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Say Their Names

The church should be on the forefront of fighting for racial justice.

My heart broke when I heard that a police officer had killed another Black man. My first response was “Not again!” When I finally saw the video of George Floyd’s death, I was upset and angry. I do not typically curse, but this time I did, and I prayed. It was unbelievable to see a white police officer pressing his foot on the neck of Mr. Floyd with a hand in his pocket in the presence of other police officers and bystanders. I heard Floyd’s cry and saw his body barely moving. I will never forget the sound of his voice pleading, crying out “I can’t breathe.” What derogatory words and images were flashing in the police officer’s mind, compelling him to keep his foot on Floyd’s neck until his breath was gone? I watched the video a few more times, witnessing the murder of a 46-year-old Black man on the streets of Minneapolis on May 25.

Floyd’s death exposes the reality of evil in today’s world, and of racial injustices in law enforcement in particular. Under these horrific circumstances, would a Black man’s death mean anything of significance to anyone other than his family, friends and community? A Black person’s life means nothing to some people.

And the list of Black men and women unjustly killed by white police officers is long. For years, I have heard these excuses on repeat: “A Black had a weapon in his hand;” “We received a description of someone who looked like her;” and “A Black resisted arrest.” I felt so hopeless again when I heard about George Floyd’s death.

On social media, a post called Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names lists George Floyd, Breonna, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and more Black people killed due to racial injustices in law enforcement. I painfully scrolled through 8 minutes and 46 seconds of names in bold print. At that moment, I mourned for my brother, whose birthday would have been celebrated on June 1, if a white Detroit police officer had not killed him in the 60s, when many unarmed young Black men died. The late 60s and early 70s were intense times in Detroit as significant shifts occurred, such as predominately-white neighborhoods into predominately-black neighborhoods, housing discrimination, lending discrimination and racial profiling. Young Blacks became the target of police brutality by white officers. This became an impetus for the 1967 Detroit riots, in which many people died, leading to significant economic loss. The city paid the price for change. My brother was 19 years old, a victim of racial unrest. No one knows the pain of losing a child or sibling unless it happens to him or her.

A tipping point
In Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I live now, the pandemic has affected everyone – whether by being forced to stay home, anxious about getting sick, or facing unemployment, financial loss and even death. At the same time, since the murder of George Floyd, I have felt the seeds of hope. Peaceful protesters are concerned about our real problems in law enforcement. It feels like we have reached a tipping point in the United States. In particular, I believe the next generation is paving the way for a new reality, a new future for our children and grandchildren. It is a season to refuse the status quo and systemic racism. I do not recall a protest as powerful, diverse, and impactful as the ones currently happening. The protesters and other individuals are serious, committed and courageous. They are willing to pay the price!

How should Jesus’ followers respond? Are we willing to engage in the work of fighting racism and paying the price? If you are, consider the following next steps:

PRAYING “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). This work must include ongoing personal examination and commitment.

JOINING individuals, churches, ministerial alliances, non-profits and ecumenical organizations involved in this work to understand the roots and history of racism on a local and national level. Who is already leading change in your community? Whose leadership is God calling you to come alongside?

LISTENING to Blacks who have personal stories about racial injustices. Genuinely listen. Their story is “their” story for you to hold with integrity and empathy. Do not try to change or discount their story. Listen to those who need to confess their faults because they intentionally or unintentionally harmed, in word or deed, a Black person. Tell them you will pray as they go to the one who was hurt. Call out individuals who hurt others. Confess and repent.

TEACHING by beginning at home with our children and using God’s word and age-appropriate resources. The most powerful statement is what you model to your children and the world.

IDENTIFYING policies and practices to change systemic racism in your churches. What needs to be renewed in your church? Biblical hospitality? Creating space for all voices?

The church should be at the forefront of bringing about racial justice! Will we stand on the sideline and not deal with racism? As stated in Isaiah 61:4, “They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” In paying the price, everybody gains a true, biblical love for one another and our neighbour. Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Some of us might not be protesters marching in the streets of Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles or Vancouver. Still, there is a role for each of us to play in our homes, churches, and communities in making a racially just environment for everyone, including Black lives.

Author

  • Denise L. Posie

    Rev. Denise L. Posie is director of Leadership Diversity in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI. She is passionate about influencing and growing leaders by creating space for identifying leadership challenges, sharing experiences and personal transformation.

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