UNY Conference Commission on Religion and Race Statement on recent racial violence and subsequent demonstrations
June 8, 2020 / By The UNY Conference Commission on Religion and Race
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Amid the ongoing challenge of a pandemic that manifests several examples of racial inequities in our society, a wave of high-profile incidents of racial violence has challenged us in new ways. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23 received national attention following the release of a video of his murder on May 5. Breonna Taylor was killed in her home as police executed a search warrant on March 13. While still reeling from these events, the world witnessed the killing of George Floyd. Many of us have seen the video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck. It is difficult not to be outraged at the extreme cruelty of performing such an act for almost nine minutes as Mr. Floyd indicated his distress.
It is still easy for some to focus only on the individuals who took these innocent black lives as bad people acting on their personal prejudices. However, these deaths represent more than a few bad apples among us. They are the result of a white supremacist system that dehumanizes people of color. Part of that narrative includes labeling black and brown people as violent and criminal. These beliefs have fed both implicit and explicit biases, leading to a variety of injustices, including incidents of police brutality.
The demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder intended to bring about systemic changes that address excessive force and racial violence have also become a source of division and debate, obscuring their original purpose. Protests that began in Minneapolis spread around the world. Thousands of people marched, kneeled, prayed, and shouted their outrage, demanding that authorities hold the responsible parties accountable and make needed changes in the criminal justice system to eradicate such behavior.
While many of these gatherings were peaceful, we have also seen acts of rioting, looting, and physical violence. Some of this is the result of years of frustration due to the failure of systems to respond meaningfully to these types of incidents and racial injustices. Past forms of peaceful protest have not always moved members of unaffected communities to act. It is also becoming clear that some of the destructive behavior that has followed the peaceful protests for change has been the work of instigators who have come to the demonstrations to create mayhem and incite violent confrontations between protesters and police.
No one supports violence and looting, but it is critical that we not lose focus on these issues and the raw emotions the death of George Floyd and others have produced. Is it reasonable to expect quiet compliance when history shows that complying can still lead to abuse and death? How can we expect order when orderly voices are regularly ignored, and brutality continues unchecked? Peace in the streets is not a fair expectation if we directly and indirectly encourage violent systems.
Those among us who have the luxury of being able to move to the next section of news, change the channel, or scroll to another social media post must remember that there can be no neutrality on the issues of racism and police brutality. Disengaging from the conversation, claiming neutrality, or remaining silent in the struggle against racism and white supremacy is to side with racism and white supremacy.
Pentecost was just a few days ago. As we remember the miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit, which drove Christ’s disciples into the streets to boldly proclaim His love and grace, we are challenged to consider how the modern church will show the world the grace and power of Jesus at this moment. The promise of our Lord and Savior to us is clear, and He has kept it. Will we now remain silent and sheltered in our room even though each of us has experienced the power of the Spirit at work within us, or will we head into the world to show the lost and the hurting who our God is?
The Conference Commission on Religion and Race encourages all who would see a new day of racial justice to take deliberate steps to address the challenges before us. Here's what we can do:
- Educate ourselves: use the resources on the CCORR Website and the website for the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) to learn more about the issues of racism. Do further research on these incidents and the systemic nature of the problem.
- Speak up: interrupt racist jokes and comments. Stand up to racist attitudes and behaviors. Understand that demanding appropriate action in these cases, and systemic changes, are about seeking truth, peace, and equal justice for all God’s children.
- Get involved: donate to, or work with, local church ministries, and community groups with clear goals and appropriate principles on any issue of racial justice. For instance, on the issue of police brutality, join those who are seeking action, transparency, and accountability from officials about addressing any incidents of excessive force in your local setting, changing use of force policies to eliminate unnecessarily harmful tactics, reallocating budgets to strengthen community relationships as opposed to force-driven responses, and training in overcoming implicit bias.
Let us boldly proclaim God’s radical love and genuine justice in the language of every hearer. Let us be leaders in showing that racism, whether manifested as racial profiling or police brutality, is sin and antithetical to the gospel of Christ.
Black lives matter!