Racial Justice and Inclusion Session 3, 9th March

Oppression and injustice now: I can’t breathe

 

Reflection for discussion:

Senior Pastor Chris Brooks, Woodside Bible Church, Michigan, in response to the death of Mr George Floyd (summarised)

 

Yesterday, I lost my breath! My breathlessness came because of watching the now viral video of a man gasping for the desperately needed air his lungs begged for. He pleaded with the police officer whose knee was crushing his windpipe as he moaned out the words, “I can’t breathe”. These three grievous words, “I can’t breathe,” stand as damning evidence of a generation’s lack of basic human decency towards those who are all too often misunderstood, mislabelled, and marginalized…

Three points…

We don’t believe in moralistic evolution: The sin of racism is just as rampant and vile today as it has always been. The only unique reality for our generation is this evil is now being recorded and spread virally through the powerful platform of social media. The Gospel, which is the only cure for these forms of discrimination and injustice, is just as needed today as ever. Without the transforming grace of Christ at work in our lives, we are no less bigoted, racist, or prejudiced than our ancestors. So, the Church must not fall prey to thinking that racial discrimination is a thing of the past. The killing of Mr. George Floyd is a tragic reminder racism is a current and present danger.

We must be an inclusive church: It is through the natural and healthy tensions that arise from living in a loving, Gospel-centered local church, with other believers who come from a different socioeconomic reality than us, that we develop the spiritual muscles needed to address the structural injustices in our society. Christ intends for the Church to be diverse, even if it means exchanging short-term and sometimes shallow numerical growth for a greater depth of spiritual maturity as we become disciples who make and multiply other disciples.

We must extend our commitment to the sanctity of life to marginalized adults. Proverbs 31:8–9 tells us that in part, living in reverence and honor of God means we obey the instruction to, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” By all measure Mr. George Floyd was a member of the group that Proverbs 31:8–9 has in mind.
Mr. George Floyd deserved to breathe! He was a man who was made in the image of God. No doubt he was marred by imperfections, like all of us, but he was worthy of dignity. This is why I refer to him with the prefix “Mr.” It is my way of bestowing upon him the respect he should have received as he lay under the pressing knee of pain, gasping for breath, and calling for out mercy. Jesus died for his sins! This is precisely the point. Ultimately, the mercy and grace he was looking for is found in Christ alone.

But we have the responsibility to give voice to the voiceless. We must declare to the world that his value in the eyes of God was unquestioned. No matter his past or present condition, Mr. George Floyd deserved to breathe! Breathe the fresh air of justice both in this life and the life to come!

 

Some starting points for discussion:
Let’s think about how we can give people dignity as beloved children of God.
What does being or becoming an inclusive church mean and what does it take?
How do we build up our ‘spiritual muscles’?
How do we give voice to the voiceless?

 

Musical interlude: When I Needed a Neighbour Boot Out Austerity When I needed a Neighbour 3rd an 2020 04 19 - Bing video

(NB This video features pictures from House of Bread, Stafford)

 

Tearfund reflection on structural sin –  and an opportunity to reflect on some Scripture passages

Individualistic understandings of sin that emphasise interpersonal racism are inadequate because they do not take into account the ways in which our societal structures and systems perpetuate racial injustice. Neither do they take into account the often-unconscious bias with which we view and perceive others.

In other words, individualistic understandings of sin do not take into account our complicity in systemic racism, unintentional though it may be. Although we might not hold explicitly racist views ourselves, some of us still benefit from a societal system that privileges some over others. Since we live within a society that is racially unjust, it is not enough for us to be non-racist. Instead, we need to be actively anti-racist. To be neutral, passive, silent or inactive in the face of systemic racism is to allow racial injustice to persist and is therefore to be complicit in it.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus critiques the behaviour of various power-holding groups in society, addressing them communally. He rebukes the teachers of the law on account of their treatment of the marginalised (Luke 20:45-47), for example, and the Pharisees for their love of power (Luke 11:43). Jesus also admonishes these groups for their hypocrisy.

We need to remember that these words were spoken in a specific context and addressed to a specific group of people. Nevertheless, they can still speak into our situation today. Jesus’ words remind us that communal sin is a reality, and that we are entangled in the sin of our societies. His words also speak of our generational interconnectedness – this might be countercultural to us, but as the inclusion of Jesus’ genealogy in the gospels shows, the past matters and is part of our identity. We have inherited a culture, history and way of doing things. While there is much to celebrate here, we have also inherited a society that has practiced and benefited from racism. We have the opportunity now to stop this from being passed on to future generations.

Once we are aware of injustice, we are responsible for dealing with it. But along with Jesus’ rebuke in these passages, it is clear that he is longing to exercise love, compassion and grace towards those that are willing. He also speaks these words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

Turning to our situation today and the racial inequality in our societies, what might Jesus and the prophets say to us? How will we choose to respond?

(….plus some facts and figures on inequality in the UK

·        Black women in the UK are much more likely to die from complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth than white women. The chance of death is 1 in 2,500 for black women but the rate was five times smaller for white women.

·        Black people who leave school with A levels typically get paid 14.3% less than white peers.

·        Unemployment rates were significantly higher for ethnic minorities at 12.9% compared with 6.3% for white people.

·        Black Caribbean and mixed white/black Caribbean have rates of permanent exclusion from school 3 times higher than of the pupil population as a whole.

·        The homicide rate for black people was 30.5 per million population,14.1 for Asian people and 8.9 for white people.

·        30.9% of Pakistani or Bangladeshi people live in overcrowded accommodation, while for black people the figure is 26.8% and for white people it is 8.3%

·        Black African women were 7 times more likely to be detained under the Mental Act than white British women.

Statistics from the Equality and Human Rights Commission – updated October 2020. Thanks to Jane Whitney Cooper for compiling these statistics)

Scripture:

 

Psalm 10 (NRSV)

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
    let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
    those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
    all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’

5 Their ways prosper at all times;
    your judgements are on high, out of their sight;
    as for their foes, they scoff at them.
6 They think in their heart, ‘We shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.’

7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
    under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages;
    in hiding-places they murder the innocent.

Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9     they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
    they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.

10 They stoop, they crouch,
    and the helpless fall by their might.
11 They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’

12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    do not forget the oppressed.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God,
    and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account’?

14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
    that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
    you have been the helper of the orphan.

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers;
    seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The Lord is king for ever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.

17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more

 

 

Luke 20 45-47 (NRSV)

In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46 ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

Matthew 23 1-4, and 25-28 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

25 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

27 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Music: With Mary Let My Soul Rejoice (St Paul’s & Doxey Virtual Choir)

How strong his arm, how great his power! The proud he will disown; the meek and humble he exalts to share his glorious throne.

 

Closing prayer from Pax Christi

 

Dear God, in our efforts to dismantle racism, we understand that we struggle not merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep racism alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.

Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by racial categories.

Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of racial stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.

Help us to create a church and a nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people of colour where we live, as well as those around the world.

Heal your family God, and make us one with you, in union with our brother Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit.
Amen.