The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer left the nation reeling this past week. Like the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the horror of watching these deaths on video forced all Americans to at least witness what many in the black community fear: the confrontation of and mistreatment by police based on the color of their skin. The discord has only increased over the past years, as incidents like these not only grow more numerous but face a greater public scrutiny through the media. This increase in exposure should lead to an increase in justice, not only for individual victims but for the black community burdened by systemic oppression at multiple levels. In addition, it should lead to greater awareness of these issues and a greater drive for unity. Unfortunately, George Floyd’s death has led to an increase in looting, violence, and destruction. Peaceful protests have been overrun by angry and violent individuals adding fuel to a literal fire in city after city, destroying the very properties and livelihoods of those most vulnerable to systemic racism. And one of the greatest losses is the witness of George Floyd himself, whose own story, told and retold by protesters crying out for justice and change, is drowned out by the sound of chaos and burning buildings. This kind of increasing violence and hatred are the very evidence of the sin and brokenness in every human heart, in every people, language, tribe, and nation; it defies secular solutions alone.
The American Anglican Council believes the greatest weapons we have in the fight against racism, hatred, and division are our God-given ears to listen as Jesus would to the cries of the oppressed; God-given voices to speak on their behalf and to speak Gospel-truth to power when needed; God-given actions to serve those in need of comfort, financial security, companionship, and solidarity; and God-given hearts to desire that all people know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that they may come to true repentance and reconciliation.
George Floyd’s death is a tragedy and a crime against the dignity of every human being made in the image of God. It is a moment of reckoning for the Church, as the bishops of the ACNA rightly note in their letter below. As America picks up the pieces of its demolition, we pray that there is a deep soul-searching that asks the why behind the racism, hatred, and violence. The causes of these sins in any society are nuanced and layered. The solutions to them must also be just as nuanced, touching various aspects of society and affecting the problems in the different social systems meant to bring order to our communities. But the causes of racism, hatred, and violence in our hearts are just as nuanced and layered. As the Christian Church, we must pray and speak up for racial justice and reconciliation, but we must also do what we can to act upon our own hearts and minds. If judgment begins with the household of God, this is a time for Christians to examine what we may be contributing, even unintentionally and unconsciously, to the brokenness of the society in which we live. We are grateful to efforts like the Repentance Project, which gives us a deeper look into our hearts with the help of Christian brothers and sisters in the black community, for helping us do just that.
We have come to the conviction that our call is to focus on our hearts as well as societal structures. Solomon wisely observed in Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart, for out of it flows everything.” That is where we begin here at the AAC: building up clergy and laity to lead the church in reform and revitalization, from the heart, from the inside out. We must turn to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the household of God first, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, black nor white, slave nor free. When we turn inward and look at ourselves, we can begin to pray for the transformation that’s possible at the root of each person who worships Christ. The Church can then step out into the world and speak the truth with greater confidence and integrity.
America is not alone in its struggle against racism and its fight for racial reconciliation. Wherever the human heart exists, the struggle exists, especially when accompanied by histories filled with oppression, warfare, and tribalism. From the conflict in the Middle-East, to the tribal divisions and wars plaguing East Africa, to the continuing ramifications of South African apartheid, there is a need for each and every person to see the vision of humanity found in Jesus Christ, which can only be brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the hope of a new humanity composed of “every tribe and nation”, found in the one man who, through his body, ushers us all into the presence of the Father of all. This biblical vision of human nature is the single most important issue of our time, and the very point at which we, as followers of Jesus, have good news to share.
The American Anglican Council commends the letter below written by several ACNA bishops that reflect the grief and outrage over yet another public display of racial violence. We also add to those petitions a prayer for the end of the violence overtaking American cities this week and for the healing of the hatred that still plagues the American social landscape. As followers of the Prince of Peace, may we become instruments of his transforming peace wherever he has planted us.
A Letter Concerning the Death of George Floyd and So Many Others
George Floyd was made in the image of God and as such is a person of utmost value. This is not true because a few Anglican bishops issue a letter. This conviction arises from our reading of Scripture. The Psalmist said:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
The opening book of our Scriptures declares the value of all human life:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)
What happened to George is an affront to God because George’s status as an image bearer was not respected. He was treated in a way that denied his basic humanity. Our lament is real. But our lament is not limited to George and his family. We mourn alongside the wider Black community for whom this tragedy awakens memories of their own traumas and the larger history of systemic oppression that still plagues this country.
George’s death is not merely the most recent evidence that proves racism exists against Black people in this country. But it is a vivid manifestation of the ongoing devaluation of black life. At the root of all racism is a heretical anthropology that devalues the imago dei in us all. The gospel reveals that all are equally created, sinful and equally in need of the saving work of Christ. The racism we lament is not just interpersonal. It exists in the implicit and explicit customs and attitudes that do disproportionate harm to ethnic minorities in our country. In other words, too often racial bias has been combined with political power to create inequalities that still need to be eradicated.
As bishops in the ACNA we commit ourselves to standing alongside those in the Black community as they contend for a just society, not as some attempt to transform America into the kingdom of God, but as a manifestation of neighborly love and bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ. We confess that too often ethnic minorities have felt that contending for biblical justice is a burden they bear alone.
In the end, our hope is not in our efforts, but in the shed blood of Jesus that reconciles God to humanity and humans to each other. Our hope is that our churches become places where our life together as disciples demonstrates the power of the gospel to bring together the nations of the earth (Rev 7:9). Such work cannot be carried out by one letter written in the time of crisis. We commit to educating ourselves and the churches under our charge within a biblical and theological frame to face the problems of our day. We likewise commit to partnering with likeminded churches in the work of justice and reconciliation.
The Feast of Pentecost is here in a couple of days. The power of the Spirit is loosed to convict of sin and deliver us from its power. We pray that in a country as diverse as these United States, the Church will be united in the essential truths of Christianity, including its concern for the most vulnerable. So…come Holy Spirit. Mediate to us and all the earth, we pray, the victory of Jesus over the principalities and powers that seek to rule and cause death and destruction in this time between the times. Come Holy Spirit.
Almighty God, on this day, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishops Jim Hobby, Todd Hunter, Stewart Ruch and Steve Wood