Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Over the past few weeks, many Americans were surprised by the apparent murder of three African-Americans: Ahmaud Arbery ... Breonna Taylor ... and George Floyd.

There is nothing new about such cases—there is a long line of such deaths throughout American history. The only difference in recent years is that we now have cellphone footage of these occurrences.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four police officers sparked many days of unrest and outrage, not only in Minneapolis but in cities around the country. Though some are shocked by this reaction, none of us should be surprised. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us more than 50 years ago, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

America is a society suffering from the infliction of a major head wound. It is a wound that was self-inflicted 400 years ago through the institution of slavery and has never healed. It is an issue foundational to America. The black/white, slave/free legacy and current mindset must be dealt with before any peoples can be free in this nation.

This major head wound has had a Band-Aid placed over it. It has become an invisible conflagration just below the surface of American society. Over the ages, we have lived in a world where this underlying conflagration is masked by a thin patina of civility—a condition often confused with peace.

There are two realities: one lived by black Americans, where we see the reality of the head wound, the smoldering conflagration, the patina of civility; the other enjoyed by white Americans, viewed as a meritocracy where all peoples have an opportunity to succeed.

White Americans often ask, “What’s the problem?” “Why do you make everything about race?” This is largely because they cannot see or feel the unseen world in which black people live.

As African Americans, we see this first reality clearly. This unseen world raises its ugly head every time we are regarded differently, treated differently, or treated fearfully. We experience it when we are not allowed to jog, look at a vacant home, take out our wallets, play cops and robbers in the park, walk home with Skittles wearing a sweatshirt with a hood, or bird watch. When sometimes we are even not allowed to breathe.

Would that it were possible for all of us to see these worlds completely. But that is only possible if we could see the world through each other’s eyes. In our current condition, and with our current divisions—physically, culturally, socially, economically, and spiritually—this is well-nigh impossible! Fortunately, we serve a God of the possible!

Actions we can take ... in addition to thoughts and prayers

Lament

Find someone of a different race and engage with him or her

  • ensure that you treat the person as a peer, not a project
  • listen well—this will only happen in an atmosphere of trust, so be prepared for a long-term engagement
  • observe well ... ask questions ... tell stories about your life, and ask for comparable stories about theirs
  • look for ways that you are different—seek to find out if these differences cause difficulties in the life of your new acquaintance

And finally, when faced with the reality that your new acquaintance is impacted by issues beyond their control,

  • share your insights with others and find ways to act.

May we lament, pray, and act together so that we may approach God’s aspiration for us all.

Galatians 3:28 NIV

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

About the Author

Colin P. Watson Sr. is the executive director of the CRCNA. He is a member of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Comments

Thank you, Colin, for a profound and courageous address about the life that's lived in America with black skin. George Floyd's death has forced us to recognize the inequities of criminal justice, economic opportunities, and ignored cultural barriers.  Will we notice the moment or continue with thoughts and prayers. 

Thanks, Colin, for your thoughts on the racism that plagues our nation, as well as many other nations. Call it racism, racial prejudice or bias or whatever, it is a sickness that hurts the well being of our country, as well as most others.

As Christians, we think we have the answers, at least, some of them. Truth be told, Christianity is at the heart of the problem, and always has been. Maybe, more generally, the problem might lie at the feet of all religions in that they are all mutually exclusive, but none more than Christianity. We, as Christians, hold up the Christian faith as the one true religion to the exclusion of all others. We can go back to the Old Testament where the Christian God told the Jews to kill all the surrounding nations because religiously those nations were no more than heathens. That’s religious bias inflicting great physical harm. We send our missionaries into lands of other religious beliefs, telling those inhabitants our religion is better than theirs, in fact ours is the only true faith. Now, that is religious prejudice. Just look at the racial prejudice between Christians and Muslims on the African continent. That’s religious superiority which in turn creates racial prejudice. Our missionaries and churches hope to win converts, often at the expense of great persecution, even death to such converts. And Christians say, praise the Lord. Or we can recall the Crusades of the medieval period where Christians expressed their Christian superiority over the Islamic people with mass physical harm and death. During the time of colonization in the U.S. and Canada, Western white Christians not only took the land from native Americans but also their religion, claiming the inferiority of their beliefs to the beliefs of Christianity. We even set up Christian churches and schools in their new limited territories forcefully imposing our religion on native Americans. Again religious or Christian superiority and prejudice. We can look more recently to South Africa and the Apartheid in which the Christian church was a major contributor in expressing its religious superiority over the religions of blacks and coloureds with great persecution.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the “great commission,” the commission to tell all people the good news of Christianity’s superiority over all other religions, in fact as the only true way to God. And there is no doubt that nearly all Christians feel their faith is superior to that of all other religions. That’s religious bias, a bias that has done great harm to relations between people and nations throughout the course of history. The Bible claims there is neither Jew nor Gentile, all are one in Christ. But that oneness is only within the church. If you are outside of Christ and the Christian church and believe differently you are a sinner bound for hell. We try to blunt the sting of our religious superiority by using friendship evangelism. We build personal friendships before sharing our message of religious superiority. That’s religious prejudice, and such prejudice has contributed greatly to the racial prejudice in our country and world. We have a president who holds up his Bible for all to see on public television to express his religion’s superiority over all other religions. When our civil leaders promise to lead our country well, they do it with their hand on the Bible. Add to the Christian exclusionary perspective the mutually exclusionary perspectives of other religions and it is easy to see that religion has been a large, if not the largest contributing factor to racism.

Mr. Watson,

Do you agree with Roger Gelwicks?

George Floyd's murder in police custody is a horrendius crime that surely everyone condemns. Nevertheless, this evil act is not to be linked at every turn to prejuice and racism. Thousands of African-Americans are murdered each year in Chicago and other major U.S. cities. These crimes are not racially-motivated. Atrocities are committed around the world. Such evil is triggered only by the sinful nature. Unless born again we'd all remain inclined to sin and reject Christ. Thanks to Calvary our sinful nature is crucified with Christ and replaced by the divine nature. As blievers we must not let Satan's fiery darts lead us to false conclusions that have us see all law enforcement officers in a bad light. Police are vital to society's protection in time of need. 

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