul describes the impact of the gospel in Thessalonica in his letter to them (1 Thess. 1:4-6). They were entrusted with the gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, engaged in the community and enduring hardship together to accomplish the mission.
This is how a community is transformed with the gospel. (You can see a similar pattern In Acts 19, where the community of Ephesus was transformed.) It is obvious from these passages and many others that the justification by faith of the individual should lead to increased justice and righteousness in the community.
Yet, in my humble opinion and limited observation, the church of today in our country has, for the most part, stood on the sidelines on these issues. The result: increased racial tensions and decreased impact in many communities.
For many different reasons I can’t begin to understand, many leaders have decided that their wisest tactic for the church is to isolate and insulate from society, when it seems that God calls us to infiltrate and influence it. As a result, we are being branded among the minority cultures of our country as uncaring at best and irrelevant at worst. It will be impossible to accomplish our mission without changing the narrative. We will never reach the majority of a community if we can’t relate to the minorities in that community.
HOW TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE:
Embrace the pain
True change must begin in us. For some, this means repentance from inaction or hardness of heart. For others, it may simply mean being willing to enter into the pain of others and “weep with those who weep.” The point is, we cannot stand on the sidelines watching others suffer or wait for an invitation. Reach out to friends of color and culture. Care for the hurting and comfort the broken-hearted.
Engage the conversation
We must choose to step into the fray and allow God to open our eyes to see and speak to our hearts about the challenges to minorities in our country. We must examine our own hearts as to our biases and blind spots. We must listen to the stories of those who experience racism, profiling, unfair treatment and injustice in our communities. We must learn what the Bible says about the role of the church in the transformation the community.
Enter the battle
We must learn to take steps to help our community move forward with a view of the advancement of the gospel in every heart, home and hometown. If the majority culture will not engage an issue in a democratic society, change will not happen.
This is not the first time I have brought this issue to the attention of our movement. Some wonder why I bring this up over and over again. It is because our goal is to help people meet, know and follow Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. Converge began as a minority movement — Swedish immigrants who were convinced of the truth of the gospel and its ability to impact our lives and communities. Almost 170 years later, God has now blessed us to be a truly multi-cultural movement with a dream to see every community where we have a presence saturated with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The advance of the Christian faith has always been strongly relational. We will not reach a community that we cannot relate to. To reach people we have not been reaching, we must do some things we have not been doing. Let’s embrace the pain, engage the conversation and enter the battle. I am convinced that God will give us the wisdom to know the right things to do and the courage to do it.
Scott Ridout (Converge President)