A Biblical perspective from Pastor EuGene Lewis
The death of George Floyd is the latest in a long history of unarmed black Americans dying unjustly at the hands of police officers.
As a church and as individuals, we have a responsibility to examine our hearts, learn from history, and take action for the future to prevent future injustices.
Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about black people being brutally abused at the hands of white people.
Amos was a farmer turned prophet. A minor prophet with a major voice when it came to injustice. The prophet fought for justice and the rights for all people. You will recall, the kingdom established by David was divided into two kingdoms after the death of his son Solomon. Ten of the tribes went north and became Israel, and two went south and became Judah.
It was during this time of peace and prosperity that the many of the nobles and merchants in the Northern Kingdom came into great wealth and power. Some attained their wealth honestly, while others got their wealth through ill-gotten gain off the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. The poor were brutally treated without conscience.
What was happening in Amos’ day is happening now.
It happened to George Floyd. Without conscience, cameras rolling, the world watching — a white police officer knelt down on the neck of black man until he died while three other officers watched and did nothing. The fact that they could do that, openly, says to me, and most of black America, that these men may have done that and/or other similar acts before and had gotten away it. Thus, they did not fear what may happen to them in a bad way.
God allows bad things to happen (only) when He has something He wants to make good on.
Things got so bad in the Northern Kingdom that God told Amos in chapter 8 that the nation was like a basket of rotten fruit — ripe for judgment because of their hypocrisy and spiritual indifference.
Our ancestors were brought here to the United States as slaves from Africa who helped build this country, like the peasants, the small-businessman, and the farmers of Amos’ day who had been the strength of their nation. They found that their strength, their ability to earn a decent living, was all but taken away. In ancient, historic and modern times, there was a gulf between the rich and the poor. The rich could care less about the plight of the poor. The small holdings of the poor were swallowed up by the large estates.
There was no redress for the oppressed in the courts of law. The judges were known for accepting bribes and being bought off by the rich. The courts, the judicial system, was stacked in favor of the favorite. If you killed a black man, no biggie, the worst you would experience was that you would have to go through the process. But at the end of that process you will be given a get-out-of-jail-free-card by the system who orchestrated the process in the first place.
Moreover, the churches and religious institutions weren’t much better. Evangelical churches were full. Priests and preachers were bought off, and likened to dumb dogs who wouldn’t bark or speak on the behalf of those who were brutally beaten and disenfranchised. Piety and devotion went hand-in-hand with injustice and oppression. The Church House and the White House became One House in the oppression of the poor and marginalized.
The Seventh-day Adventists church is not an evangelical church. Hence, it must not act like one in its treatment and service to its black constituents. There is a responsibility to speak up to injustice, oppression, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized.
This was the similar state of the nation when Amos gave his famous prophetic and pastoral address recorded in Amos 5. Amos 5:24 eloquently says –“But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
What Amos saw Black people are experiencing today and have been for centuries: God allows bad things to happen (only) when He has something He wants to make good on.
Maybe, just maybe, this act of brutality and violence will be the step that finally takes us out of the dark and dismal past of racism and injustice and awaken this nation and church to a brighter future in its race relations and practices.
The Biblical record is a continuing plea for the people of God to take a stand for one thing or another.
Joshua told Israel: “Choose you this day whom you will serve whether the gods of your fathers or the gods of Amorites in whose land you dwell, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” Joshua 24:15.
Elijah did the same. He challenged his people to take a stand. Here are his words: “How long will you halt between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21).
The reply of the Israelites cannot, must not, be the reply of our nation and church at the expense of Black America any longer.
Like Amos says: Let judgment — meaning let your analysis, your belief, your discernment of every man or women — roll down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Our religion, if we are religious at all, must never be divorced from justice, our piety must not be divorced from kindness, nor our sacrifice from mercy.
Looking beyond the story of Amos, we can look at the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Himself a victim of brutality and injustice, demonstrated His great love by dying for all people who are on the slippery slopes of sin, prejudice, brutality, and injustice. He addressed the perpetual pandemic of racism, brutality, and injustice to show us a better way through love, hope, and grace.
Systemic racism within our church, community, and our own hearts must be challenged and addressed. Policies and procedures that perpetuate racism must be crucified and laid to rest if we are to have hope for a glorious resurrection in our nation, communities, and church. If the communities we live in are going to succeed against the evil injustices that black people face, collaboration is a must and not an option.
In the wake of this senseless tragedy, what’s my recommendation?
Any recommendation must be more than the gripping emotion of seeing a breathless man on the ground in the clutches of a death grip. Feelings and emotions get the juices flowing, but they dissipate once the next crisis comes along; It must be more than some stirring event. I’ve witnessed hundreds of such events over the course of ministry. Even inspiring events have a short shelf life. Memories fade over time. It must be more than policies; too many policies are voted and then promptly forgotten for other more pressing priorities.
What we need is a conversation and a strategy that wraps together the best ideas we can come with into a package that can help us all work together in a systematic way.
What I recommend, on behalf of the Regional Advisory Committee, is for an ongoing diversity conversation and resulting strategy for the conference that helps us to (1) replace prideful ego with the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, (2) communicate more effectively and authentically with cultures far different than our own, and (3) implement those creative church ideas and practices that have been demonstrated to work, with positive impact, in other places.
Such a diversity strategy will involve clear assignment of responsibilities and periodic progress reports that will clearly track a progressive change of culture within our congregations, schools and committee rooms. A diversity strategy for a church differs from that of a business. We have a moral responsibility.
May God give us all the desire to come into the unity as described in John 17:23 — “that they may be made perfect in one, that the world may know . . .”
EuGene Lewis serves as Washington Conference Regional Ministries director and Emerald City Community SDA Church senior pastor. Lewis describes his responsibility as: “Sometimes prophet, speaking on behalf of the conference and its policies and procedures to the people, and sometimes priest, speaking on behalf of the people—their practical needs and concerns—to the conference.” Lewis represents the official voice of the Regional Advisory Committee (comprised on African American pastors and elders) to Washington Conference Executive Committee, the governing board of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in western Washington.