Call to Prayer and Learning and Action

Tim Button-Harrison, District Executive

On May 25, in South Minneapolis, a 46 year old black man, George Floyd, who worked as a security guard, was arrested on suspicion of passing a $20 counterfeit bill, and after he was handcuffed, while being held in custody, several officers held him to the ground while one officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck for a period of nine minutes, restricting his air supply, as he repeatedly cried out “I can’t breathe” and as onlookers cried out on his behalf, and continued kneeling on his neck even after he became silent and lost consciousness.  The police reported that he died due to a “medical incident” in a “police interaction.”  But the truth was captured on video by the onlookers and shared on social media.  On May 26, people started gathering where this horrific event happened, organizations and officials began to denounce the police action, and by afternoon, the four arresting officers were fired, and by evening the protest had begun.  On May 29, Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter.

The killing of George Floyd is not an isolated incident but part of a larger history and cultural system of racial prejudice, fear, hatred, violence, injustice and inequity in our society.  Related events have recently occurred in Georgia where citizens acting as vigilantes killed Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was jogging, in New York’s Central Park where a racialized call was made to police concerning Christian Cooper, a black man who was bird-watching, and in Des Moines on May 16 when a black man, DarQuan Jones, was attacked and nearly killed in an incident being investigated as a racial hate crime, and the list of black bodies harmed and black lives lost goes on and on.  

Over the past week, from that place in South Minneapolis where Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, protests and rallies have spread across the country.  The planned protests and rallies have been nonviolent, and in many cases, police and public officials have united with protesters to condemn racism and inappropriate police force.  In other places, nonviolent protests have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets, amplifying anger, frustration and despair, leading some to break windows and loot stores.  And while rally organizers have worked diligently to keep protests on message and nonviolent, young white male extremists (some are call them manarchists or simply white knuckleheads) have been leading out in property destruction to encourage rioting and discredit the protests.  It is a volatile mix and we need to be more quick to examine the root causes than we are to judge those who are expressing their anger, frustration and despair, hearing again the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said, “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air.  Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.  And in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.  And what is it that America has failed to hear…?”   (Listen to the speech here.)

The events of the past week are most certainly an urgent call to prayer, especially if prayer leads us to greater humility, listening, love, acknowledgement of wrongs, and commitment to repair those wrongs and do what is right.  This kind of prayer leads to hard work and change.  It has led me to change who I am primarily following and listening to.  In the past, almost all of my guides and teachers, those to whom I had granted authority to lead me, because I trusted their knowledge and experience in areas religious, theological, moral, academic and professional, where white people.  And for almost all of my life, my guides and teachers had been mostly white people.  I was certainly not deficient in having a white understanding of life.  But I was certainly deficient in understanding life from other points of view.  So I’ve dedicated myself to listen to and learn from and be guided by black and indigenous and latinx voices and leaders.   And I have done this not alone or in isolation, but in community and alongside many of you who are working to do the same, who are likewise adjusting your focus and attention.  With encouragement and support from some of you, I’ve become part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).   I decided to go on the 2019 Waterloo Freedom Bus ride from Iowa to Alabama, blacks and whites together, retracing the events and places of the Civil Rights Movement.  And I’ve become involved in the Poor People’s Campaign.   

I’ve had a basic understanding of the Black Civil Rights movement.  But five years ago, I couldn’t tell you much about some other things I now consider essential and required knowledge.  And I’m still just scratching the surface.  Here are some very important things I’ve learned about, or learned more about, just recently, and I’ve found some helpful links you can follow to go deeper in your own learning.  I’ve learned about the Doctrine of Discovery, West African slave fortresses, the Middle Passage, the developing American culture of white supremacy, the amassing of wealth in this nation from slave labor and seizure of lands from Native Americans, the life and work of Frederick Douglass, the events surrounding the mass hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, MN, the rise and fall of Reconstruction after the Civil of War, the slavery loophole in the 13th amendment, Jim Crow laws, convict leasing, Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching campaign, the coming together of former Union and Confederate soldiers in the US wars to annex Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, the racist aspects of those wars, and the rise in attacks on black communities by returning white soldiers after those and all subsequent wars, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the restoration of the Confederate flag and the erection of Confederate Memorials, the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, the flood of Northern advertising and media depicting African Americans as deficient, ridiculous and dangerous, “The Birth of the Nation” (the highest-grossing film of the silent movie era), the Great Migration, sundown towns, redlining, mass incarceration and the environmental justice movement.  I now understand these are some of the facts and realities we need to know and comprehend, particularly as white Christians in the U.S., if we want to truly understand where we are now, and how we got here, and where we can and need to go from here. 

There are other helpful resources.  The 2019 Ministers and District Board Workshop was on race and racism and led by Michaela Alphonse, Pastor of the Miami First Church of the Brethren and Josh Brockway, Church of the Brethren Director of Discipleship Ministries.  On May 31, Josh offered these recommendations:

There is also a great resource called “Talking About Race” that was just released by the National Museum of African American History.

Friends in Christ, I am committed to the deep prayer and learning and action that I believe we are being called to.  Will you pray and learn and work with me?

No comments yet

Comments are closed