George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, was arrested on May 25th 2020 for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes at a deli. Minutes after his arrest, he was pinned beneath three Minneapolis officers and videos from bystanders and security cameras show a white officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on the neck of an already restrained Floyd. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Chauvin remained on Floyd’s neck even while he screamed that he couldn’t breathe and lost consciousness. Tragically, the incident proved fatal for Floyd.
Let me be clear from the outset: Derek Chauvin needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law and people should be angry at this incident. At the time of writing, the Minnesota justice system has already charged Chauvin with 2rd degree murder for his disgusting disregard of Floyd’s life and the other officers have been charged as well. The vast majority of Americans and police officers have condemned Chauvin’s actions — as they should.
In the wake of this brutal incident, thousands of black and white citizens nationwide began peaceful protests and demonstrations which has now, in some areas, exploded into violent riots, looting and arson. To be quite frank, I am alarmed by some of the reactions of my fellow Christians, and while I weep with the black community (being a black man myself), I find the sycophantic virtue-signaling and frustrations directed at the fundamental institutions of American society misdirected at best. I pray that my comments offered here serve as a gentle correction for some and do not incite further division.
To my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is evident that many of you, both white and black, have been deeply affected by Floyd’s death. It is because black men and women are image-bearers and their lives are so intrinsically valuable that we must grieve over this incident. I see no reason to pretend that this was not a traumatic event that needs to be approached with sensitivity and compassion.
Yet, there are many Christians who react to sin and suffering no differently than unbelievers. Yes, we must weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15); and yes, we can be angry yet not sin (Eph 6:26). But I am ashamed to admit that, too often, Christians are manipulated by biased media outlets and their own naïve emotions into borrowing language and inferences from unbiblical worldviews. They begin to allow the world to deceive them and hop on the most exciting, progressive bandwagon — following the masses into evil (Ex. 23:2).
Scripture provides us with a sufficient intellectual and historical rationale for evil. Black people are not unique in their cruel suffering at the hands of other fallen human beings. Sin began all the way back at the dawn of humanity with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:6-7). It was Abel who first suffered an unjust killing at the hands of his brother, Cain (Gen. 4:8).
The history of mankind has been one long dramatic episode of hatred, violence, theft, murder, war, and genocide ever since. Why, then, should Christians be surprised at an act of evil? I have seen countless posts on social media by Christians claiming that they are “fed up,” “tired,” and at their “wits’ end” with only the grace of God holding them back from rioting.
Please understand that I am not attempting to rob you of your lament, but I must ask at the same time, isn’t this something we should expect in a fallen world? Christians definitely can call attention to specific instances of injustice and evil but the current level of resentment, anger and virtue-signaling suggests something much more serious to me. This is a special type of sin. So special, in fact, that unbiased history, statistics, fact-based argumentation, and context become irrelevant to the otherwise biblical-exegeting Christian.
Nevermind the fact that the FBI’s 2018 Unified Crime Report reveals that 89% of black murder victims were killed by other blacks. According to the Washington Post fatal police shooting database, 249 blacks were killed by police officers in 2019, and of this total 14 were unarmed. If we can assume that the FBI’s 2019 crime statistics will look fairly similar to the previous year then we can compare 2019 police shootings to 2018 black homicides. The total number of unarmed police shootings represents only .2% of the 7,407 black homicides in 2018. Ideally, that number should be zero, but .2% does not suggest that a majority of police officers wantonly disregard black lives. I know these claims will make many uncomfortable (perhaps angry) but, as Christians, we must speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). The truth is as Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer argues, “very little data exists to understand whether racial disparities in police use of force exist or might be explained by situational factors inherent in the complexity of police-civilian interactions.”
These facts are often dismissed as cruel red herrings that hinder discussion of black suffering in America but you are not sensitive or compassionate when you ignore the truth. On the contrary, it is unloving to allow lies and sin-filled wounds to fester within minority communities while you simply pander to their feelings. My concern, though, is not to convince anyone of my particular economic or political stance, especially as it relates to race. People have a legal, American right to protest in this case. However, when Christians are so quick to adopt cultural slogans and attitudes toward injustice the church begins to lose her unique witness to a hurting world. Indeed, we appear to be godly when we pretend our own particular political grievance is actually the truly Christian way to think but we deny the very power of the gospel if all we do is propagate a worldly narrative (2 Tim 3:5).
Furthermore, in your response to this incident, dear Christian, be careful that your words and actions do not align more with those who seek a political revolution as opposed to those who seek spiritual revival. We do not read of Jesus or His apostles claiming that because the Jews experienced terrible pain and grief by the Romans that attitudes of resentment and attempts at insurrection were appropriate responses to their oppression. We never read one instance of them writing to other Christians that if Rome pushed them any further, they would react with riot and violence because there were no other options.
Rather, Jesus’ message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Likewise, Peter, when writing to Christians suffering intense injustice reminds them, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Or, consider the fathers of the early church.
In the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous 2nd-century writer testifies to the willingness of persecuted Christians to endure suffering:
“They [Christians] obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.” (Diog. 5.10–17)[i]
Similarly, Cyprian (ironically a North African bishop), in a letter to Christians suffering under the reign of Emperor Valerian writes,
“The scourge, often repeated with all its rage, could not conquer invincible faith, even although the membrane which enclosed the entrails were broken, and it was no longer the limbs but the wounds of the servants of God that were tortured. Blood was flowing which might quench the blaze of persecution, which might subdue the flames of Gehenna with its glorious gore. Oh, what a spectacle was that to the Lord, — how sublime, how great, how acceptable to the eyes of God in the allegiance and devotion of His soldiers! As it is written in the Psalms, when the Holy Spirit at once speaks to us and warns us: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Epistle 8)[ii]
Now I am not equating modern day police brutality or racism to the persecution of Christians in the 2nd or 3rd centuries; nor am I saying blacks should just endure instances of abuse and shut up. Chauvin, of course, may or may not be a racist (I don’t have the evidence to prove either side) and he did not treat Floyd in such an egregious way because he thought he was a Christian. That’s not my point. I’m simply calling attention to the fact that some Christians today sound more like radical social-justicians rather than like Christians of the past in their response to injustice. No, speaking up against this heinous act does not make you a social justice warrior (we should speak up!) but claiming that looting and arson is somehow warranted or understandable because people are “fed up” is unbiblical.
I often wonder what modern Christians would say about an African bishop like Cyprian had he been alive today making similar comments. I suppose someone could raise the objection that showing solidarity with an “oppressed” minority group does not equate to supporting rioting. Agreed. But lending credibility to the false narrative that blacks are a victimized underclass and all whites should be imputed with the sins of their ancestors helps absolutely no one. It only engenders more racial animosity and stifles honest conversation about more important issues.
To the black community, I write this as someone who is black and has experienced racism. I feel your pain. I understand your frustrations. I was once a member of a radical, racist, black nationalist group. I was the most “woke” person I knew a few years ago so your sentiments of anger are not foreign to me. However, our subjective feelings never define truth so, please, do not interpret my criticisms here as an attempt to attack you.
First, a condemnation of rioting is not mutually exclusive with a condemnation of the murder of George Floyd. Both positions can be held simultaneously and being more vocal about one does not automatically imply trivializing the other. To insist that denouncing the riots is equivalent to devaluing black lives is simply dishonest. Black lives do matter and that is attested by the fact that almost all Americans agree that Chauvin should be imprisoned.
Even better, all Americans agree that to unjustly harm a black person is a crime worthy of harsh punishment. But at the same time, Americans do not support destroying entire communities or looting both white and black owned businesses because this is somehow a retaliation against an oppressive system. How exactly does that solve anything? Rioting, in this case, is an expression of the human need for vengeance and greed rather than an acceptable response to any alleged systematic oppression. If we cannot have a civil discourse about what particular policies that black American citizens would like to see implemented, without matters erupting into violence, then there is no hope for solving the perceived issue. Riots are counterproductive for the very reason that, as an unjust act itself, it delegitimizes any demand for justice in some other area.
Second, the demand for public displays of guilt and remorse from white citizens who have never committed one act of racism reeks of hypocrisy. To claim that white Americans must apologize for acts of racism that they have never committed and show their support for #BLM is no different than to claim that law-abiding black Americans must apologize for the crimes of black criminals and show their support for #ALM. Sure, I invite all Americans to join us in condemning these acts but nobody, except the men directly responsible for causing harm to Floyd, need to issue public apologies.
Third, systematic oppression and the implication of broader American racism is often presupposed but never factually proven. In 1991 the Times Mirror Center (later renamed Pew Research Center) conducted a survey on majority dislike for the principal ethnic minorities in 13 European nations. Contra the popular narrative, the survey found that the United States had the smallest portion (13%) of their majority population (whites) with unfavorable attitudes toward the principal minority population (African Americans).[iii] Fifty-four percent of East Germans, on the other hand, expressed unfavorable dislike for the Polish. Yet, social media rants, personal feelings and recycled tropes are sufficient substitutes for empirical evidence, nowadays.
It is easy, for example, to cite the segregationist laws of the Jim Crow era as evidence of systematic racism in the past. But what about the present? Today, economic and social disparities between racial groups in America are assumed to be good evidence for the stagnation of racial progress. However, inequality is not necessarily caused by racism or oppression unless someone is prepared to argue that blacks are so lacking of freedom, self-determination and self-responsibility that their very own choices and cultural practices are completely unrelated to their social and economic achievements. That some blacks can riot, loot and steal with relative impunity in most states validates the fact that not only are they free but privileged.
Ultimately, police reform is a welcomed discussion but not a sufficient solution. There’s no denying that police brutality and racism continue to exist in this country, although there is disagreement over the extent of their presence. But what should we do?
More government regulation and mandated diversity training programs will continue its current track record of overreach and failure. Currently, about 69% of 155 police departments in the largest three cities in every state already conduct implicit racial bias training. Furthermore, public policy cannot change the heart. If Chauvin is a racist, do you really believe protests, riots or diversity training make him, or others like him, any different?
As the apostle Paul explains, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, the greatest need for society right now— and the necessary solution that the church must proclaim — is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church needs to be more concerned with making sure Jesus’ voice is heard through the gospel rather than mimicking the voice of woke culture. Only the power of God can enter into the innermost being of a man and change him from within — transforming even his very mind (Eph. 4:21-23).
If this sounds insufficient to you then perhaps it is because you do not believe in or doubt the power of the gospel. Peaceful demands for justice, anti-discrimination laws and racial reconciliation are reasonable but only Jesus can accomplish true justice (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:10). He will never forget one wicked deed or fail to punish any act of racism or oppression. Indeed, only Jesus can bring true racial reconciliation and peace by uniting different ethnic groups through His Spirit (Eph. 2:13-16). This manifold wisdom of God is meant to be made known through His church (Eph. 3:10). Thus, now, more than ever, the world needs the church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20a).
In the end, I know that these words may receive ridicule and I may be accused of ignorance. So be it. What a joy it would be to suffer for the sake of Christ!
Delano Rolle is an M.Div. student at GBTS and a member of Grace Bible Church of Conway, AR. He is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Master of Business Administration.
[i] Translated by Michael W. Holmes, From the Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 295-96.
[ii] Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050608.htm>
[iii] Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, The Pulse of Europe: A Survey of Political and Social Values and Attitudes (Washington, D.C.: Times Mirror Center, 1991), sec. VIII.