It is by no surprise that once again another media storm has surfaced due to the filmed killing of a black man. This isn’t the first time and the murderof George Floyd has already been surpassed by several more. George Floyd begged and pleaded for his life while a police officer abused his authority and severed trust with his community. Personally, my trust has long been severed, and this video (that I did not watch) did nothing to bridge the chasm between me and my local police officer. While everyone discusses why “this time is different”, I come with a different perspective. A deeper theology. One that says the fall of man also broke the systems God created. When Israel cried out for a king they broke the trust that God would continue to govern, reign, and pour out His justice to His people.
In times like these, it’s hard to see how God will come to restore and heal His people but our mission is no different then from the beginning of time. We must tend and steward this earth and the work of our hands. Jesus incarnate has shown and commanded us to walk in His authority. We are to usher heaven to earth. For us, this looks like restoring our communities and dismantling the inherently racist foundation of our criminal justice system. In place of individual judgement we must look into systemic problems. “Case by case” is not producing just results, nor are enough individuals or police officers being tried in the court of law.
Oppression and violence are not new, they’ve been around since biblical times and since the establishment of the Church. Unfortunately, our theology has been individualized, sold as a Disney dream in a war novel. We see justice as something that is ‘for me’ and we do not know how to achieve justice ‘for us’. And just as we have been smoothed over in the Church, our society has pushed us toward the American Dream and protecting our assets. We’ve been lulled to sleep (or silence) by our churches, our society, and our comforts. What some may have thought was a good arrangement has been undercut by evil. If our story sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
The Israelites in Egypt escaped famine and made a home in Egypt, but their comfort was undercut by Pharaoh. Someone who didn’t look like them, someone who didn’t go to their neighborhood, someone who decided to police their actions and oppress their bodies. And this familiar story leads us to ask, “What does liberation look like?”
For Israel liberation was enduring hard labor, 10 plagues, and 40 years in the wilderness. This wasn’t about an individual effort but a collective one.
I am encouraged during this time of national distress that God is hearing our cries. He has proven too faithful in the past not to act for us right now. Currently, pastors around the world have gathered together in an effort called UNITE714 based on 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads, “If my people who are called by my name, would humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.” The extra emphasis here is a necessary blueprint and pathway. We must come to God humbly. Humility is lacking from our leadership and many of us are entering into prayer without it. Our posture toward the Almighty is not even embodied. Here I consider David’s words, “a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” We are in no place to demand anything from God and righteous anger would not lead us to do so, but as we seek and pray (with humility) we discover that God’s sovereignty is still outpacing us. Now that we are awakened from our lullaby – now that we see the true war story – we can turn from our slumber to anti-racist organizing. The solution is the promise that God can and will forgive us and heal our land.
Beyond what the Israelites had, we are blessed to walk after Jesus incarnate, whose throne is built on justice and righteousness. As he walked this earth he walked in the authority of God the Father and healed the sick. I think of the brokenness he healed. The lame man who was carried by his friends, the same friends who disturbed the order of Jesus’ sermon, the same friends who destroyed the property of someone’s home to ensure their friend was healed. I think of the Samaritan woman at the well. When Jesus laid out all her sins (which she thought were hidden), that same woman became a beacon of salvation for her whole village. What about the blind man? When the disciples were trying to assign blame for his blindness, it was spit and dirt Jesus used to heal him. Then the Pharisees put his testimony on trial and threw him out of the synagogue as if his healing wasn’t enough witness. These testimonies roll into today when we ask “What does liberation look like?”
This year we have endured pestilence, violence, and darkness. While our nation has moved into uncharted territory of uncertainty with a pandemic and political upheaval, we have hope in a God that has proven His provision and protection. The Spirit of the Lord is on us because he has anointed us to proclaim this good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recover sight for the blind and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). We have to do this collectively, with humility, and in obedience to God’s word.
We must make it plain in our churches. First, repent. Admit we were asleep, blinded, and that we silenced the spirit of justice. Second, we have to walk humbly and learn from the experts. Just as a doctor doesn’t read Psalms to learn how to perform surgery, the Church will need to seek knowledge on how to administer social justice in our communities, and quite frankly within our congregations. We will need to expand our discipleship. We cannot only bring salvation to souls but to bodies as well. We must seek to repair those systems that also fell with the fall of man. And finally, we don’t need to rely on appointing a king but following our Liberator.
After we handle our congregations, then we can take our witness further into the community. We can advocate for just policies, stand with our neighbors as they go through the court system, pray through our communities and join in providing the resources that they need. What does liberation look like? In this day, I believe our liberation is near. Collectively we need to walk with the oppressed through the wilderness, endure the criticisms and fully rely on God for the pillar of cloud and fire to direct us and provide enough manna along the way. I am privileged and blessed to walk with and learn from the faithful members of this cohort who have studied history and invested in their communities to endure this liberation journey.