By Ternae Jordan, Charles Grant & Thomas Bester
Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
It’s a familiar story. Black man is taken into custody by a police officer and is murdered. Arrests follow, press conference held, speeches made, people march, people riot, politicians posture, reform is promised.
The pages of this tired script are frayed and stained with more African American blood. The sequels never end. But surely – surely – this time is different. This time America watched as George Floyd had his face ground into the asphalt for nearly 10 minutes as an officer’s knee crushed his neck until he asphyxiated.
It was brutal. It was inhumane. Another piece of the Black American soul died with George Floyd. Another piece of America’s soul died in the streets of Minneapolis, snuffed out by the centuries-old racial prejudice that festers like rancid gangrene eating away at our society. We can’t keep doing this to ourselves, but we can’t seem to stop.
Time is moving on from the tension that boiled over in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the fog that settled across our country is slowly starting to dissipate. However, we must not forget what happened. Something must come from this moment that changes the future. It must. Tennessee Baptists, black and white, we must decide what we will do with this God-given moment. Will this be a dividing wedge driving deeper separation, or be a divine agent that draws us together in the selfless humility found in the unity of the gospel?
To our African American brothers who stand in pulpits across our state offering encouragement and hope during your own anger and frustration, we as your TBMB Black Church Catalysts share your pain. Together we all have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic of systemic racism has plagued Black Americans for centuries. We have all been horrified by the images of George Floyd crying out, “I can’t breathe!” His words speak for us all.
Some of us have struggled to breathe since the 1950s. We know the injustice that oppresses our people while we wait for the promised hope of equality in America or the justice that never arrives. We have endured the violence of silence from white people – many of them brothers and sisters in Christ – who stand passively by, avoiding our struggle and are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to white clergy members almost sixty years ago in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
But brothers, take heart. We have endured. We will endure. We must endure. We must endure for the sake of the millions of African Americans and other people of color who live in this country and do not yet know Jesus Christ as their Savior. We must labor for their salvation while we labor for justice.
To our white brothers who stand in pulpits across our state, we plead with you to bear our burden with us in love. We are encouraged by our white brothers who have reached out to us over these past several days to voice support and prayer. We are encouraged by white friends who watched the brutality of George Floyd’s death and have refused to stay silent. Many have said for the first time that they “get it;” that in some remote way they better understand our struggle. We are encouraged because we believe God is using these days of turmoil to do a new work in the lives of many, especially a younger generation, who recognize the sin of racism and the need for their gospel walk to mirror their gospel talk.
Will our journey with each other be easy? No, but it is long overdue. We share a deep history of hate and mistrust. However, we must climb in the boat together and pass from the shores of racial division to the Promised Land of unity where love and peace reign among the races. It may not happen until we are in God’s eternal presence, but slaying the satanic dragon of racism begins by praying “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” then arm-in-arm, doing the hard work that ends in an genuine embrace while standing on the level ground found at the foot of the Savior’s cross.
How do we get there? First, recognize that pro-life means more than anti-abortion. Last summer when a thousand of us Tennessee pastors signed the “I Stand for Life” petition to support pro-life legislation in our state, we made a commitment to the unborn. However, standing for life must mean standing for all life; for black lives, white lives, Asian and Latino lives, old lives, young lives… all lives. As we seek justice for the unborn, may we be diligent to seek justice for everyone else.
Next, I strongly encourage my white brothers and sisters to take the initiative to seek out an African American and simply ask to hear their story. Just listen with an open heart and open mind. Our journey is considerably different from yours. Ask God to give you the humility that leads to understanding. You do that when you answer a Great Commission call to go to the nations and advance the gospel. We ask that you’d make the same commitment to understand our culture.
Finally, speak out and step out. Be a voice for change and an agent for action. Be the change you want to see in the world. It won’t be easy. Trust us, we know, but God reaps a mighty harvest through the seeds of repentance.
Dr. King had a dream where one day this nation will rise and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” That is still our dream as African Americans, and it should be the dream of Americans of every race and creed.
There has been much to tear us apart since Dr. King’s words echoed across the Reflecting Pool, and the death of George Floyd is the latest shard to shred the cultural fabric. Would it be to God that it would be the last.
But for it to be the last, we all must act. We cannot waste this moment. B&R