The Baptists Together General Secretary Lynn Green has made this helpful and challenging statement that I wholeheartedly agree with.
“The inhumane and merciless brutality demonstrated towards George Floyd last week was an appalling act of injustice and reveals yet again the ugly reality of deeply ingrained institutional racism in the USA. The authentic response of a people who follow a God who delights in justice and righteousness is to stand together in solidarity and protest in the face of such insidious evil. The death of George Floyd must also drive us to some serious heart-searching of our own. The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context. Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union. Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.” https://www.baptist.org.uk/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=579501
As I have been considering my response to the changes that we need to be a part of, I have been reflecting on Mark 5.21-43. In the passage, we read about Jairus who asked Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter and then a woman who touched the edge of Jesus’ robe so she could be healed and the way that Jesus stops to speak with her.
Jairus was in a privileged position as a community leader. The crowd parted to allow him to get to Jesus and he would have had every expectation that Jesus would serve him, after all isn’t that what happens when important people ask for things? The religious leaders were the group who were the most critical of Jesus and so it must have been hard for Jairus to ask Jesus for help. Asking for help is also hard for people who are privileged because we instinctively feel we should be able to cope because we have so much.
The woman, whose name we aren’t even given, had suffered with constant bleeding for 12 years and she had spent everything she had trying to find a cure. She was an outcast, someone who would have been considered unclean and unworthy by those around her in that society. This woman wasn’t privileged enough to have the crowd part for her, rather she had to force and fight to get to Jesus who was so easy for the privileged Jairus to access.
People in the crowd wouldn’t have seen this woman as someone who mattered greatly. She had no money and so she must have received charity from some but while she was deemed worthy of a handout, she doesn’t appear to have been valued in any deep way by those around her. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her to clamber through the crowd, watching people recoil from her as they realized who it was that was touching them.
I can imagine a little more about how Jairus might have felt as he looked on. He was desperate to get Jesus to his daughter as quickly as possible and for him to watch while Jesus stopped for a conversation must have been agonizing.
Jesus knew that the woman had been healed and he could have moved on and left it at that, but he made a point of stopping and talking with her instead. Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to him and I think that this is something that Jesus still wants all people who have been oppressed and mistreated people to know.
It seems clear to me that if Jesus was on the Earth today that he would have been shouting Black Lives Matter along with so many other people.
Watching the video footage that captured the moments leading up to George Floyd’s death is shocking and it is no wonder that this horrendous act of violence has resulted in the outpouring of anger that we are seeing. Some people are wondering why there has been violence in some of the protests but if I’m honest I’m astonished there has been so little. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not condoning violence, I’m just acknowledging that I understand why people are so angry.
For those of us who relate more to Jairus than the woman in the passage, I would like to make these suggestions about how we can respond.
- Conversation: Jesus makes time to speak with the woman.
The first thing that we should do if we have not done so already is to listen. In the past few weeks, I have made the time to speak with some of my black friends and have listened to their stories in a way that I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done before. I grew up in multicultural Wolverhampton and I have many friends from different ethnic backgrounds, but I have been shocked at some of the stories I am hearing from people at what has confronted them in everyday life. I was also struck by something that Will Smith said in an interview, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. This public evidence of racism may be one of the factors that is encouraging people to speak up about their experiences which largely aren’t seen.
- Care: Jesus wanted the woman to know that she mattered
When someone says that ‘Black Lives Matter’, we need to realise that saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is an offensive response. When we talk with someone in pain, the most appropriate thing that you can do is to show care and love for their pain, not to point out that other people are in pain as well.
- Be willing to act in a way that won’t be popular with the privileged and the crowd around you: Jesus makes time to treat the woman with respect.
Would you have stopped to speak with the woman as Jesus did or would we be just focused on the dignitary who had asked for help? Are we willing to lay aside the demands of others (however worthy they may be?) in order to acknowledge, to care for and to speak up for the oppressed?
- Take Action: The life of this woman was transformed in her meeting with Jesus
In conversation with others (remember we need to listen first!), let’s consider if there are ways that we can act both by changing the way we treat people where necessary and advocating for the change that is needed. Two stories that come to my mind as I think about change that is needed in the church:
As a teenager, a visiting speaker to the church I was a part of said that although we were one of the many multicultural churches in Wolverhampton that we were the only one with a multicultural leadership. If we are part of churches with different ethnicities and that isn’t reflected in the leadership of the church or in who leads and preaches, then will we speak up and advocate for change?
I remember a South Korean by the name of Kwangsun Kim joining a church in rural Oxfordshire where I was the pastor. He insisted that we called him Sammy as his name would be too hard for us to pronounce but I insisted that we call him by his name and we even worked on pronouncing it together as a church. It felt important to me that we welcomed Kwangsun for who he was rather than expecting him to change to make things more comfortable for some in the church.
- Believe that all things are possible: Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead
As I look out on the scale of the problem and the injustices in society, it’s hard to believe that things can change. I know that God hates racism and injustice and I want to join him in his work so that we would see his Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The spotlight is not simply shining on ‘them over there’ but also on us here in our own context. Baptists Together hold a common value; that we are a Movement which shares a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom and seeks to confront evil, injustice and hypocrisy and challenges worldly attitudes to power, wealth, status and security both within and beyond our Union. Right now, God is presenting us with the opportunity to grow more deeply into this value and, in doing so, to unleash a prophetic call and presence in our communities and nations.”
If you want to read and consider further:
Kate Colemans blog ‘Are you M.A.D. with the world?’ is excellent and it also has links to further resources https://nextleadership.org/blog/are-you-m-a-d-with-the-world?fbclid=IwAR2MVgoecURThyx5YVx_2-pq-EuzlbMLTd-NrT8NUGnZ50JDe0rWYiDhJpE
The ‘George Floyd: our responses’ page on the Baptists Together website has lots of material https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/579501/George_Floyd_our.aspx
If you want to learn more about the experiences of black people in church life then I would suggest you watch ‘Dear White Church’ https://youtu.be/8M5aBzgQljM