Don't Let Protest Method Distract from Protest Message | Sojourners

Don't Let Protest Method Distract from Protest Message

I have seen the sadly iconic still shot of Mr. George Floyd pinned mercilessly to the ground under the full weight of the white police officer who glowered at those recording him. I saw the picture, but I must confess that this is all that I have seen. I can’t push play. I can’t watch another white man in uniform heartlessly slaughter another defenseless black human as he pleads for his life. I can’t push play because I fear what it will unleash in me.

As a reasonable person I know that rage and the desire for revenge are rationale responses to the murder of an innocent life. To quote an African proverb, “The Ax forgets, but the tree remembers.” And I will not for a second shrink from this remembrance. I am a man and therefore I assert my right of existence, my right to liberty, and my right to self-actualization for this is what I am made to be and to do.

James Baldwin asserted that freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take. Let me be clear, I condemn in the strongest terms possible the acts of destruction and violence perpetrated by a minority of protesters. With the same breath, I associate myself with equal might to the sentiment that motivated the untoward behavior of the few because it differs only in praxis from the many.

If Martin Luther King Jr. is right that a riot is the language of the unheard, then it is vital that America does not invite further rampage by being distracted by the method. We know that America has the ability to separate the method from the message. As we just witnessed weeks ago, state capitals were overrun and captured by thugs armed to the teeth with automatic weapons. These insurrectionists were permitted to threaten the government itself without mustering the U.S. military to enforce law and order. Meanwhile, the commander in chief, the one who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States from enemies foreign and domestic, tweeted his endorsement of their sedition. If their message about reopening was heard without affirming their means, then this same practice is needed in this instance so that we can hear the cries of anguish and see the tears of torment of those of us whose unjust pain has lingered too long unseen and unheard.

While I assert my rights as a man, I am more. I am a Christian, and a Christian minister, which means that I cannot simply be motivated by my convictions or informed by historic figures and quotations. Ultimately, I am not my own, and I must defer my feelings to Jesus who is not simply my savior but is also my Lord.

What would Jesus do? Please do not dismiss this question as being too sophomoric or shallow because of its wide application. Actually, it dates back to 1886 from a series of sermons by a congregationalist minister named Charles Sheldon titled, “In his steps: What Would Jesus Do?” In each sermon he would present a moral dilemma and then conclude by raising the question of what Jesus would do.

So, what would Jesus do about George Floyd’s death as one in a succession of high-profile murders of African Americans stretching from the lynching trees of slavery to Emmett Till, to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and countless others? What would Jesus do about these murders happening in the middle of a global pandemic, and economic meltdown that were already disproportionately impacting black and brown people? What would Jesus say about the virus that attacks our bodies, the brutality of white violence that attacks our souls and bodies, the system of judicial and economic victimization that disproportionately destroys our lives. Sadly, even in the middle of a pandemic, are we still the strange fruit that hangs from the poisoned tree of America that is racist down to its roots?

What would Jesus have us to do and say? It is important that we base our answer from the Jesus of scripture rather than the Jesus scripted by our current culture of political correctness. The Jesus of the Bible has a way of pushing us past our comfort zones and helping us confront the hypocrisies within ourselves.

According to the sacred text, I believe Jesus would do at least three things: 

1. Pray. If Jesus declares that my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people, then as the people of God we must allow prayer and its resultant power to define us. So. pray for the nation, pray for all governmental leaders, pray for those who properly seek to protect and serve, pray for those who protest that they may be filled with righteous anger without sin, and pray for the family of George Floyd and all others who have likewise fallen victim to white rage dressed in blue uniforms.

2. Engage. Engage in courageous conversations with those in your personal sphere of influence. Speak to colleagues and coworkers, classmates, and civic leaders. You need not be confrontational, but you cannot be afraid because of fear of confrontation.

3. Act. A group of 100 ministers from around the nation and I participated in a call led by CNN’s Van Jones, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Bishop T.D. Jakes. We are partnering with the Color of Change. We are encouraging people to text the word DEMANDS to 55156 to learn about more action steps that you can take to affect the issue of police brutality at the systemic level. Text the word FLOYD to 55156 to get updates on the case of Mr. George Floyd and action steps that you may take to ensure that his murderers are held to account.


Editor's Note: This article is not related to SojoAction.