Speaking Out Of The Silence
It all started a few weeks ago when I woke up and reached for my phone. I checked Twitter – there’s always something amusing or controversial that gets me going. What I saw shocked me awake. There was a video of a man being chased down by two men in a truck, like a wild animal loose on the road. They shot and killed him, just like that. It was so shocking, so early in the day, that I didn’t fully register what I had seen. I work for a news channel, and it’s possible to become desensitised to disturbing images, so I try to keep a mental distance, but this had a deep impact. I was distraught, deeply saddened. I didn’t want to talk about it and didn’t forward the post on. It was just too shocking.
I realise now I had come across the video of Ahmaud Arbery in the early stages of it being shared online. A day or two later it was headline news. The more we found out about the case the more unbelievable the story of Ahmaud’s killing seemed. Then the Amy Cooper video emerged. I saw the headline on the CNN app on my phone and thought, Oh dear here we go again. Since lockdown from the pandemic began, I’ve tried not to binge on too much information – and home alone, that could spell disaster, mentally. When, really only half-watching it, I heard her lie on the phone to the police that an African-American man (who had been a bit bothered by her dog being off its leash) was threatening her, I did the biggest eye roll ever. I simply thought, Just how ridiculously stupid. The following day I saw another video which showed a super young black guy, probably in his late teens. A white policeman was trying to restrain him by pushing him down on a bench and when he tried to stand up the cop forcefully pushed him down again. His offence? Waiting in a so-called ‘white’ area for his white friend to pick him up. When his white friend arrived, he was angry and shouted expletives at the cops and told them to release his friend. Nothing was done to him and yet he was saying all manner of things. The black guy on the other hand was handcuffed without charge. As he was led to the car, he asked what he’d done wrong. The cop said ‘assaulting an officer’. I was flabbergasted by the video – it made me just that little bit crazy.
And then, as if all this was not enough, to see the video of an officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for an unconscionable nine minutes. And later, finding out he had died … was too much to bear. I am watching his funeral as I write this, and I am heartbroken.
It’s difficult to articulate the energy I have lost, crying, thinking, and crying even more as I pondered over this one question. It got me into a tough spot. My mind simply could not comprehend what I was seeing in all these images. I could not take it in. It literally pushed me right to the edge.
These acts of injustice that have sparked protests and riots across the U.S. and further protests to all corners of our world, are actually not new. For far too long corrupt cops have gotten away with senseless murders of defenceless African Americans. These injustices are ingrained in that society, they are systemic injustices woven into the fabric of the country from its conception, injustices that are literally impossible to pull down without cooperation from around the world and every side of the divide.
And now there is a sense that something is brewing, that enough is enough. A wind of change is blowing and the protesters have caught that wind. Eyes have been opened to these things, from France to Australia and to the United Kingdom. It appears that the world has finally woken up.
Social media has given me a small window into the uncountable and insane injustices black people in the U.S. face at the hands of corrupt police. And it has done the same for so many. The voice of protest around the world has been raised. After the video emerged on Twitter, two months after it happened, Ahmaud Arbery’s case was reopened. The police even saw the video when the incident occurred, but judged that the killing was within the law. The two men have now been charged; an ex-policeman and his son. The charges against the policemen involved in George Floyd’s murder were reviewed and increased in severity as the protests gathered strength.
But as protesters gathered around the world, speaking out, shouting out, and as the authorities have begun to take note, my question is: Where, oh where is the voice of the church?
With the current lockdown, dialogue within our own church community – a church made up of many different nationalities – has been hindered, and what we see and hear, the way we communicate, mainly, is what friends post on social media. We are an international, multiracial church, drawn from over sixty different nations. And yet our response has been silence. Silence. Which to me says inaction, and, dare I say, makes ‘us’ complicit.
Perhaps some didn’t know what to say, or didn’t feel free to speak out. Perhaps they were taking time to find the right response. If that was the case, why not pick up the phone, to me, to your black friends, anyone? Because choosing to say nothing … was a choice. That silence was loud, it echoed, it spoke of a lack of genuine care.
Others posted things on social media that showed a profound lack of sensitivity. (Trump, politics, the election…) That we, as a thoroughly multiracial church, seemed to lack understanding that would translate into care of one another shocked and saddened me deeply.
One day last week, I chose to fast and pray and take time out to hear more from God. I asked God to give me the wisdom to take right action, but also that he would raise people up, wise people, Christian or otherwise, to effect change that was so long overdue. But as I prayed and sought God’s face, my heart was heavy, heavier still because of the fact that church leaders hadn’t openly said anything.
I began to search for reassurance online. Jabin Chavez cried and spoke about their multicultural church in Vegas. TD Jakes addressed the hurting black community initially on his Facebook page and later gathered a panel of white ministers over zoom to speak their heart on the matter which was shared on youtube here. Carl Lentz from Hillsong church in New York was enraged and spoke candidly on his Instagram page about the issue of people saying ‘all lives matter’. He said; ‘Anyone with a functioning brain understands that all lives matter, but right now there is a portion of our community that is frustrated and they are suffering and they are hurting. So as an empathetic Christian I’m gonna go and say I agree with the statement ‘black lives do matter’… I kept saying, ‘do black lives matter? Yes or no?’ Yes but… And I’m like there is no but! Those are the same type of people that would have interrupted Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus would have been like blessed are the poor, no Jesus blessed are all people… Since when does highlighting one issue disparage another?’
I was led to read Hebrews 10:19–39. Verse 26 stood out so clearly,
For if we go on sinning deliberately, after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment
I saw this as my call to action to speak up for inequality that seems to be overlooked within and without the church community.
I have never had to wonder about the question, ‘if I get the pulled over by police, would that be the end of my life?’ I have had one too many speeding tickets – in fact I was speeding to the airport about fifteen years ago and the police pulled me over on the A406 and actually made me walk over to their car to see how fast I was going captured on camera – so embarrassing! But I didn’t feel threatened in the way black people in the U.S. feel. They have countless stories of police aggression towards them for the most idiotic reason. George Floyd was arrested and killed because he was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. What a preposterous reason to take someone’s life let alone by kneeling on his neck! So why is it that I can empathise with the situation and many of my fellow Christians in that country can’t?
Seeking solace, I decided to return to a book that I had read most of and had found truly eye opening and engaging, Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr. He truly understood these issues so clearly. Advocating always for non-violent resistance, his words are still relevant over 50 years after his murder.
In his sermon ‘Love in Action’, King said:
‘Nothing in this world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity…
As the chief moral guardian of the community, the church must implore men to be good and well intentioned and must extol the virtues of kind-heartedness and conscientiousness. But somewhere along the way the church must remind men [and women] that devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions.
Never must the church tire of reminding men [and women] that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent…
But if we are to call ourselves Christians, we had better avoid intellectual and moral blindness.’
Jesus opened the scroll and read: ‘The spirit of the living God is upon me, and he has anointed me to be hope for the poor, freedom for the broken hearted and new eyes for the blind…’ Luke 4:18–19 and they wanted to kill him. Jesus affected the world by not conforming. He went out of his way to show compassion to the social outcast, the marginalised, as well as the poor. To the Samaritan, the tax collector, the leper, as well as the widow, the blind and the lame.
You may say ‘I don’t see colour. I’m not racist, this is about good and evil.’ But the reality is we need to be educated, we need to educate ourselves, find out what it is that we are not seeing, not aware of, and speak up and act. Silence kills.
Since last weekend, I have seen more Christian voices speaking out against these injustices on social media and recently from the virtual pulpit in my church. I have hope. The silence is broken.
Is it in your churches? Is it in your community? Will you check your heart and your mind?
Hebrews 10:24 [TPT] says:
Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love.
We are in an unprecedented time, with people of all races marching hand in hand with black people, like never before, on issues of racial inequality. This is a huge issue not just limited to police brutality in the U.S. but to injustices that we have overlooked as Christians for so long. If you claim to have the spirit of the living God upon you, as did Jesus, the one who you supposedly serve with all your heart, mind and soul. Then you will be challenged by recent events. You wouldn’t be too precious about things being looted or violence erupting in the streets – because all of it didn’t just happen for no reason. Instead you would search your heart, renew your mind and ask the question: what can I do to help? What can I read to help me understand? Who can I call to reach out in friendship? How can I change the world I am part of, the system I am part of?