By Natalie Jobity, Grace member
These past few weeks have been beyond challenging. While the world is grieving all the losses of the world we lived in before COVID-19—the loss of routine, physical connection, work, loved ones, group fellowship, church gathering, school, graduations—we unfortunately also have to lament the loss of lives due to racism.
Last month, I had been slowly processing the execution of Breanna Taylor in her own home by police, Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting in broad daylight by two white civilians, only to get turned inside out all over again by George Floyd’s abhorrent death on Memorial Day. This is not lost on me—the reality that he will now be memorialized for a death he would never have chosen, joining the increasingly long list of innocent, black, dead-too-soon, too-barbarically, bodies. As I write this post, the memorial service for his death is being broadcasted live. A death that exposed the depravity that is the root of the racist heart that led to his horrific death, a life now a symbol of a movement for racial justice and police reform in this country.
The tears flow first from the senseless tragedy of it all, only to be replaced by the fury of helplessness to do anything substantial to change the trajectory of racial injustice in this country. I have not watched the George Floyd video and will never subject my heart to witnessing the inhumanity of an unarmed black man subject to vicious restraining tactics by cops while he pleaded for his life, ‘til his last breath. My heart has no space for that. I cannot take it in.
How much more, O Lord?
I am heartbroken, sad, and enraged by the recent spate of events. Had they not been caught on video, they would not even be in our public discourse. I understand the protests. I can relate to the pent-up rage and frustration the protestors feel, seeing the same scenario repeating itself with no justice, no change. For black people, unfortunately, this is familiar grief. Our anger is justifiable.
Sadly, the grief over the loss of lives of people of color who were just living their lives, before being executed, murdered, gunned down, all because they were living while black, is nothing new to black people. The list gets progressively longer of the black lives that were unjustly taken at the hands of white ones, often by police officers meant to serve all Americans. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the famed basketball player, wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times recently where he tackles this point head on. He writes, “maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”
Racism is somewhat like the COVID-19 virus. Mostly hidden, but when it flares up, when incited and given free rein to make itself known, it leads to disastrous, often deadly consequences. I am lamenting, like so many of you. Right now, my thoughts and tears are preoccupied with questions. When will the weaponization of race cease in this country? How will this country heal? What will it take for this man-made, white identity-constructed, wall of hostility against black and brown bodies come crumbling down? What can I do? How do I process all these conflicting feelings of anger, frustration, and grief?
In 2020, we have all been held hostage over this invisible virus that has killed over 100,000 people in this country, including a disproportionate number of black people. Quarantining for months has made many fearful, anxious, and agitated. Perhaps it took this unique confluence of events; a global pandemic, severe lockdown restrictions, an administration that sows the seeds of discord even further between its people groups, and three recent video documented brutal killings of black men and women at the hands of white men, for us to get to this watershed moment in the world’s history, where protests condemning police brutality against black people has dominated the news cycle for over a week. Perhaps, maybe, George Floyd died for such a time as this?
Lord, remind us that your ways are higher than our ways.
As one protestor eloquently put it, “America has its knee on the necks of minorities every day. What happened to George Floyd is a microcosm.” Black people are beyond tired fighting the battles inherent in a country steeped in institutional racism. We are tired of not being seen or heard. We’re tired of the same cycle of news, outrage, protests, and rhetoric with nothing ever-changing. We feel pressed on every side by racial inequity. We are beyond perplexed over why this country still sees us as second class. We are terrified of being hunted down in our neighborhoods, even our own homes, because of the hate our skin color agitates. We keep getting struck down when we try to right the wrongs, advocate for change, peacefully protest, go high when the racists in this country go low. We are weary of it all. I am weary.
Yet God’s Word gives me hope. It tells me that even though I may be pressed by trouble, I will not be crushed by it. That even though I’m perplexed, I am not to be driven to despair. I may be hunted down but I am never abandoned by my Emmanuel Father. That I may be struck down, but I am not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10).
The COVID-19 crisis, quarantine, George Floyd’s death, and the associated protests can reveal areas of vulnerability in our hearts. It sheds light on what we idolize. It reveals how we show up in times of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. It makes us grapple with our response to these events. In a recent interview with Brene Brown, anti-racist advocate and author Ibram X Kendi explains that (and I paraphrase), the heartbeat of racism is denial, a refusal to self-diagnose ourselves and our ideas and views. By contrast, the heartbeat of anti-racism is confession, acknowledgment, admission, a willingness to be vulnerable.
Isn’t this the call of the Christian to confession and repentance? An examination of our heart in the presence of God? Confession allows God to have access to the darkness in our hearts so God can through His spirit, begin the work of sanctification. But we must confess our sins, let them see the light of day, and repent for the Holy Spirit to do His work. We are each responsible for our repentance. It is a humbling surrender that leads to real freedom. As Psalm 139: 23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Still, even in the pain, I see glimmers of hope, signs that enduring change may be afoot this time. Arrests and charges have been made (except for Breanna Taylor’s case to date). Confederate statues in Pennsylvania and Virginia, once proud symbols of white supremacist beliefs, are being removed. People of all ethnicities are understanding the call for “Black Lives Matter” in a way they could not comprehend before. The whole world has rallied around George Floyd’s tragic, wrongful death, banding together in solidarity for racial equality and sweeping changes to the police and justice systems in the US in an unprecedented manner. Time magazine’s newest cover powerfully pays homage to all the black men and women who have died unjustly by white police officers. Amazon bestseller lists right now are dominated by books on race—a mere month ago this would have been unimaginable.
Eyes are being opened. Ears are hearing. Hearts are softening. For such a time as this? These signs of positive movement, a collective paradigm shift in the fight for racial justice, makes me think of what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Personally, what has been a balm to my sorrowful heart are the texts, emails, and calls expressing concern for me by white sisters in Christ. They prayed for me, expressed outrage with me, talked with me, as this has unfolded. Their acknowledgment means so much. It means they see me and my pain as a black woman struggling through these events in a different way than they are. It makes me feel seen and known. One woman today asked how she could pray with me. Some of those sisters are friends I made through Grace’s “Be the Bridge” groups—groups whose purpose is to unify all people groups in Christ through racial reconciliation. It is tough, necessary work, whose fruit I have seen born out in these recent interactions. It is such an encouragement to my soul.
Racism is a sin, one which is in opposition to God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Let us not be like the people Isaiah spoke about who were “ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” People whose hearts have become calloused to their sin and depravity, whose eyes and ears are shut to the pain and suffering in their midst (Isaiah 6:9-10). Jesus cares about justice and human dignity—his ministry focused on raising the poor, oppressed, marginalized people in his time. God’s word also calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation, to bring unity in His body, the church, so He can reconcile us to Himself. As image bearers, let us shine the light of Christ into the darkness of our world by our good works so that God gets the glory. He promises to be with us, always, especially when the work is tough, but necessary.
Let Us Pray
Lord you called us to be ministers of reconciliation and that means bringing people of every tribe and tongue under your Lordship into your kingdom. Lord, as black men and women, fighting the good fight can be so wearying. We bring our disappointment, sorrow, and grief to you. For white women, knowing what to do, say or where to start can be overwhelming. Lead and guide them to their next step. Give them the courage to speak out against racial injustice and link arms with their sisters of color in ways that change the systemic racism that permeates the fabric of American society. Humble us, Lord, so we yield our self-righteousness, judgment, calloused hearts, and blind eyes to you. Let us be people who really do see, who really do understand. Reveal your truth to our open hearts. Remind us, Lord, that we are free in you and that your spirit strengthens us in all our weaknesses. We pray for the unified church you so desire. In Jesus’ name. Amen.