By Virgil Childs
The United States is experiencing the most serious racial unrest since the 1960s, as lawful rallies, marches, and protests of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day have taken place throughout our region, across the U.S., and around the world. The protests have often been massive but have also taken place in small towns; they have been largely peaceful but also marred by violence; and they have been attended by a great diversity of people.
The past few weeks have been really difficult. Perilous times have come upon us.
First, let me say from the office of Regional Ministries at the Pacific Union and from our constituents that we decry the senseless killing of George Floyd and our prayers are with his family.
However, at the same time, when I look at events such as this, I see an opportunity. As horrific as it is, I still see it as an opportunity. The peace of the world is very fragile, and all it needs is a precipitating event to bring it crashing down. But, as a church, we have the peace of God, and that’s a peace that passes all understanding. When I look at these events—the protests, the looting, the violence and what it has done—it has focused a bright light on the truth, on the realities of life.
You know, I have my own personal experience with racial profiling, being followed and pulled over by the police. That is something that a certain group of people live with all the time. And it’s a reality that I now think the world is beginning to understand.
We build walls. We have excluded certain people and we have created privilege for others. As a result, there’s pain in our society, and it tells us that something is seriously broken. When we look at the protesting and the looting from the past few weeks, it lets us know that there needs to be some reform amongst the people who are supposed to protect and serve.
The protesting and the rallies are so important. However, I hope we realize that it’s not just others—there needs to be some reform amongst all of us. We need to care more about our brothers and our sisters. Micah 6:8 says that we need to “do justly.” We need to “love mercy.” And we need to “walk humbly before our God.” That is social justice.
We can’t afford to be indifferent about people, about their pain and what they’re going through. We’ve got to consider what it means to love our brothers and our sisters. We’ve got to think about what real justice, true justice, is for everybody. And not just for people with a certain ethnicity, not just for a particular group. We’ve got to do what’s right for everybody.
I had a meeting with some folks shortly after George Floyd’s death. There was a young man there, a junior at Oakwood College. He asked me, “What can I do to make a difference?” And I told him that there were different ways to address this thing. It’s not going happen because of one march. We need the marches because people need to know where we stand; they need to know that we’re against prejudice, we’re against the violence, we’re against injustice. But after the marches, we need to have an agenda for social justice. After that, we each need to do our part. I told him, “You know, you’re a junior in college right now. What you need to do is finish your program. You need to get your degree so you can be qualified to take on some of these positions, so you can sit at the table where decisions are made.”
Praise God, the people care. They want to walk on a march. But in addition to that, beyond the precipitating events that caused us to be in shock and awe, beyond the rallies and protests, we need to go to council meetings. We need to engage with our community. We need to care about voting. If folks don’t vote, they don’t have a say. They have a right to vote and they need to take advantage of that right so that they can make a difference in what happens. Policy makes a difference. Walking and talking is great, but policy is what changes things. And when you use your voice and I use my voice and others use their voices, eventually we can bring about some type of change.
We need change in our country, and we also need change in our churches. In the church, we need to adjust our theology a little bit, particularly our eschatology. We can’t wait for Jesus to come and fix everything. He will, but in the meantime, He’s called upon us to do our part in our communities, at our jobs, in our classrooms, wherever we are. I’ve got to do what the Bible asks me to do. The wise man says, “I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice” (Proverbs 8:20, NIV).
Yes, I have to abide in Jesus. I have to not only study the Word, I have to live the Word. And I have to share the Word. The Bible calls us “salt” and the Bible calls us “light.” Sometimes salt irritates and sometime light bothers, you know. But we have a responsibility to the truth. As representatives of God, we have a responsibility to care, to not to be indifferent about what’s happening in our communities.
I feel hopeful about the future. You see, my hope is based on the promises of Jesus. I’ve lived awhile and I’ve seen a few things. And I have seen some changes—some things have changed that seemed almost impossible. For instance, how in the world are we going to preach the gospel in all the world when we have this pandemic? And then, amazingly, we seem to be able to connect with anybody anywhere through Zoom. You know, all things are possible. And the promises of God are true.
So, I’m hopeful. In every conflict I see an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, to listen a little better, and to understand and communicate a little better. And I believe that the events of the past few weeks have brought us to this point.
Now the challenge is, what are we going to do with it? I challenge the church as I challenge myself, to be part of the ministry of reconciliation, which is what God has called us to.
Virgil Childs is the director of African American Ministries for the Pacific Union Conference.