George Floyd and Jesus

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George Floyd and Jesus

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! Matthew 23:23-24

I am white, male, Christian, and heterosexual, so I am a person of privilege. For purposes of this reflection, I am using George Floyd to represent the countless persecuted people of color, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual preferences other than what is commonly believed to be the majority in the United States. I believe there is a common responsibility for the earthly fate of the George Floyds of the world and the earthly fate of Jesus. I am sad to confess that the finger of blame points to me: a law-abiding, compliant, salt-of-the-earth, American citizen. It is to those like me that I direct these thoughts.

Looking at the torture and murder of Jesus in a different light – one that does not absolve us for the cruel reality – is helpful. Certainly there is a sense that Jesus died for our sins, but that is not the entire story. Jesus did not just die for our sins but because of our sins. I propose that if Jesus were alive today, we would kill him again. After all, it was not the oppressive Roman government that insisted on killing Jesus but the socially privileged of his day – people like me. Those around whom the society was organized found Jesus threatening to their comfortable status quo, so they disposed of him, exactly as we do today.

Our country was founded by white males of European descent. The systems of law, justice, and social standing were designed by them for their benefit. Of course, establishing this exclusive system required the destruction of the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples preceding them. Our nation grew and prospered largely due to the forced labor of African-Americans and, more recently, Latin-Americans. Some of our founders believed they were carrying out God’s will for the evolutionary advancement of humankind. What they did not understand was the limit of their vision – how much their white, European view of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was just that – a white, European view. It was not a view for people of color or those of other beliefs or backgrounds. The adopted American creed, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”[1] should have a post-script, “…as long as they are white Europeans.”

I am gradually learning how the laws and systems I faithfully follow are inherently unjust, biased, and exclusive. Our social systems reward those compliant folks who act white, heterosexual, Christian, and male and punishes those who do not. In order to succeed, those our society has othered must first give up precious aspects of their inherent nature. When our social structures do not allow others in, the eventual reaction is violence – externally, by theft or throwing rocks, or internally via alcohol or drugs. Granted, it is easier to maintain social order when everyone behaves in limited, predictable ways, but that does not honor or allow the diversity of the nation of immigrants we were destined to become. A nation of immigrants that does not tolerate and support diverse actions and behaviors becomes a tyrannical dictatorship to broad swaths of its population. Indeed, one of our revered founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, said, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obliged to do so.”[2]

The question is often asked, “Why didn’t God intervene to save Jesus from the cross?” Sadly, it is the wrong question. The better question is: “Why didn’t we intervene?” We ask, “Why didn’t God intervene to save George Floyd?” The better question is: “Why didn’t we?” It is too easy to say, “Someone should do something about that!” but much more difficult to do something ourselves. It is up to those in privileged positions to change the laws and systems that lead to such tragedies because we, as law-abiding citizens, perpetuate and support those systems. The problem is not the police, politicians, or protesters. The problem is those of us with privilege. It is up to us to accept responsibility, intervene, and fix it.

Watching Jesus being tortured and hung on a cross should have motivated those with social standing to say, “Never again!” Ditto for those witnessing the murder of George Floyd. We continue to experience the manifestation of the unimaginable capacity for cruelty by people empowered by inequitable and exclusive systems. We have failed to create an environment that respects human dignity, acknowledges that all lives are created equal, or that provides the right to all for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Perhaps we are not ready to step in the middle of a violent encounter, but we can identify the inequities in the systems that led to the encounter and fight for equity and inclusion in those systems. We can run for office. We can vote. We can speak out. We can claim responsibility. We can sacrifice pieces of our comfortable status quo in return for the blessings of a more diverse, more inclusive, and less violent society. We can educate ourselves about whom and what we fear. We can say, “Never again,” and back up our words with action. The repentance for our sins requires the undoing of centuries of prejudice inherent in our social structures. This is our responsibility.

I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning.

[1] This is part of a poem, The New Colossus, written by 19th century poet, Emma Lazarus. It is inscribed on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty.

[2] Vincentbove.blogspot.com, accessed June 1, 2020.

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