28 May 2020

George Floyd, rest in peace. As for those still here ...

. . . don't expect peace too soon.

I'm writing about the death of George Floyd for no reason related to my own insights or wisdom, but only because not to write anything just feels wrong.

Why this death? Why this particular victim of an ancient and constant phenomenon? Is there any indication that the death of Floyd, the shocking scandal of the police violence that killed him, and the subsequent protests and riots, constitute a turning point? I have no answer.

So many potential "turning points" and "teachable moments," of varying degrees of seriousness but blazing diagnostic clarity, have come and gone in recent memory:
The weight of all this evidence is clear: whatever we feel about race, whatever ideals we may have, however our parents and communities of origin shaped us, our actual degree of day-to-day social safety depends too much on our racial appearance. My individual goodwill is beside the point; I'm white, so if you're black and don't know me, you're just a bit safer, statistically, to stay on your guard or avoid me altogether. What is the individual human cost of constantly living with vigilance when around people of another race? What is the cumulative human cost of so much alienation? This is the persistent reality in the USA, and in other countries as well.

On top of all the progressive political points being made (and well made) by commentators in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ongoing overflow of anger on the streets of Minneapolis, I'm most troubled by the spiritual diagnoses. Read Kyle J. Howard's "Why Do They Riot? Rioting and the Overflow of Racial Trauma," which groups together his series of tweets from earlier today Please read the whole thing. Here are some points that spoke directly to me:
6. White America does not listen to the laments of Black people unless it’s forced to. Historically speaking, white America has always waited until the black community has exploded due to its ongoing trauma & rage at injustice before they’ve been willing to act… out of fear.

7. I do not condone rioting, but I also recognize it as a part of the cycle within a society that establishes caste systems. People who wield power against others can only do so for so long before those under the oppression explode. Power is rarely ever willfully relinquished.

Freedom Riders, 1961; source.  
8. It doesn’t have to be this way. Black and white people COULD come together and make a stand against the Kingdom of Darkness and the racialized oppression it has promoted within our world. It will not happen unless there are white people willing to count the very real cost.
Of course, being white, I noticed point 8 right away, and being a Christian, I could not miss theologian Kyle Howard's reference to the Kingdom of Darkness. For me, the church is the obvious laboratory and incubator to test Howard's challenge:
  • The church is (or ought to be!) independent from the principalities and powers that find it convenient to divide us by race and class, and to keep us helpless in our bondage -- or worse, ignorant that this bondage even exists!
  • The church is (or ought to be) a place where we regard each other as God regards us, where outward appearance and social situation take their proper place as we recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.
  • The church is (or ought to be) the place where it dawns on us that reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other are inseparable. We see how important it is that we discern anything that seeks to block reconciliation -- whether it's internal attitudes or external forces -- and the freedom to disrupt that bondage.
  • The church is (or ought to be) where we expect miracles and supernatural revival to honor and meet our fears, and feed us with joy. It is that joy, that hope, that trust and abandonment, that can draw spiritually hungry people together, rather than our progressive theories or white people's messiah complexes or performative self-flagellations.
  • As we envision what it will take for us to "make a stand against the Kingdom of Darkness," it is (or ought to be) the church who learns how to count and share the cost.
To draw on early Quaker references, when we are new creatures in Christ, we go back through the flaming sword into the Paradise of God, where we live once again in peace and equality as helpmeets to each other. I am so hungry to hear that our meetings and churches are enjoying this quality of relationship, taking territory from Satan in the process, and breaking down strongholds of violence and objectification.

This kind of work is not going to be easy. There is plenty to do for all gifted people (and ALL are gifted!) ... from prophets and pastors to teachers and treasurers. As with every front in the Lamb's War, we know that those who temporarily seem like enemies (racist police, for example) are actually in bondage themselves -- though we still expect justice to be served. We will be saddened but not fatally shocked when yet another outrage occurs. America's territorial demon of racism has been at it for centuries, and defeating it is not the work of a day. But, as believers, it is our work.

I was a bit nervous about using the language of spiritual warfare in this post. I actually believe that evil exists, and that its Author is our only actual enemy. All other "enemies" are fabrications designed to alienate us from each other and keep us from working for each other's liberation. Authors as diverse as Walter Wink and C. Peter Wagner have helped me understand this warfare. However, the terms of spiritual warfare have sometimes been used by right-wing Christians to demonize (!) people they oppose. For example, a subset of Donald Trump's "court evangelicals" (John Fea's term) have drawn on this language to exalt his presidency and demean his critics. This misuse of powerful spiritual language, of course, can play right into Satan's purposes.

You may not use this language as I do, or maybe not at all, but maybe you can see my overall point: the structures of objectification, oppression, and violence serve the Kingdom of Darkness -- principalities and powers and evil in high places (see Ephesians 6:11-20) -- and are not simply attributable to the designated human villains we're being told to hate.

Related posts:

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes on the killing of George Floyd: When you are kneeling, you are worshipping ... but whom? [My own contrast: the backlash against Colin Kaepernick for kneeling.]

Eugene Robinson: Black lives remain expendable.

William H. Lamar IV on the coronavirus, bad theology, and their impact on communities of color. (Thanks to Jim Fussell, via the Quaker Theology group on Facebook, for the link.)
I am a preacher. So as I dust the COVID-19 crime scene, I am ultimately in search of theological fingerprints.

What kind of God-talk makes possible a refusal to provide the universal health care that may have mitigated this crisis? What kind of God-talk makes possible a refusal to invest the money necessary to end homelessness? What kind of God-talk makes possible the racializing of criminality and poverty? What kind of God-talk gives political power to science-denying policymakers?

The answer? White evangelical God-talk. The injustices that many communities are experiencing as a result of the novel coronavirus are inextricably linked to this theology. The evidence is irrefutable.
(Are you tempted to try to refute this evidence? I am, but he's got a case. It's not exactly a purely theological case, but we see how race is embarrassingly decisive in how many evangelicals make their policy choices.)

Jonathan Aigner: Worship IS essential, but so is loving your neighbor.

Speaking of John Fea, he reports that Jerry Falwell Jr. designed his own unique COVID-19 mask.

Russians under lockdown arrange their own intricate versions of famous art masterpieces.

This is a video I embedded here about seven years ago ... now, thanks to widespread use of videoconferencing, it looks strangely up to date! See the comments on the YouTube site to get JR's explanation of how he put the video together. (And here's a recent article about JR -- the musician/scientist, Jean-Rene Ella-Menye.)


Daniel Wilcox said...

Why do you include Michael Brown since shortly before his confrontation with a police officer, Brown had--shown on a mini-mart camera--strong-arm robbed the store for cigars? roughing up the clerk:-(

Allegedly, Brown also has violated other statues of the law code.

It is doubtful that Brown put up his hands as alleged by some people. Based upon all that I read, it appears that he approached the police vehicle and threatened the officer, maybe even grabbing for the officer's gun.

It doesn't seem that Brown is moral like the Civil Rights workers of Martin's time at all.

When police officers do wrong or are racists (I've known a few like that), then justice does need to side with the innocent civilians.

But I've seen the other side--how thugs behave, and how patient and fair officers usually are.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you for expressing doubt about this particular case. I've read about it, too, and find it impossible to trust that the police had no option but to kill him.

The Ferguson investigations revealed so much more about racism and policing in Ferguson than was related specifically to Brown. This is (at least in part) why his name is still part of the history of #BlackLivesMatter.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Thanks for responding. Here's a little longer explanation from me:
So based upon the evidence that you have read, do you think that Michael Brown didn't attack the police officer in his patrol car?

As for whether or not police have only one option when facing a criminal and that is to shoot, I know that isn't true, or almost never is.

For instance, one officer I knew very well in Los Angeles said that in 20 years, he had had to only draw his gun 3 times! I was amazed. And in none of those times did he need to shoot. He used many different methods in dealing with gang members, thugs, and other violent offenders.

But now it seems almost daily I read in papers about police officers shooting at first. That is tragic and unjust.
Some people think that this strong increase in police turning to quickly puling out their guns is a sign that our police have become militarized.

If the police officer who shot Brown did so as a racist and not in self-defense, then I agree that it was horribly wrong. IF however, Brown did attack the officer in his car, then it all gets a lot more complicated.
I have worked with gang members, even at least one sociopath.
And I have listened to a few officers make racist comments.

Generally, however, most police aren't racists and many don't turn to their guns quickly. Here's an example from an officer I know well. He and other officers were called to investigate a drug situation. When they got there, one huge criminal, about 250 and 6'5" attacked them. He shoved one officer against the wall and knocked down part way down the stairs, then turned on others. They then tazed the thug. But he was very high on a drug and still wouldn't stop fighting. Even when 4 officers tried to stop him to put on handcuffs, the criminal still continued fighting.

AT NO TIME, HOWEVER, did the officers sit on his neck or pull out their guns and shoot him. They finally managed to subdue him and get him handcuffed without them or the criminal getting more than bruises.
I think that that is how all police ought to operate.

My own view of law enforcement would be that local police wouldn't carry weapons, but only use defensive means of protection for others and themselves. But I don't know if that ideal is possible any more because the U.S. has become so gun-infested.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks again, Daniel. One reason I'm willing to take the risk of keeping Michael Brown on the list (aside from the value of the Ferguson PD analysis) is this: I'm so sick of white people telling black people how to feel about black suspects being shot, that I'm (rightly or wrongly) giving the #BlackLivesMatter skeptics the benefit of the doubt. AT THE SAME TIME, I support adequate compensation and training for police officers, and I urge observers never to adopt the lazy shortcut of demonizing human beings who are caught in a racist system. The demon is racism itself, as I tried to say in the post. Justice can be served without bearing false witness, although as I say it, I wish I could see justice being served more consistently!!