Until writing this, I have made no public reflection on the death of George Floyd, the continuing situation in America (and by extension the UK and so forth), or the trending topic of whether black lives matter.
Update: It has come to my attention that there is a subtle but crucially distinct difference between stating that the “lives of black people matter”, and the tagline/organisation/movement Black Lives Matter. I have insufficient knowledge of the latter organisation and associated movement, therefore I am in no way suggesting I agree with everything they say or stand for. The former (‘that the lives of black people matter’) is the question I’m considering in this post.
Update 2: I’ve added some clarifying remarks.
Yesterday I spoke to two people at some length. Firstly my father and church Pastor (I’m never sure which order to list those two roles!), and secondly a good friend and ex-colleague who is, I guess, “of an ethnic minority”.
I say ‘I guess’ and I put “of an ethnic minority” in quotes not because I’m uncertain or because I believe it is irrelevant. Indeed quite the opposite. These are fundamental facts about her which contribute to making her the uniquely lovely person that she is, and it’s in no small part her inherited ethnicity and associated cultural upbringing which I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed having her share with me. What a boring friendship we’d have if she was a mirror image of me…
No, I phrase it like this because I have never looked at her and seen her identity or thought of her primarily as an example of ethnicity from the diverse (although mostly white) population of people I know. She’s who she is, and she’s a shining example of a friend. And existentially speaking she is primarily a human being, to the exact same degree as me. A human being who God in His infinite wisdom delighted to make uniquely her and different to me, not least in where and to whom she was born. An equal human being who has a similar lifespan of differing experiences, perspectives, and ethnic inheritance to me.
Also before I proceed let me be emphatically clear that I am not pointing at America or American people. I’m not American, I cannot comment on America any more than America can comment on the UK. That said, I share in the broad Western culture of America, I work for an American owned company, I have a lot of American friends and colleagues, I feel much more associated with America than even mainland Europe (culturally and through pop culture etc). But it’d be nothing short of horrifically hypocritical for me to suggest that “there’s some issue over there” which doesn’t exist right here between own my two feet. Indeed, it’d be utterly hypercritical of me to suggest there’s any more of an issue between my own two feet than actually in me myself.
When I received the first breaking news alert reporting George Floyd’s death I without realising watched a media circulated video clip capturing the moment he died. It shocked and saddened me to my core. On the face of it (and it subsequently appears that the US legal system agrees), at the very least a man died utterly unnecessarily and unjustifiably as a result of several men in a God given position of authority (Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1a) and power either actively or passively (by standing and watching) choking and/or restricting the blood circulation in a helpless man’s neck, by the very deliberate act of kneeling on him. For over eight minutes.
To clarify my immediate reaction to what I saw: Suzanne (my wife) was in equal shock and asked me whether I thought it was murder. My response was (if I recall correctly) to the effect of “You cannot escape the clear fact that there were 3 [or 4, I wasn’t sure] trained police officers and one man – I cannot see how it was ‘proportionate’ or ‘necessary’ force – the man was unconscious for several minutes, he clearly has died as a direct result of someone kneeling on his neck, and not one of the other 2 [or 3] present intervened.“
Now whether it was racially motivated or not, I didn’t know. Possibly I will never know for sure. To be honest, what shocked me most in the first instance was the (what seemed to me extremely) apparent brutality of this group of perfectly fit and capable (and presumably armed) police officers. There was no need, as far as I could see, for the man on the ground to be treated the way he was even for the first 60 seconds, much less the entire 8 minutes.
Enough days have passed since George’s death that I think I can now try to give an intelligent, careful, and heart felt response. This is it. At least, this is my best attempt.
I’m going to start by putting the lives of black people to one side. I want to look at social injustice slightly more broadly for two reasons:
- I don’t think skin colour is quite such a divisive issue in the UK (which is my home country) than it is in others – let me explain – when compared to perhaps how we treat EU immigrants from Poland for example, or Lithuania, or Portugal (I’m thinking very local to my village here), or people who identify and/or follow the traditions of travellers and gypsies, people severely affected by autism, women at work, people who for whatever reason choose to live on the streets over socially provided homes (I’m thinking of those who’ve been offered but rejected housing), illegal immigrants who’re trying to reach the UK from Calais, drug addicts, or indeed any other category we’re socially biased against which I’ve not listed here.
- Whether it’s black versus white (which quite possibly and most probably it was in George’s case), there’s a more fundamental underlying issue which I want to draw out first.
So do the lives of black people matter? I hope it is immediately obvious that I absolutely believe they do, and I have no objection to the [legal] protests on-going around the world. I sincerely hope I would never stand and watch if I witnessed such black injustice myself, and I hope that I come out of 2020 more aware and ready to respond to skin colour related inequality. Indeed I have been reflecting heavily for the last few weeks over my own prejudice in this matter – have I stood by before? Do I exhibit something of the same racial discrimination? I’ve prayed for God’s help in identifying any such issues in me, that I can (as instructed – Matthew 7:5) deal with my own log before looking at anyone else’s speck.
But my reflection has to go further than just the immediate issue that’s before us today. Even if we solve this one problem, we have the same root problem causing a similar social injustice somewhere else.
I’ve been asked (and usually when it is discussed, there’s a lot of emotion and anger and misunderstanding thrown at me) why I believe abortion is wrong. How dare I suggest that the right to abort is not a woman’s right?
I believe there are two key issues in what the world is protesting about right now – whether they see and recognise them or not:
- Every human being is created in God’s image.
- We’re all born into original sin.
You may well wish you’d never started reading now! And that’s fine. Feel free to close the tab, feel equally free to leave a comment – I might read it and respond, I might not. I’m going to unashamedly point at what scripture says, at what God says in His breathed word (2 Timothy 3:16), I’m going to defend black lives and indeed all lives with the same defence that God gives. And I’m going to condemn firstly in me and then in every human being that has ever lived (save Christ Himself) the social injustices that we breed and perpetuate and overlook and embrace with the same condemnation that God does. And then I’m going to look at the only ultimate solution we’ve ever been (and ever will be) offered.
Genesis 1:26-28, God speaking. According to God’s own word – He creates everything that is except Himself (for He is eternally existing). The very planet that we stand upon, the air that we breathe, the stars in space, the animals that roam, the plants that we eat. And ultimately (yes, ultimately, at the pinnacle of it all, the very last thing created) humanity. Man and woman. And we’re made in His own image.
Contrary to the idea that we simply evolved from apes … we are built and designed lovingly and purposefully and uniquely. The reason we stand so different to the rest of the animal kingdom is there in God’s original design. No other thing created is created with that intention – to be in God’s own image. To be holy and righteous, to be in a real meaningful relationship with Him, to be able to reason and think, to have the arts and sciences, to comprehend consequences and make our own choices, to reflect God’s trinitarian nature – to love one another and uphold one another and respect one another and live in perfect unity together – man and man, and man and God.
Made in God’s image. It seems no surprise to me then that God speaks so uniquely and specifically regarding murder, and even straight forward hatred between men (and women). Right there in Genesis 9:6, God will spill the blood of the one who murders. Of the 10 commandments, following the list of laws regarding man’s relationship to God – “honour your mother and father” and “do not murder” (Exodus 20). Jesus Himself when talking of ‘the greatest commandment’: “Love the Lord your God” (our relationship with God) “and the second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself” (paraphrased, Matthew 22:35-40). Furthermore, regarding murder, Jesus states that even to hate another human being (note hate them, Jesus is not saying it is wrong to be angered by or hate another’s own evil deeds) brings judgement (Matthew 5:21-22).
And those are just the verses at the forefront of my memory.
Sure, it should be enough said to say “treat each other equally because all [or in this instance black] lives matter”. But God takes us a whole order of magnitude further. God says “treat each other equally and with love and compassion and care because you’re all equally and uniquely made in My own image”. I cannot think of anything more encouraging to my black brothers and sisters (I’m speaking here of physical sibling-hood) around the world than this: you have an existential value because you are made in God’s image. You were made with the highest and greatest purpose in life – to have a relationship with God and to glorify Him, to reflect His very own nature.
Yes, the lives of black people matter very much. Because they’re made in God’s image, so we should treat them exactly as such. So these [legal and peaceful] protests go with my blessing. And the protests against abortion. And the protest against domestic abuse. And the protests against modern slavery. And the protests against the economic mistreatment of the 3rd world. And so on and so forth.
That’s my first point.
My second point is the root of all this social injustice.
It is not, ultimately, that many white people hate black people. It is not, ultimately, a question of race (although it unquestionably is about race).
Genesis 4. God hasn’t long ago created man in His own image. Adam and Eve, the first people created, have had their first children: Cain and Abel.
Most, even if only due to primary school education, know the historical events. Abel and Cain bring an offering to God – Abel, an animal from his flock, Cain some vegetables or fruits from his harvest. God’s blessing was on Abel’s offering, and not upon Cain’s. Cain’s pride was pricked – and God challenges him regarding it. God was perfectly ready to accept Cain on the exact same basis as Abel – simply provided Cain followed God’s instruction as Abel had. But Cain’s pride was too great. And Cain murders his brother.
We’re not one generation into humanity and an innocent man is murdered at the hands of his brother. Why? It seems to me to be the greatest of all sins: pride. A sin born out of the sinful nature inherited from his father only a matter of years earlier. Adam as what we call the “federal head” of humanity, sinned before God. Adam knew better, but when faced with the choice of doing or not doing what God commanded – chose to disobey. And ever since, humanity has born children who are for lack of a better word genetically-spiritually predisposed to sinning.
I was brought up in one of the most loving households in the UK. I was bought up to know what was right and what was wrong. I was disciplined. I was shaped. I was taught patience and to not be greedy. Yet I learned all by myself to shout “No!” and to slam my bedroom door and say “I hate you” and to kick and to scream and to demand what I want right now and reveal through my mouth and through my actions the very state of my sinful nature.
Indeed Jesus speaks of it. Nature versus nurture. It turns out nature wins every time. Matthew 15:16-20. It’s not the environment around me that’s the issue. It’s me that’s the issue. It’s Matthew Hall that the problem begins and ends with.
So what’s the solution? Well, obviously, we obey God’s law by seeking the upholding of every human being as equal value – we protest, yes! We petition our governments – yes! We refuse to stand by and watch as people are mistreated – whether because they’re black or unwanted or socially awkward or just frankly “not the kind of person we want to be near”.
This is all very necessary and very critical. But it’s not an ultimate solution. We do it – yes. I’m not belittling it. I’m just stating that it won’t ultimately solve the root problem.
It’d be wrong and blasphemous of me to draw a similarity between George Floyd and Jesus the Son of God, but they did both die at the hands of men who should have known better. They were both innocent (by which I mean George may have committed a financial crime – but certainly was not deserving of death by a police officer’s knee). George may well have been murdered because he was born black. Jesus was murdered because He was born to be the sacrificial Lamb that could atone for our sins and make propitiation for anyone who would confess their own sin and trust in His righteousness and death.
Not long after the death of Jesus, Peter (one of his disciples) preached to a crowd:
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.Acts 2:22-24, 36
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
The people were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter replied:
38b “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.Acts 2:38b-41
Let’s (legally) protest and fight this social injustice … because every man and every woman is made in God’s image. But let’s not stop there. Let’s recognise that there is an issue in all of humanity. Let’s recognise that if it’s not racial discrimination, it’s something else. The only common factor is fallen humanity. Let’s recognise that these issues – whatever they are – are born out of original sin, a problem common to all human beings, born out of that “thing” inside of us which brings up out of our mouths and up into our minds hatred and anger and pride and sexual immorality and rejection of authority and the desire to put ourselves over others; that thing inside of us which tells us we don’t need to recognise God’s authority over our lives.
Let’s lament and repent together, ask that God might reveal our own sinful natures and give us the desire and faith to repent and believe.