Pastor Terry Hunt Responds to Murder of George Floyd
Once again, our hearts have been saddened as we turned on the local and national news, to see these grim images of another inhumane act of violence and murder in our nation. It is, or at least it should be, obvious that something is terribly wrong with the culture. The loss of precious lives due to racism is indicative of a larger cultural and spiritual pandemic. We have wandered away from a value system that was established by God about how human beings should live, act and relate to one another. Across racial and class lines we have come up with our own standards and it has not served us well.
In the creation narrative, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) We must believe that God created the Human Race and not races. “Racism is the belief that human traits and capacities are primarily determined by biological race and that some races are superior to others.” (Britannica Dictionary) In other words, racism is a system of power, privilege and oppression that needs to be eradicated from our nation starting with the Church. God’s first gift to humans was to give us His breath in our lungs and bring us to life. Let us use that breath to encourage others, introduce people to Christ and to speak up for justice and equality for all.
The Bible teaches us that racism is a sin and that all sins can be forgiven. In the words of Tom Byford, pastor of Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kans., “Racism isn’t just bad. It isn’t just wrong. Racism is sinful. It is a sin against God and it is a sin against people God created and loves. It is our personal sin bound up in the hardness of our hearts. And, it is our communal sin found in the policies and systems that oppress and devalue people because of their race. God’s concern for justice is evident in the Old Testament Law. We hear it in the voice of the prophets. We see it modeled in the life of Jesus Christ who welcomed and advocated for those who were marginalized, oppressed, and forgotten.”
“Now we need to strive to see and hear that same dedication to justice in our church. If we have been hurtful or contributed to prejudice and injustice, we want to know. Please join me in my commitment to correct those attitudes and actions whenever we see them.” This is a powerful statement by one pastor encouraging his congregation to not remain silent, but to be an advocate for those of us who are marginalized, oppressed and forgotten.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Jesus hates racism and so do I. But I am realizing that not everyone understands how big the problem is, how much there is for all of us to learn and how much more there is for our MB family to do to be a part of the solution and not the problem.
Listed below are a few things that you may have been saying to yourself and thinking, “What is the big deal and why all the protest about another black man who was murdered?”
- I have been pulled over by the police several times in my life.
I have never feared for my life when it’s happened.
- I almost always get a decent table at a restaurant when I ask for my choice.
I have never really wondered, “Why are they seating me all the way back here?”
- There have been times when people asked me if I was new to the neighborhood.
I have never had people ask me if I “really belong” at the neighborhood pool.
- And I have never, ever had to teach my kids how to avoid getting hurt because of their skin color.
These past few weeks have brought those truths into a clearer focus than ever before for people who are trying to wrap their hearts around people of color. Maybe it is the utter horror of George Floyd’s death or the fact that it’s coupled with the senseless killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Maybe it is the unsettling times we are living in today. But something is profoundly different about what is happening in our country and more importantly, we hope inside all of us in the last few weeks.
We are realizing the problem runs over 400 years deep. That it encompasses centuries of people taking advantage of others, solely because of skin color. And while we didn’t participate in the slave trade, the events of the last weeks have left us realizing that remnants of that structure still exist. I’m realizing nothing will substantively change in my world unless I’m willing to make more changes in how I run my life, how I speak up. Even deeper, I’m going to have to change how my heart is set if there is going to be real change in me that affects any change in the world. And I hope the USMB family will do the same.
It occurred to me that Mr. Floyd’s murder and the (hopeful) public awakening to systemic racism in America came right at the time of Pentecost. There are two days of Pentecost in the Bible: one in the Old Testament, and one in the New. Both have caused me to think hard about how to change going forward.
The Old Testament Pentecost, and the festival that was named after it, was a celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses by God. These were people who had been freed but needed a path forward. The Law, regulations for living, was meant to be a path toward freedom. Like most adults, I always thought the laws, rules, and “thou shalt nots” were meant to hinder my freedom. But in the Scriptures, it is quite the opposite. Good laws bring freedom. In many ways, that is where the U.S. has tried to go over the years. We have made reforms, but we have so much more to do. We have enacted civil rights laws; but all too slowly. That has to change. I have enacted my own disciplines to shape my conduct toward rooting out racism. I am now realizing how much more I need to do and we need to do as the body of Christ. So, I’m asking you to be listening and looking for places you can change your behavior toward a life that reflects freedom and respect for everyone. And we as Christians will look for new disciplines, we can follow to help move the ball forward.
That’s my biggest prayer for me during this season. For a new heart of understanding. A commitment that does not rise and fall with the tides of the news cycle. A conviction that my life and our work will reflect something different than the racism that has undermined the very constitution of our nation.
Please, let me be clear, I’m not advocating that George Floyd was an upright and outstanding citizen. It is obvious to all that he had a criminal record and that his last encounter with law enforcement was due to another bad choice. I’m also not saying that what happened to him was because of his actions. No, even the worst hardened criminal should not have to die that way by the hands of those who have been sworn to serve and protect us. Wrong is wrong and I will not make him out to be a martyr for civil rights.
Let me also be clear, that our law enforcement community should not be judged by the actions of officer Derek Chauvin, who was not an upright and outstanding citizen either. I have worked as a volunteer Chaplain since 2006 with Police Officers who are not perfect, but they are not racist murderers who use brutal force to subdue black citizens.
The real issues are not people’s occupation, it is the sin that is in their hearts that cause people to mistreat others and to commit crimes. The real truth is that at the heart of our nation there is deeply embedded sin that has produced this evil of racism that is dividing its people. Our nation needs Jesus and you and I have been placed here for such a time as this. May we share the love of Jesus and denounce the sin of hate.
Pastor Terry Hunt
Terry Hunt is the Eastern District Conference Minister and pastor of The Life Center in Lenoir, North Carolina.