Faith Leaders respond to the death of George Floyd

George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, died May 25, 2020. Social media video showed Floyd being pinned on the ground by police officers, with a white officer kneeling on his neck.

His death has sparked outrage across the world, both with peaceful protests and those that have turned violent.

What do you say after Floyd's death and others like his? We combed through websites and social media, including leaders of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, to see what is being said. We offer these words and images here as conversation starters as you continue the hard work of dismantling systemic racism.

Erin Hawkins, General Secretary, General Commission on Religion and Race, The United Methodist Church, wrote "Moving Toward the Pain" on May 27, 2020.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Isaiah 58:6 (NIV)

Yesterday, video footage posted on social media showed George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed African-American man, handcuffed and pinned to the ground at the neck by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. Mr. Floyd can be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe!”

Bystanders also begged officers to assist Mr. Floyd, who was in distress. But the officer didn’t let up, and Mr. Floyd appeared to pass out and, later, died. Hours later, the Commission on the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) released a statement announcing new dates for the 2020 General Conference to be held in Minneapolis but was postponed due to COVID-19.

It is no coincidence that the city of Minneapolis serves as a common backdrop for Mr. Floyd’s death to an egregious act of racism and for General Conference, which has at various times in its history sanctioned discrimination and racial oppression impacting the lives of people of color (and may do so again in 2021). We are being presented with a divine invitation to face the pain points of racial violence and oppression, to see the realities of a denomination still mired in institutional racism reflected in the assault on black and brown personhood, and, finally, to choose once and for all the path of anti-racism in word and deed.

Jesus called the disciples to “leave your home, sell everything you own and follow me.” He then led those who accepted the call to places where marginalization had rendered people sick, hungry, and burdened. There Jesus challenged systems, offered healing touch, and brought life to the dying and the dead. He disrupted the status quo in order to be and to bring good news to those outside of systems of power.

Jesus continues to issue the call to discipleship in The United Methodist Church today. Christ invites us to leave behind the comforts of power and privilege that lure us away from following him to uncomfortable places and, instead, to move with intentionality toward the pain points in our local congregations, communities, denomination, and world. Only then will we effectively interrupt narratives that defend and accommodate racist behavior. Only then will we finally dismantle the systems that perpetuate, protect, and normalize the racism made evident through recent events like the one in Minneapolis.

Read Hawkins' full statement at https://www.gcorr.org/moving-toward-the-pain/

Bishop Bruce R. Ough issued the following statement May 31, 2020, amid protests and violence happening in Minneapolis six days after the death of George Floyd. Bishop Ough is the Resident Bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area.

It is Pentecost Sunday, and the Twin Cities and America burn. It is the birthday of the Church, and the Twin Cities and America smolder with horror, anger, and righteous outrage at the killing of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Tomorrow we enter the Season after Pentecost, and African-Americans in the Twin Cities and across America are still gasping for breath.

As persons of faith, we are people of breath. God called us into being and created our shared humanity by breathing the breath of life into us. As followers of Jesus, we are people of rauch—the breath of God—that blew like a fierce wind and filled the disciples with the Holy Spirit. As Pentecost people, this same Spirit compels us (and will guide us, if we listen) to protect the breath of every child of God.

Dr. Martin Luther King astutely observed that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Throughout our country’s history, subjugated, displaced, and unrepresented people have resorted to protests and riots to be heard and to compel national governments, state authorities, and community leaders to act. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not advocating or justifying burning, looting, or anarchy. I am not advocating or justifying destroying the very businesses that provide the livelihood of and serve predominantly black and brown communities. I condemn the outside agitators and anarchists who are exploiting the situation and do not care for or honor the message intended by the protesters. I join the many faith leaders who are urging peaceful protests and honoring curfews designed to curtail senseless violence and destruction.

But I do want us, particularly those of us who are the beneficiaries of white privilege, to understand that our African-American sisters and brothers are gasping for breath. For 400 years, through slavery, lynching, apartheid (Jim Crow), the civil rights movement, institutionalized racism, and long-delayed police reform, the African-American community has been crying out, “I can’t breathe.” And yet, the knee of oppression, white supremacy, and inaction remains. If we see only riots and protests, we are not looking close enough. People of color and many others who have been left out and left behind are gasping for the oxygen of freedom. They are gasping for the oxygen of economic opportunity. They are gasping for the oxygen of equal justice.

I am convicted by the words of Edwin Hatch’s nineteenth century hymn (#420, The United Methodist Hymnal):

“Breathe on me, breathe of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost do, and do what those wouldst do."

In this season of Pentecost, I pray that we will be a people filled with new life, loving as God loves and doing what God would have us do to make the kingdom in heaven come on earth. Let us join others of faith in giving breath and voice to the cries for justice. Let us join hands in cleaning our streets and making them safe and secure. Let us work, tirelessly and without delay, to change our culture of institutionalized racism to a culture of the Beloved Community. Let us not lapse into “normalcy,” but insist on reforming the culture of policing from one of waging war to one of being guardians of every person’s rights and dignity. Let us refute the purveyors of division and discrimination and embrace the peacemakers. Let us address the underlying sources of despair and broken trust that stoke the fires of rage and riot.

In this season of Pentecost, I urge us to continue to pray for the family of George Floyd and all those whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the burning and looting. Pray that the breath of God will fill us and our country with life anew. Pray that we will become the nation we claim to be and protect the breath of every citizen and sojourner. Pray that the breath of God will reign in our hearts, our churches, and our communities.

Rev. Joe Daniels is pastor at Emory Fellowship in Washington, D.C. He shared these posts, below, on his Facebook page May 29, 2020.

A Black man’s musings today, Part 1. It is VITALLY important for parents of youth, particularly White parents of White youth, to sit down with our kids and watch — LOOK 👀 at — the videos of the killings of two Black men, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and the false accusation of a White woman levied against another Black man, Christian Cooper, a Harvard grad. Yes, watch them. Look at them. Learn from them. And teach our kids about life and the value of it. And the evil that takes place when we cheapen it. Do some studying on racial history in America if you can, but watch, talk, learn, teach from the videos. When life is devalued, it can lead to violence, murder, evil actions and destruction. Look at the riots which are now capturing people’s attention, but LOOK 👀 at the videos of the events at the root of it. When we ignore people and even kill people disrespected for too long, people will end up doing things to bring attention to a situation — sometimes in unfortunate, wrong and destructive ways. But don’t get lost watching the fires and the unjust stealing out of stores — LOOK 👀 at the videos of the broad daylight murders and heinous criminal accusations at the root of it. LOOK 👀 at, listen to Arbery, Floyd and Cooper. And teach our children that when we don’t value the life of another, we cheapen the value of life for all. We even snuff it out. People react when we are disrespected, unseen and unheard. But when people’s lives are valued, appreciated and even celebrated, revival for all can take place. Teach our kids. Let’s learn ourselves. And pray that revival and restoration can begin. #nohashtag

A Black man’s musings today, Part 2. Lynching in this country, just 60, 70, 80+ years ago, used to be a sporting event. Crowds of sometimes 20,000 to 40,000 White people would gather to see White men “string up” Black men for no just cause — then take pictures of the hangings and use them for public spectacles, intimidation and control. Now today, we have “Modern Day Lynching.” Young Black men are being murdered by rogue cops, even former cops gone rogue — for no just cause — and instead of photographs, it’s being videotaped for BILLIONS to see. Masses of White folk — even good church folk and clergy — were silent about it then. Masses of White folk — even good church folk and clergy are silent about it now. Could it be that masses of people have lost our souls, so much so that we’d rather be silent and wait until the news cycle finally changes? Or, could this be the opportunity to seize back the soul that’s been lost, seek what we really hope for — love, justice and fairness for all — even at the risk of ridicule from those pressuring us to be quiet. God is calling. Will you answer? #nohashtags

A Black man’s musings, Part 3. Even text is written in context so I invite you to read musings Part 1 and 2. Like many others, I’m mad, angry, sad, frustrated, pissed, tired — lamenting as the biblical theologians like to put it. And we need to lament. Lamenting for a moment is good for the soul. But after too long, lamenting is not healthy. It’s even addictive and depressing. We have to do something. And so even if you, like me, have seen the re-runs of this racial hatred movie so many times that your reel to reel, 8-track, cassette, VHS, Beta, DVD, MP3, Netflix and Hulu are thrown out or broke, I want to encourage you, “don’t give up the fight.” This is a Kairos moment. Just like a pandemic showed up right before Easter, this moment of racial upheaval has come right before Pentecost. May we be Resurrection and Pentecost people. May we be bold and not afraid and call out White racism and supremacy for what it is — evil and wrong. May we call out our White brothers and sisters in love — to come out of hiding, talk amongst yourselves and start organizing yourselves to bring an end to these heinous acts, policies and systems that your ancestors put in place to keep Black folk down and even your poor in their place. May we be Pentecost people who aren’t satisfied with the safety of segregation, but practice our faith like they did in the oppressive times of the first church: breaking down barriers and building bridges, finding a common language and love that unites, rather than divides. And Black folk and people of color, may we be Resurrection people and not retreat in fear, but rise up in the Hope that never dies. And keep organizing for opportunity, access and transformation in an unjust system. May we keep caring, care, and take better care of one another, our communities and our children and families. That’s our responsibility. Might we all have the audacity to build the Beloved Community. No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. #nohashtags

Rev. Tony Hunt is pastor at Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore. He posted this on his Facebook page May 30, 2020.

This weekend, America is realizing what the saying means that “when America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.” African Americans have born a disproportionate brunt of the COVID-19 crisis - more jobs lost, less access to adequate healthcare, more death in our families, and loss in our communities. And African Americans continue to bear the brunt of police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration. These are the ingredients of the recipe for violent protests spreading across the nation in cities tonight. #staywoke

Rev. Chris Owens is lead pastor at First Saints Community Church in Leonardtown. He posted this, below, on his Facebook page June 1, 2020.

"If our country is going to heal, we must learn how to lament. Lamenting is grieving by slowly naming and contemplating all of the agony our country is experiencing: all the injustice and inequity, apathy, ignorance, poverty, fear, anger, violence, death and utter hopelessness filling our country. Stand still for a while in that tragic gap and grieve. Name it and feel it with something other than argumentative spite or rage. Mourn it, and then take full responsibility for your complicity in it. That may be the hardest part. Be real about where you feel powerless and confused, too. This is painful work, and few will do it, but it’s a lot more honest than self-righteous finger-pointing, deflecting, or denying. Broken open in lament, we can then repent (turn and change), and live more freely and courageously in the way of humble love. If we can’t learn to lament, then we’ll just keep repeating the cycle."

The Rev. Sarah Schlieckert is pastor of Calvary UMC in Waldorf. She shared this, below, on her Facebook page May 31, 2020.

In 1966, Gallup found that almost 2/3 of those polled in the US disapproved of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While the change to today (another poll in 2019 found a 90% approval rating) hopefully evidences some changing attitudes, it also represents how white Americans have come to lift up a sanitized, comfortable version of Dr. King. Reading and listening to his words should challenge us still today.

While there have been some powerful words of Dr. King’s shared this week, before promoting curt sound bytes, I would encourage my white siblings to sit with his fuller works. One of my favorite compilations of his sermons titled “A Knock at Midnight,” edited by Holloran and Carson. The audio book has actual recordings of the sermons.

One of the most powerful courses I took in college was called “Martin and Malcolm,” and was taught by my now colleague, Rev. Dr. Cecil Gray. The article below (https://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/05/19/Malcolmx.king/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2qVPnajW4BqYcApuVGG3XB8WAH0Ff-CCaTqnlKFNwHpuVJwdyr3i-s8TQ) briefly summarized a small bit of the connections (and sadly, due to their assassinations, missed chances) of their shared values and work. For more, I encourage you to read “Martin and Malcolm and America” by Rev. Dr. James Cone.

The Rev. Bonnie McCubbin serves as pastor at Good Shepherd UMC in Baltimore. She posted this, below, on her Facebook page May 29, 2020.

I've been busy momming and pastoring and haven't said much about the latest tragedies that have erupted in our news and world. But I haven't said much because I'm tired. I'm tired of the outrage that pops up for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks...then it all subsides. It all goes away until the next tragedy but nothing changes. Nothing changes in the way we think,behave, act, or proclaim justice for all God's children--all colors, all races, all nationalities, all ethnicities, all genders, all ages, all educations, all socioeconomic statuses, all housing status...all means all. And we as a nation like to pick and choose who is worthy of outrage. Who is worthy of acceptance. Who is worthy of life. And this needs to stop.

White folx, stop making black and brown folx do the emotional labor for you. Holler if you need resources, articles, definitions, a conversation partner, etc. It's not black and brown folx job to educate you. And stop saying you have "one black friend" so you can't be racist. We all have implicit biases (check out the Harvard Implicit Bias tests free online to start understanding where your "Programming" lies). Here's the thing, even if you aren't overtly racist, the microaggressions are there. And they cut...it's death by a thousand papercuts. The way you cross the street when a black man approaches. The way you clutch your purse when a hispanic man walks by you. The terms you use for single black mothers. The stares you give brown women. And so much more.

I'm white. I'm perceived by the world as white. My family has lived in the same 30 mile radius since 1646. I'm a daughter of the American Revolution 3 times over. My family fought on both sides of the Civil War (welcome to being from Maryland). I have a Masters Degree and credits beyond. I own my home. I am heterosexual and have a lovely child. I have so much privilege.

And, yet, I see racism first-hand every single day. I live it. My family is mixed race. My husband is Mexican and Yacqui Indian. My son is Mexican, Yacqui, German, English, Irish, and Scottish--and happens to be lighter-skinned than both of his parents. But we live racism every single day. I just don't talk about it. We live in a fairly diverse, but still majority white neighborhood. I've been called names, along with my family. I've had neighbors try to break into our home. I've had other neighbors be aggressive...then they see my large-framed, hispanic husband and get scared and leave me alone. And I have to wonder if they would have reacted the same way if my husband were white? If I were a man? Or are they afraid that the brown guy might do something weird? I watch as our bilingual family speaks Spanish in public and people give us a wide berth in ways they don't do when we speak English. Last summer, my husband took our son to the community pool one day without me (I was working). When they got to the kiddie pool, 5 different mothers looked at him, and immediately called their children over and left. They didn't want to swim with my brown family. The list goes on. I've been told I shouldn't be married to someone outside of my race ("traitor"). This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have family plans for what to do not if, but when, my husband is detained, stopped, or arrested for LWB (living while brown). No family should live this way. No one. I'm tired.

I'm tired. I'm tired of our forced and fake outrage with no change. I'm white. But I live in a racist world that doesn't think my family is OK. So when you get done with the latest outrage and posting articles on social media thinking you are "doing something" or "changing minds," stop. Stop. Pray if you are a person of faith. Read. Educate yourself. Ask good questions. Listen more than you talk. And then use your privilege to make a difference and call out and reject racism and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.

The Rev. David McAllister-Wilson serves as president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He shared this statement, below on June 1, 2020, entitled "That Look."

I have been reluctant to say anything about the murder of George Floyd. Some other seminary presidents have rightly spoken of the need to address systemic racism. Certainly, this was an instance of that pervasive and fundamental problem. Wesley is in Washington DC in order to lead in addressing national issues such as this. And we will. But as a privileged white male I am inherently part of that system and, as an institutional president, I am complicit. So, for me to try to say anything high-minded or preachy at this moment feels like pious hypocrisy.

Instead, I’ve been haunted by the look on the face of the peace officer as he killed Mr. Floyd as if he was looking at me with that arrogant, hate-filled, cold-hearted “I dare you” stare. I’ve had to confront bullies in my life and I took that look as a personal challenge.

So, what I say here is what I am saying to other white males I speak with privately. First, we must step in. As the other officers that day should have. When we see overt acts of racism in progress, we must break it up. Usually, that only requires us to speak up. We’ve all been in many conversations where somebody engages in the rhetoric of soft racism. Now, for instance, trying to draw attention to the few people who are looting. Speak up and break it up. And we must step out in the public square. Vote against those politicians who have the same look on their faces as George Floyd’s killer, or who speak, write and tweet words that incite violence against people of color. Vote for efforts to enfranchise people of color. These are among the many personal acts necessary to change the system and build herd immunity to the virus of racism.

We must step in, speak up, step out, even against our own self-interest. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:38.

David McAllister-Wilson

President, Wesley Theological Seminary


Below is a statement from the Steering Committee of the Baltimore-Washington Chapter of MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action), dated May 28, 2020.

Another black man has died. Yet another unarmed black man has died at the hands (or knee) of a white police officer. When will it end? When will it end?

Lynchings will end when we recognize the God-image in each human being and offer dignity to every man, woman and child. Lynchings will end when we educate ourselves about the toxicity of white dominant culture, and learn to leverage our white privilege for the common good of all people. Lynchings will end when we do the hard work of dismantling racism by challenging the structures of oppression.

The Baltimore-Washington Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action declares that it is long past time for the wholesale murder of black people, lynched for all kinds of perceived offenses, and for no offenses whatsoever, to end.

To deepen our racism work, Hannah Adair Bonner has compiled a group of resources, especially created for white people and parents who desire to engage in anti-racism work. https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic

We remember George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray… Say their names.

The time is now.

The Steering Committee of the Baltimore-Washington Chapter of MFSA: Mr. John Barnes; Rev. Cynthia Burkert, Rev. Ken Hawes, Rev. Maynard Moore, Rev. Shannon Sullivan, Rev. Mary Kay Totty.

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