“If I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing? … That’s not going to bring my brother back at all.” – Terrence Floyd, brother of the late George Floyd –
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9, ESV).”
If persevering with the dangers, depression and upheaval of COVID-19 weren’t enough, America erupted into a degree of civil unrest, not seen since the “race riots” of the late 1960’s this past week, in the wake of the death of African- American George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25th.
At least 40 cities (including most of my home region of South Florida) have imposed curfews and National Guard members have been activated in 15 states and Washington, DC to try and squelch the violent side of protests that have resulted in looting, damaged property and threats to people and police, amidst the cries of , “No justice – no peace!” by protestors.
All of this has come in the aftermath of the actions of one police officer, who was seen across the country on video, with his knee on Floyd’s neck while making an arrest for a non-violent crime, leading to his being charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. However, thousands of protesters nationwide say the charge isn’t harsh enough, and the justice they demand isn’t coming fast enough, as they’re also demanding charges for the other officers involved.
Peace seems to be the last thing that a number of the protesters are seeking, as police were provoked to use tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and low-flying military helicopters to clear out crowds that defied curfews across U.S. cities early this week, including our nation’s capital and a Chicago suburb, where at least two people died during the protests.
It is painfully apparent that cooler heads- I would say cooler, Christian heads must prevail, in order to bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities. I say a “semblance” because followers of Christ understand that a utopian form of perfect, social peace and justice cannot and will not exist in a sin-cursed and fallen world, filled with followers of Satan (Jeremiah 17:9; John 3:19-20, 36; 8:44) until Jesus Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth and restore God’s creation.
Racism is grounded in hatred, the kind that has been personified in some of the protests we’re witnessing and arguably in the hearts of some in law enforcement whose negligible and irresponsible actions may have resulted in the high-profile deaths of now three black Americans over the last month including George Floyd. What to do?
In the absence of a biblical worldview, America- its judicial system and the voices of its culture are struggling to find the answer. ‘Killer Mike’ a rap artist with an ironic name if there ever was one right now, made an emotional plea for calm as a protest in Atlanta against police turned violent.
According to CNN, the demonstration started peacefully, but some protestors broke storefront windows, torched cars and vandalized the cable TV network’s headquarters.
“I am the son of an Atlanta police officer,” said the rapper and activist, who was joined at a press conference by Atlanta’s Mayor, among other officials who criticized the looting among protesters not only citing the greater economic damage that violent demonstrations will likely bring that city, but also noted that such protests greatly contradicted the peaceful, non-violent and largely successful methods of the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr.
While on the one hand Killer Mike said, “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”, he added on the other hand, “It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.” This comment was made on camera as Mike wore a T-shirt that read “Kill Your Masters,” a lyric from one of his rap group’s songs.
So, while one should sympathize and grieve with Floyd’s family and friends and prayerfully seek to understand the anger that boils under and above the surface of such messages and protest, that kind of public rhetoric above, not only sends a mixed message of justice, but it may even inflame more violence and conflict.
Many if not most people feel that the mere absence of conflict results in peace. Unfortunately, that idea is temporal at best and outright untrue at worst. According to historians, less than 90% of the last 3,500 years of recorded world history have seen peace on earth. Treaties that are not bathed in truth and reconciliation are eventually burned.
Interestingly enough, governments are mandated to order a degree of civil peace by punishing evil and promoting that which is good, but are limited by their infrastructure to do much more than that.
Love and true meaningful peace can be no more legislated than hate, which we have seen branded as a crime in and of itself as a motivating factor for additional criminal prosecution over the last decade or so. That of course is a well-intended but failed, secularly driven agenda that fails to see mankind as he is.
Racism is a hatred as old as the history of the Old Testament, which comes from a sinful heart of pride and selfishness that may be controlled but cannot be cured by man’s law. Conflict begotten from hatred began in fact on this earth when Cain murdered his flesh and blood brother Abel (Genesis 4), indicating just how ingrained it is in the unredeemed nature of man.
Thankfully, it can be argued that the institutional racism and bigotry which plagued our nation for two centuries has been eradicated. But still, conflict remains. Human Beings are wired to actually take one of three steps towards peacemaking, the third kind that Jesus called “blessed” and worthy of the identity of being called a son or child of God.
- Escape (Fly and Deny)
- Attack (Fight for rights – verbal assaults)
- Peacemaking (forgive and reconcile)
You probably don’t have to think long and hard to figure out which of the three methods of conflict resolution is the rarest and most blessed. While it is in true in one sense, that peace is the absence of conflict, that will only be for a time. But in the greater sense of the word, peace is the positive presence of that which is good and loving- shalom peace as the Jews call it, referring to one who wishes and strives for the well-being of another or others.
I would go as far as to submit that those without Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, will long struggle and ultimately fail to keep meaningful peace. Why? Because the key to peacemaking is forgiveness, the kind that God exhibited, by sacrificing his one and only son on a cross to forgive and make atonement for the most vile and wicked of sinners, in order to make them righteous.
Cross-rooted forgiveness makes peace and is at the heart of any relationship in any sphere of life, whether it be: marriage, family (with children), the local church, friends, co-workers and yes, even enemies divided by skin color or ethnicity.
Peacemaking must be a way of life and a mindset, as an adversary once said to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, Sir, I hope you never sin.” If you live long enough on earth, you will sin and be sinned against- all of your life. Therefore, we need to constantly forgive and be forgiven by others, because we all need peace and we can’t have it without forgiveness.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
I would argue that only Christians who have received mercy and forgiveness, who now have pure hearts as Jesus taught in the Sermon On the Mount, can forgive the way we do- even our enemies. One of the best-known secular humanists and writers of the last century, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”
The Church as a Model
Born-again Christians can model the kind of counter-cultural and color-blind peacemaking that is so necessary today, by a love and forgiveness that serves- meets needs including justice, as much as an individual can grant (Micah 6:8).
What is this forgiveness that is so uniquely Christian? It’s a promise – a promise to cancel a debt. It means to put away what someone owes you.
A dictionary on Christian Theology defines it this way: “Forgiveness is the act whereby an injured party allows the party responsible for the injury to go free.” The idea is to release the injury or the offense- to let it go.
In the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible, the term ‘release’ is the best one-word definition of the word ‘forgiveness.’ This forgiveness is relational- a person to person initiative as the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In other words, we are called to do what we can do to make peace with people. We do that first with God in a vertical forgiveness (“God I will not hold this offense against this person any longer. Help me by the Spirit, to take the bitterness away from me, towards this person”).
Then, after we forgive internally- vertically, we can then forgive relationally, or externally or horizontally. We begin to do this with those closest to us and then work outward. Indeed, as heart or internal forgiveness is vertical- up to God, a heart-felt verbal or external forgives goes out to the offender who has repented.
Racial reconciliation can begin to grow in our society only so far as individual peacemaking takes place, based upon a forgiveness rooted in the repentance of sin – personal and corporate, if we have contributed to hatred and racism ourselves, coming from the confession of sins. This can be a grass-roots movement which takes place within hearts of regenerated and righteous men and women, given the power to do so, reaching out, living and preaching the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to our divided world.
For any relationship to be reconciled and the cancerous sin of bitterness to be removed in favor of restoration, righteousness must reign (James 3:8) and offenses must be acknowledged, confessed and repented of. Only then can forgiveness can be requested and granted, in order for that relationship to rebuild and for people to live the “quiet, peaceful and dignified lives” that the Bible calls for.
That’s peacemaking and it’s ‘for a time such as this’, while there is still time.