“I can’t breathe”

George Floyd’s words have reverberated around the world, and our screens have been filled with scenes of protest from Minneapolis, Washington DC, London, Bristol… even Plymouth.

It’s not easy to know how to respond. Black Lives Matter – yes; and it’s a tragedy that it even needs to be said. But at the same time, aspects of the protests have divided people. How did you feel when you saw the images of protestors pulling down the statue of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol? The Labour leader, Keir Starmer said that pulling the statue down was wrong, but that it should have gone a long time ago. The Home Secretary, Pritti Patel said the removal of the statue was ‘utterly disgraceful’. Marvin Reeves, Mayor of Bristol, said “I cannot pretend that I have any real sense of loss for the statue and I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol”. There has been a call in Plymouth for the council to change the names of certain places in the city which commemorate slave traders, such as Sir John Hawkins Square, just round the corner from St Andrew’s.

There are many issues swirling around, and many perspectives being articulated, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the core issue here: racism is an ugly reality in many, many people’s lives. 

We wholeheartedly affirm that ‘Black Lives Matter’ because we are Christians and we believe that every single human being is made in God’s image, each one a wonder, a glorious creation of a generous God. No one is inferior. And equally, every single human being is a tragedy – a glorious ruin; “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  No one is superior. We all stand humbled at the foot of the cross. Black Lives Matter.

But it is much easier for me to affirm that slogan, and to understand it from a Christian perspective than it is for me to grasp the heartfelt agony of the person for whom racism is a daily battle. This came home to me a little bit more this week through the words of Shai Linne. He is a hip-hop artist and a Christian believer (I’ll put a link to his whole article at the end). He writes:

Over the years, I’ve heard from many people that they were affected by the truth contained in my music, even though hip-hop wasn’t their natural cultural preference. Whenever I heard this, I was struck by the power and beauty of like-mindedness. It was clear to me that we were likeminded concerning particular emphases in the music—the glory of God, the supremacy of Christ, the centrality of the cross, and the importance of biblical theology. By God’s grace, I will fight for all of those things until the Lord takes me home. 

But one of the painful things I’ve discovered over the last eight years or so since Trayvon Martin’s killing is that it’s possible to agree on those things and yet be in a completely different place when it comes to the issue of racial injustice. Just because I’ve made an intentional decision to focus on that which is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things that need to be addressed in the church. It also doesn’t mean that being a Christian has exempted me from the reality of being a black man in America and all the stigma that comes with it.

With raw honesty he goes on to articulate the impact of racism in his life. It is worth reading in full.

So how can we respond? If you are like me, you read words like Shai Linne’s, and you begin to realise that you don’t really know or understand what it is like to experience racism. That won’t be true of everybody in our church – some of us will know this pain personally. But many of us don’t. And perhaps the best thing for us to do is to take James’ advice:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… (James 1:19) 

So, in the spirit of listening before responding:

And finally, I was deeply moved to read about George Floyd’s faith in Christ, and the way he sought to live out the gospel: George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston

With love in Christ,
Joe

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