Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
by Rev Guy Hewitt
I have other sheep that…I must bring…so there will be one flock, one shepherd. John 10:16 As I worked on my sermon preparation for Sunday, I couldn’t escape the Derek Chauvin murder trial.
Chauvin’s brutality towards George Perry Floyd Jr. assaulted the consciousness of Americans like nothing since the Civil Rights Movement and initiated a global movement for justice.
In Chauvin, I saw the ‘hired hand’ referenced in John 10:12 who when the ‘wolf’ of racism approached, neither protected the sheep nor simply ran away but callously aided and abetted the ogre of racial oppression.
When the verdict of guilty on all counts was returned, I finally exhaled. I feared what any other outcome could have meant for all working for social barriers which divide to crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions are healed and we live in justice and peace.’ My deeper fear was for the conflagration that may have followed any lesser verdict.
I am hopeful that George Floyd’s death will help to bring about positive change and equitable outcomes for all in America.
Chauvin’s conviction serves as a reminder that those who wear a badge are not above the law.
While there is reason to be reassured by the cracks in the so-called blue wall of silence, as Vice President Kamala Harris opined, “A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice.” Bishop of Minnesota Craig Loya similarly stated, “One verdict, however momentous, will not heal this sickness that lies deep inside us.”
As the struggle for justice continues, we must not overlook those codes of silence that have plagued the church.
I recall a wise saying of the Navajo people of the American Southwest, “Every time you point a finger in scorn there are three remaining fingers pointing right back at you.” Matthew 7:5 is more direct, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s.”
Across the expanse of history ‘The Church,’ here I refer to mainline Christian denominations, has often stood on the wrong side of racial equality. Too often, the church failed to do the radical work to “defend the cause of the poor give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72:4).
Instead, it has often been, in the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound… often the arch-supporter of the status quo.”
In slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and Apartheid, large sections of ‘the church,’ with a few notable exceptions, stood on the wrong side of history whether by what they did or failed to do.
By their action or inaction, they reinforced that status quo and the suppression of the rights of Black and other People of Colour.
1 John 3:18 “Let us, love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Too often, ‘the church,’ particularly white evangelical congregations, keep having ‘come to Jesus’ moments on the issue of racial injustice.
Too often, they offer profound and heartfelt apologies, quotes Dr. King, and promise to do better next time. Well, this is ‘next time…’
Although ongoing for centuries, demands for justice and equity following the senseless murders of unarmed Black people is no longer the isolated protest of a largely marginalised Black community but the outcry of the nation as a whole and a world in chorus affirming that Black Lives Matter.
In this, ‘the church’ once again could be more vocal leading the prophetic voice to “to bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives…and to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18.) I commend Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for his efforts to bridge the racial divide. Less than a week after the killing of George Floyd, he wrote in the Washington Post: Our nation’s heart breaks right now because we have strayed far from the path of love. Because love does not look like one man’s knee on another man’s neck, crushing the God-given life out of him… But that frustration must not lead to fatalism or despair. Let us channel our holy rage into concrete, productive and powerful action.
Love looks like calling on officials and demanding they fulfill their duty to protect the dignity of every child of God. Love looks like making the long-term commitment to racial healing, justice, and truth-telling – knowing that, without intentional, ongoing intervention on the part of every person of goodwill, America will cling to its original, racist ways of being.
As part of a commitment to Becoming a Beloved Community, our parish undertook ‘Sacred Ground,’ the Episcopal Church’s program that seeks to confront the historical roots of systemic racism and examine how that history still informs America today.
Where we aspire to judge others not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character.
And it does already exist, like those bystanders who without knowing George Floyd recognised his humanity and pleaded for his life, documented the tragic event, and later testified; those the Minnesota Attorney General referred to as a “bouquet of humanity.”
While Episcopalian church leaders have, especially over the past year, called for a reckoning with the racism embedded in American, I was surprised to discover how many parishes remained tentative about taking the ‘sacred ground’ journey; too few parishioners are participating in this wonderfully educating, elucidating and liberating program.
The path of love does not look like the silence and complicity of those who aspire more to tranquillity rather than justice, to calm rather than peace. We put too much faith in trying to bring about change by committee and transformation by resolution.
If this continues, ‘the church’ may once again find itself on the wrong side of history.
Let us, following the Good Shepherd, love not in word or speech but in truth and action and finally become one flock.
Guy Hewitt is committed to nation-building. He currently resides in Florida.