As someone who grew up in a predominately black and brown neighborhood of New York City and now a black pastor of a predominately white church (and community) in the Pacific Northwest, I have to navigate multiple cultures. While there has always been tension in navigating these cultures, the two have never collided as they have this past month.
On May 25, 2020, the internet exploded with a video of an African American, handcuffed on the ground with a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on the man’s neck. The officer’s action resulted in the death of yet another unarmed black man. After the video was released, protests swept across the nation with the rallying cries of “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name.” His name was George Floyd. People of all colors and cultures streamed into the streets across America to voice their incredulity concerning George Floyd’s murder.
At this moment my two cultures clashed. I feel agony like never before. I care so deeply about another unarmed black man being killed, but I am afraid to share how I really feel. The reason for my fear is because the people I love and serve at the church could potentially dismiss my angst. I watched my church and mostly white community react strongly to the looting and destruction but remain mute on the loss of George Floyd’s life. I would then blink and see my ethnic community angry at the all too common occurrence of injustice for a fellow black man but with no hope of justice in sight.
Questions like “what am I to do?” or “should I say something to the church?” and even “would they receive my words?” flooded my mind. I vacillated between so many emotions I was physically and mentally exhausted. However, one thing remained true; my hope is in the Lord. It was from this hope that I drew my strength, and the following are just a few thoughts that developed from that recognition.
My first response is to weep. I sob with and on behalf of the Floyd family and for many others who suffered the same reality. I moan for the brokenness and division of our country. Turning to the Bible, such sorrow, or lament is common in the Book of Psalms. Based on the reality that justice is foundational to who God is (Ps 89:14) I cry out to the Lord asking for Him to intervene with divine justice as only by His power this world would be healed.
My second response is to allow my heart to ache over sin and injustice. My heart is broken after watching George Floyd die. However, this is where my responsibility as a believer and my role as a pastor take center stage. Since the Bible is clear that God cares about people, especially the oppressed, I too must care. I need to remember that my voice must be used to call out such evil and direct people back to God. In doing so I aim to remind the flock that God has placed dignity on all people because they are made in his image.
My third response is to pray. I ask God, how long until He makes things right (Ps 13). It was at this moment when I remembered that God desires to use His church to point people back to Jesus, the cross and the restoration to come. I believe change will never take place until the Church rises and cries out to God. It should be our churches that speak against such evils. It should be our churches that remind people they are created in the image of God. It should be our churches that care about life from the womb to the tomb.
What the world witnessed on May 25 was evil that violated God’s image in George Floyd. It reminded many people of the harsh reality we face in our world. For me the pain was intense. I not only empathize, but I identify with Floyd as a black man and black pastor.
Though Christ died to make reconciliation between His people possible (Eph 2), I have felt the pain of being treated differently. I have been treated harshly based on the color of my skin. I feel this pain when people love my culture but ignore my color. However, my pain allows me to empathize with the pain of others.
But what do I do with this pain? What can we do as followers of Jesus?
As David proclaimed his hope in God in the lament Psalms without yet experiencing the deliverance, I, too, continue to hope in God. I hope His Spirit, which is active in the world moves his people to see injustice as a biblical issue. I pray that we can begin to listen to one another. I pray instead of finding statistics to disprove someone’s narrative, we seek to demonstrate empathy. If we truly value life, we will truly listen to the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters. I pray that God will give me the courage to stand against evil in both word and deed.
No matter the hue of your skin, we must remember that proximity equals perspective. When you draw closer to an individual, there is an increase in the potential for understanding their point of view. For those of you who have black and brown friends, I encourage you to reach out and ask them what they are feeling during this time. In most cases, they are hurting just like me. The most encouraging thing for people is knowing they are seen and heard. Remember this is not a time to debate, disprove or even be defensive. This is a time to listen and love.
Thomas Anderson is working toward his Ph.D. from Baptist Bible Seminary. He serves as the pastor of Shiloh Hills Fellowship in Spokane, Washington. Hear more from Thomas Anderson in this video.