by Sam Snyder
Today is June 19th, 2020. Besides being my 16th Wedding Anniversary, it is also the 155th anniversary of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Galveston, Texas, one of the last holdouts for slavery in the USA. (It took 2½ years for the news to reach there!) June 19th came to be known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day to celebrate freedom and that “all men are created equal” and therefore should all be able to have life, liberty, and happiness.
Less than a month ago the whole world was shocked and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, not too far from where I live. That moment impacted the whole world. While reaction and counter-reaction have touched cities and churches across the country, 11 of our FCA churches are in the Twin Cities, in neighborhoods directly impacted by George’s murder and the ensuing unrest.
Ten of those churches are either multi-ethnic or non-majority cultures, including Fountain of Life, pastored by Jim Halbur, located just a few blocks from where this all took place. They have been engaged daily on a deep level, along with a number of our Minnesota and Twin Cities FCA pastors—ministering to the community, bringing peace and healing. We are all heartbroken for the family, friends, and communities impacted by this brutal act, subsequent unrest and all of the hurt that has been brought to the surface.
As some of you know, I spent my first 18 years growing up in Mexico, but the last 20 living in the USA. For 11 years now I’ve been pastoring a multi-ethnic church plant in the Twin Cities, while also being connected to our FCA churches and many other churches and leaders from cross-cultural backgrounds here in the Twin Cities.
We are at ground-zero of where God is uncovering injustice, inequity, and iniquity, and I believe God is doing a new thing through what has transpired in the last few weeks. George’s death was not an isolated incident but part of a long history of systemic racism and injustice (meaning there are still systems or structures in place that impact opportunities for people based on race or class). Prevailing societal biases are being exposed that go beyond the problems with law enforcement. Institutional roadblocks and attitudinal hindrances greatly impact our lives in this country.
Six years ago I wrote about the sin of racism and “otherism” and how we could move forward after Mike Brown’s murder and the protests in Ferguson…yet here we are again. Have we moved forward? I recognize that a large portion of our Fellowship is white majority culture, so I know some of this may feel far-removed from your daily experience, but I ask you to read on because our Fellowship and our churches are not only made up of white people but also of people of color, and this is very significant to their lives and experiences. As such, it must be significant for each of our lives and the life of the church as a whole. These are my friends, brothers, and sisters (and yours too). This is the future of the church in this country. As a father of three bi-racial children, this is also the future of my children in this country and within the Fellowship (and yours too). This impacts us all.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail to his white brothers and sisters in the faith saying: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
At times like these, we need to speak out against injustice and stand for what’s right because EVERY black life matters! This is not to say that you associate with any political movement or plan. Rather, it is to declare and demonstrate that each person is made in the image of God and dearly loved by God. Right now our black brothers and sisters need to know that we see them, hear them, and love them. Our ethic in doing so is not rooted in politics or popularity but in Theology: the Imago Dei that God made all of humanity in his image (Genesis 1:27). So, when we speak of equal justice for our brothers and sisters of color it comes from a scriptural conviction that we are ALL made in the image of God and therefore have innate value to God and to each other.
Please hear what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that we should align ourselves with a political party or movement to the left or to the right. In fact, as followers of Jesus we belong to a Kingdom that is “not of this world”!
Therefore, we are called to speak the truth to powers when those powers act unjustly (on either side), to teach that this world is not our home to believers who are living for this world, to show that this earthly citizenship is secondary to our primary citizenship, and to submit our political divisions and cultural distinctives to our primary identity as sons and daughters of the King whose Kingdom is not of this world. That means that we MUST disagree with the world around us, living radical lives that don’t conform to the left-right narrative but instead stand for the justice, joy, peace, and power of the kingdom of God. There are definitely forces at work trying to conform us to the left or to the right…but we are called to be transformed and to think differently than the world around us. To acknowledge that problems need to be fixed or that conditions need to be improved is not to assume we will all agree on how! In fact, the pressure to conform and agree to one particular solution will keep us from growing and improving. Why? Because people instinctively entrench against solutions they oppose rather than work together in a spirit of compromise for greater justice and equality.
So what’s next? How should we respond? I think it’s easy to look to others to do something or say something to bring about change, but Jesus taught us that the Great Command was for each of us to love our neighbor “as we love ourselves.” He went on to define “neighbor” as people whom the world would expect us to hate. So that really raises the bar of personal responsibility to love God and love others:
It starts with me. It is so easy to avoid, disengage, or even blame another, but God calls us to each “consider the plank in our eye first.” It starts with each of us reflecting, repenting, and reorienting to the things of God. I like the way that the Group Civil Righteousness puts it: “While ‘Rights’ deals with our externals, ‘Righteousness’ deals with our internals. We believe that Jesus’ justice begins there. Internal transformation leads to external reformation and produces eternal satisfaction.”
It really starts with LOVE in and through each of us. MLK also said that, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Here are some suggestions I think might help us move forward for God’s purposes together:
We have dear sisters and brothers—people of color in our very own church families, pastors in the FCA, pastors in our cities. Seek them out, hear their stories, pray with them, commit to standing with them. Don’t deny or dismiss their stories by trying to consider other options on why a situation may have happened. Don’t try to defend your perspective or yourself from discomfort. Take a walk in their shoes. Seeing and hearing another person is one of the greatest kindnesses we can show another human being and is a powerful way for us to grow and increase our understanding.
But more than that, as members of God’s family we are brothers and sisters!Pastor Lidovick Pierre who leads Hatian Christian Fellowship in St. Paul said, “We don’t need allies, we need brothers and sisters.” Pastor Justin Byakweli who leads International Christian Fellowship in St. Paul shared, “I take the killing of George Floyd personally…because his death offends the fundamental principles of justice, every notion of dignity and the idea that through those threads, all of our lives are connected.”
These are only two interactions I have had. I could share tons of conversations, prayer times, and messages that have been taking place where people of color have been pouring out their hearts longing for justice and peace in a variety of different contexts. This should start in the church in the “bond of brotherhood.”
2. Lament Injustice and Sin.
We are called to weep with those who weep during this time. But godly sorrow leads to repentance, so we must look at our lives and our country for sins, both of commission and omission. We should each repent on behalf of the racism that has taken place in this nation (the systems and structures which perpetuate the subjugation of one group of people to the benefit of another that has been going on since the foundation). We are thankful that this is not pre-civil war era and that we have progressed beyond some of the pre-civil rights era sins, but we are not done yet. Lamenting that things are not as they should be in society; beginning with the sin of racism and greed and extending to other ways that our society has turned away from the knowledge of God (Romans 1).
You may not feel directly connected to sins of the past because you did not cause it and did not contribute to it. But you have benefited from those sinful social structures of the past beginning with the treatment of the native american peoples through slavery and segregation and down to the remnants that impact our brothers and sisters to this day. (If you don’t agree, I invite you to see the first point under #3 below.) But regardless of our feelings, we can see in the Prophets the need for repenting of the sins of the ancestors and the significance of lamentation and repentance in bringing righteousness to a land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). Lamentation must be followed by repentance in prayer and in action.
3. Learn more about our present and our past.
Here are a few things to check out:
- Read and/or watch The Color of Compromise. I am going to be leading a 6-week group discussion with any of you who are wanting to do this together on Thursdays from 11 am to noon Central time starting on June 25th. Let me know HERE if you want to join me.
- Read The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change by Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson.
- Read Creation, Power and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion by N.T. Wright.
- Watch Just Mercy for FREE this month.
- Watch Selma for FREE this month.
- Watch 13th a documentary detailing how the Thirteenth Amendment led to an epidemic of mass incarceration in the United States.
- Read Barna’s findings and resources on Race and the Church
4. Lead towards Justice and Peace.
With COVID and recent unrest, I have heard in conversations many people longing to get back to “normal.” We as Christians have never been called to live a normal life, but rather to live a life that is being transformed daily by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus. It is also worth noting that returning back to the “way things were” before the murder of George Floyd would mean that we invalidate the unjust and inexcusable experiences so long endured by the beloved people of color in our church families and communities.
So we don’t want “normal.” We are called to reformation and rebuilding. We want God to rebuild our cities, and we want to allow him to rebuild the broken places and bring his completeness. I believe there are places that need to be Reformed in the church and in the systems of this nation. We want God to make us all whole through redemption, reconciliation and restoration. That will lead us to biblical justice and biblical peace. This will impact wherever you live, so I encourage you to be involved in local and state-wide initiatives that bring about reformation when unjust laws or systems are brought to your attention. Be involved in teaching and preaching a biblical ethic that confronts injustice, inequity, and iniquity on both sides of the political aisle.
We often define peace as the absence of chaos or conflict and we try to achieve it by denying or dismissing situations that make us uncomfortable. True peace is about harmony and wholeness, and it was accomplished through the death of Jesus in our place as he confronted the principalities and powers who had been working (and still are) to keep humanity under their power and control. We are called to be peaceMAKERS, not peaceKEEPERS, or even peaceFAKERS. HERE is a message I shared with our church over a year ago on being a peaceMAKER from Ephesians 4:1-6.
I want to encourage you to Love our neighbors, brothers, and sisters of color by Lamenting, Listening, Learning, and Leading towards the new thing God is doing! I have been praying for Repentance, Reformation, and Revival in this nation—and, as it usually goes with those things, it starts with the church…and that starts with each one of us saying “it starts with me.”