The George Floyd Protests: Twelve Principles for this Moment

Friends,

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I want to offer you twelve biblical principles to guide Christians, Black, White and otherwise, for this moment. The number is appropriate, since this is an effort to disciple.

The very public killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey and many other unarmed Black people have rightfully dominated the thought and conversation surrounding us. Here in Halifax, while things are certainly different than south of the border, many Black Nova Scotians would be quick to point out they’re not that different

There’re a plethora of voices interpreting our times, trying to compel you to act and think in particular ways; some of these voices are good, and some bad.

Our God is not silent today. He offers wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). 

Recently there’ve been many posts and comments from Christian leaders that are either repentant, sympathetic or simply restating historic Christian positions for love and kindness and against racism and violence. Sometimes it appears they’re only engaged in public catharsis. 

This is not sufficient. 

Pastors are tasked with opening God’s Word and from it compelling God’s people to faith and obedience, exhorting and rebuking with authority and precision (Titus 1:9, 2:1, 11-15).

This is not a time to be vague, fearful or sentimental. This moment should give us a sense of urgency, not only because people are dying, but also because the night is nearly over; the day is almost here (Romans 13:11-14).

I’ve tried to order these principles in a way that flows logically (at least to me); if I don’t address a concern of yours in the first place, hopefully I’ve gotten to it later on.

That said, this is an attempt to be broad knowing I cannot be thorough. There’s more to say, but not less. If you want a simple solution to a complicated issue, sorry (not sorry). 

Also, I’ve tried (clearly, unsuccessfully) to keep explanations of each principle brief. If you want a more detailed take on a certain principle (e.g. “use of imprecatory prayers” or “remember the poor”), I’m happy to talk more about it with you.

A final comment: there is a cry going out throughout our country and around the world from the Black community, where there is a shared experience of injustice, and we need to listen. Whatever side of the political spectrum you’re on, we need to listen. God takes very seriously the voice of the oppressed, and so should we. Please don’t rush to read this document, seeking answers, and miss this opportunity to listen, learn and ask serious questions about your own contribution to the issues around us.

Christ, have mercy.

  1. Christians, pray (2 Chronicles 7:14, 2 Corinthians 1:11)
    • One aspect of prayer is that we pray about what’s important to us; we pray about what bothers us and what’s on the forefront of our minds. What you do or do not pray about tells you what you truly value. What are you prayers revealing about what your heart values in this moment? Don’t listen to the line, “There’s been enough prayer, it’s time to act!”; the church is slow to act because she doesn’t pray. Show me someone who prays, desperate to see God move in our city, and I’ll show you someone who acts. As it’s been said, as the church prays, so it goes, and as one pastor said it, “We don’t pray for revival; prayer is revival.”
      1. When you pray, use prayers of lament (Psalm 13, 88)
        • Give voice to your feelings of grief and anger, your confused and chaotic thoughts; direct them to God. When it seems like the wicked grow powerful while God remains silent and distant, lament.
      2. When you pray, use imprecatory prayers (Psalm 109, 137, Romans 12:19-21)
        • When you pray, ask God to not only protect and vindicate the innocent but to judge the wicked. Imprecatory prayers are forceful; like laments, they’re a gift from God to express our horror and outrage. In them we pray that God would break the arm of the wicked, cut off their generation, shatter their teeth. If they seem mean-spirited and unkind to you, this may simply be the result of your not having experienced the kind of injustice and violence the psalmist has; such prayers resonate with the oppressed. Imprecatory prayers are faith-filled prayers because they look to God to himself do what’s right. Indeed, we are also called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but pregnant even in prayers like, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” or “Come, Lord Jesus!”, is the hope and expectation that God’s wrath against evil will come, finally and forcefully, either on the head of our crucified King who gave his life for enemies, or the heads of those who persist in their evil.
  1. Christians, repent (1 John 1:5-10, Isaiah 6:1-5, Matthew 7:1-5)
    • You’re far worse than you think you are. A person consumed only with calling out the sins of others (e.g. others’ complicity, indifference, rioting, hatred, etc.), is not taking seriously their own sin. All of us are guilty of both sins of omission and sins of commission. Beware saying, “We must change!”, if you do not also confess, “I must change!” Beware saying, “Rioters are shameful and destructive!”, if you do not also confess, “My sin is shameful and destructive!” Beware saying, “Police practice is utterly corrupt!”, if you do not also confess, “My heart is utterly corrupt.” A lack of true confession demonstrates we think far too highly of ourselves.
      1. Repent of sin as God defines it (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3, 7, Titus 3:1-3, Romans 15:7, Acts 10:28-43, 17:24-28, Matthew 15:17-20)
        • God teaches us what sin and holiness looks like; he tells us what pleases and displeases him. We don’t need to guess what his will is for us; we need to simply listen to what he says. Therefore, you’re free to ignore the voices within or without that would buffer or add to what God’s already said about holiness and your duty to him. As I see it, racism is biblically defined in terms of hatred toward other tribes (in its simplest form, based on skin colour); whether that’s picking off one or more tribes as being inferior to all the rest, or elevating your tribe as inherently superior to all others. Racial hatred includes overt acts of hatred, such as violence, favouritism, prejudicial treatment, animosity and abusive words; it also includes the internal heart motivations (where outward acts are first conceived) and unexpressed attitudes, including prejudice, dislike, anger and fear, predicated on the other person’s tribe.1 If you’re Black and have few to no White friends (or vice versa), or prefer the culture, customs and conventions of your tribe, these are not inherently racist realities, if they do not come out of a racist heart (as biblically defined). Accusing such people of racism, and telling them they must feel guilt or repent, is helpful to noone. 
      2. Repent of lack of love and failure to welcome those from other tribes (James 2:1-9, Romans 12:9-13, 15:1-3, Matthew 28:18-20, 1 John 4:7-8, 20-21, 5:2-3)
        • I suspect that a more common sin than the sin of racism in our churches is the sin of failing to obey Jesus’ proactive call to love and welcome those who are from a different tribe (or economic status, social class, etc.). Hospitality and offering welcome are outward behaviours of love, and are commanded of Christians. The fact that our world treats, and many of us think that, racism is a far more heinous sin than lack of love should not sway us. While our culture is charged with an attempt to root out racism, the church has a far higher calling than anti-racism. There are certainly people in the church guilty of racism, and they must repent, full stop. But failing to show love toward others is a grievous sin as well, a rot in the church that will destroy lives as surely as racism. Many minority culture Christians are speaking out and saying that majority culture Christians and churches have consistently failed to love and welcome them; this should be received with the equal weight and force, based on all the Scriptures teach, as a charge of racism. St. John says it quite clearly: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Clearly love, in God’s economy, holds a higher place than in ours.
  1. Christians, listen (James 1:19, Proverbs 10:19, Job 13:4-6)
    1. Listen to those who’ve suffered (Psalm 34:18, 145:14, Ecclesiastes 7:4)
      • Listen to Matthew Thomas and the Rev. Dr. Lennett Anderson, Black ministers who grew up in our city and experienced verbal and physical abuse, profiling and wicked treatment by police; their experience is typical. Read (at least) the first twenty-four pages of the Wortley report on the community impact of street checks in Halifax and the years of mistrust with the police that have built up. Listen to the stories in Remember Africville. Listen to better understand the anger you see around you, to feel it and weep.
    2. Listen to those with wisdom (Proverbs 12:15, 18:2)
      • Truth and wisdom are not racially allotted. You may not agree with everything that comes out of my mouth, BLM or the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, but listen for wisdom from whomever it comes from; commend and heed it.
  1. Christians, remember the poor (Psalm 9:18, Proverbs 21:13, Galatians 2:10, Romans 12:16, Matthew 5:2-5)
    • We’re told to remember the poor because it’s easy to forget them. We need to be reminded to love and care for the needy because we’re far more interested with loving and caring for ourselves. If we are not among the poor, we will have a weak and incomplete grasp of what life in God’s Kingdom is intended to be like. Remembering the poor and marginalized takes effort, and forgetting them does not remove guilt. This particular moment is rightly focused on the need for justice in the Black community, but we must not forget the poor in other communities; this is not an “All Lives Matter” refutation, but a reminder that we must always, always, be “remembering.” 
  1. Christians, use every privilege and blessing to serve others (Psalm 67, Luke 12:48b, Matthew 25:31-46)
    • If you’ve been privileged with freedom, power, possessions, intelligence, influence, etc., they’re not gifts intended for self-indulgence–they’re given to you by God in trust, to bless others and bring glory to Him. If influence and possessions are wicked, we shouldn’t wish them on our worst enemy; but if they’re blessings from the hand of God, we should offer to use them for the good of others as freely as we’ve received them.
  1. Christians, keep the gospel straight and central (Luke 24:44-49, John 18:33-37, 20:30-31, Acts 2:36-41, Corinthians 15:1-28, Galatians 2:11-14, Ephesians 2:13-14, 4:4, Titus 3:3-7)
    • The church is commanded to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people. We preach Christ, who was crucified, died, buried, resurrected, and ascended into glory. This Jesus is Lord of all; he’s the King. For those who’re burdened by sin and guilt and who’ve long endured the wicked rivals to Christ’s crown, the implications of this good news are legion: our sins are forgiven, we’re reconciled to God and our spiritual enemies have received the fatal blow and await only the coup de grace; because we’re united to this Christ by faith, we’re also united with former tribal enemies in our baptism and our shared place at the Lord’s table. The church has been commissioned and empowered to declare this good news to all people. We dare not set this Jesus and this gospel to the side while we try to first deal with injustice and hatred on our own terms. However, while racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but a clear implication of it, I’ve personally seen how often this principle has been used as a way to do an end run around issues surrounding race and injustice. Churches will avoid such issues completely by saying: “We’re gospel people; we don’t want to get political!” The gospel is profoundly political. Early Christians were beheaded and fed to lions by the government because of the gospel they declared. The gospel still has an unavoidably political edge: because Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord, earthly powers are not. So when we get issues on race and justice wrong (according to God’s standards), we’re getting the gospel wrong. If we don’t live out the implications of the gospel (according to God’s standards), we have not properly grasped the indicatives of the gospel. But, going back to the principle as initially stated, only by keeping the indicatives of the gospel straight and central do we have the power and authority to live out and work out its imperatives.
  1. Christians, Jesus alone is your righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-9, Romans 10:3, Philippians 3:2-11)
    • Listen: You cannot do the work to be righteous. Your prayers, your repentance, your listening, your remembering the poor, your blessing others… none of these things will ever commend you to God. You cannot earn your peace with God; Christ alone is your peace. Before you work, you must rest; before God gives you his law, he himself must make you free. If God gave us justice, we’d be condemned; instead, God’s justice was executed on Jesus, who stood in our place, for our sin, and rose again, so that we could have new life. It’s an affront to God’s holiness and Christ’s work to think you’re a contributor to this new standing. Sing it with me now: “Not the labour of my hands, can fulfill thy law’s demands / Should my zeal no respite know, should my tears forever flow / All for sin cannot atone, thou must save and thou alone!” The world is righteousness-hungry; but because of sin and pride many don’t want to be recipients of mercy and grace, but would try to earn what cannot be earned. People want to be good people, because their hearts testify they’re not. They want to be just people, because they know they’re unjust people. We should be on alert that many march, protest and post on social-media in an attempt to forge their own righteousness. But as Christians, we need to keep singing, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling / Naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace / Vile I to the fountain fly; wash me Saviour or I die.”2
  1. Christians, work (Ephesians 2:10. 4:1-3, Micah 6:6-8, Psalm 89:14, Proverbs 31:8-9, James 2:14-17)
    • We should do all we can to seek justice, peace, and unity. Much of the recent changes to police practice, like mandatory cameras on squad cars and officers and the affirmation that street checks in Halifax are in fact illegal, came as the result of protest, evidence gathering, the refusal to be silent and tenacity of the oppressed and those who worked alongside them. To give another example, the recent peaceful protests in Halifax (which were a joy to see) required planning, organization, and execution; they took work. Seeing reform to unjust laws and broad cultural change is (usually) a marathon and not a sprint; the work must be put in. The prayer of the church is to be guided by the Holy Spirit, that we may do what is righteous in God’s sight.
  1. Christians, understand the role of the law and government (Romans 7:12, 1 Timothy 1:8)
    • When law and government is functioning appropriately, society is better ordered, the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished.  We thank God that the horrendous evils of manstealing and race-based slavery in the United States were made illegal, because of the efforts of the abolitionist movement. But subsequent history, spilling out into this very moment, shows us that law and government, though good, is limited in what it can do. Racism remains, though slavery is outlawed. Hatred expressed itself through new laws, and prejudice was enshrined within court judgements and institutions. Laws, even good laws, cannot touch our hearts; laws cannot change us in the way we must be changed. Even God’s good and perfect law, which in addition to civil order also clearly tells us how we’re to please God, itself has no power to change us. This powerlessness within the law is not a bug, but a feature: heart change is not the law’s role. Our inability to keep the law points us to the perfect righteousness that can only be received by faith in Christ. However, while we must admit the limitations of law, this must not incline us to dismiss their importance. You will rarely hear those who rightly fight against the evils of abortion say, “The law is limited in what it can accomplish, so why bother?” No! In fact, one prominent Canadian anti-abortion website is simply called “WeNeedALaw.ca” (may their tribe increase). Though limited by its very essence, good law is a very good thing; we must have the kind of heart change which only Christ provides, but that should not keep us from seeking more just laws around here.
  1. Christians, submit to every word that comes from God (Matthew 4:4, John 17:17, Psalm 19:7-14, Proverbs 30:5, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:11-13)
    • It’s an interesting time: many people who do not themselves submit to the Scriptures are pointing out particular verses (from the Old Testament no less!) which call God’s people to seek justice and mercy in society, and then call on Christians to submit themselves to these verses. Well and good. But this must cut in every direction the Word cuts. Christians must give themselves to every one of God’s words, certainly in matters of race and justice, but no less in matters of sexual ethics, human abortion and the sole lordship of King Jesus. Wherever God commands obedience, that way we must go. Whatever God calls sin, whether committed by rioters, police or corrupt and exploitative businesses, we should declare it as such. The demos’ non-transcendent standards for righteousness and evil are fickle, but our God does not change. His words are perfect, therefore, every word, whether uttered from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, MLK or your work colleague’s fiery Facebook wall must alike bow to Christ’s final, true, and authoritative word.3
  1. Christians, seek God’s glory, not man’s (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, 6:20, 10:31, 15:58, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16, John 12:43)
    • Ultimately, we seek justice, peace, and unity with our neighbours and in our world because it brings glory to God. We want to please and honour him with our lips and our lives. Knowing whom it is we aim to glorify is enormously freeing: our Father is well pleased as his children imitate him, even if we often misstep. It’s also cause to persevere in every good work, despite opposition: we labour to please God, not man.
      1. Therefore, fear God, not man (Deut. 6:13, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
        • Are you motivated to act in our times primarily by what you think people will say or think about you, or by what God says to you? Put positively, Christ’s love, not man’s approval, should compel us to act. Threats and intimidation, levelled from either racists or freedom-fighters, should not budge us an inch from where God would have us. Christian leaders, are you opening or closing your mouth, not for the good of the sheep, but to avoid pushback?
      2. Therefore, don’t do your good deeds to be seen by man (Matthew 6:1-6, 23:1-12)
        • Connected to all this is our slippery, slippery hearts. While you post something on Instagram, you say, “Awareness!” but your heart says, “Look at my virtue!” or, “Thank God I’m not like those other people!” If you participate in the ongoing protests and efforts at societal change (which I think you should), can I encourage you to carefully consider your use of a selfie stick? You can have skin in the game, without broadcasting it; is there another motive present? What a tragedy if a person or business were to leverage this moment for their own benefit. And I get it, the younger generation (man, it feels good to say that) has a different take on social media than us geezers do (that’s too indulgent, forgive me), but whether we use trumpets or hashtags, our hearts have the same glory-grubbing inclinations as the ancients did. Beware.
  1. Christians, be thankful for your tribe (Gen. 1:26-31, Revelation 7:9-12, 21:22-27)
    • God has made you Black, White or whatever for a reason. Do not repent for something that God gave you. Do not loathe the skin you’re in. Rather, give thanks! As it’s inscribed in stone outside the courthouse in Ottawa, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This is self-evidently true, but not because it was declared by the UN, a think-tank of humanists or the thousands of protesters currently marching in the streets. It’s true because God made every last person in his own image and likeness. In the eschaton, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship before God, and we’re assured that in his presence, there will be nothing unclean. What makes your tribe unique will, under the glorious hand of Christ, be redeemed, and brought into the unending march to his honour and praise.

Come, Lord Jesus!

__________________

1 While in popular usage “racism” often carries too broad a definition, there are also attempts to create too narrow a definition as well, whereby people can without examination quickly excuse themselves of any racist acts or motives.

2 Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady.

3 The very call for justice and reform is to confess there is a higher standard than the current laws, which our authorities must be judged by and conformed to. In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh was a god, in ancient Rome, Caesar was Lord, and as such, both were sacred and above the law. God’s law is at the root of the West’s long (though incomplete) history of civil disobedience and legal reform. Our institutions and leaders are accountable to God. Additionally, the value, dignity and freedoms of every human person, which many non-Christian protestors affirm, are not presuppositions which flow from nowhere–they are founded and sustained by the headwaters of God’s true word.

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