I wonder if the name George Floyd will be remembered in ways similar to Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Emmett Till, Frederick Douglass or even Jesus. Will it be a name, a life, a death that changes history? Only I can answer that. Will his life and death change me? Although I don’t think I contribute to systemic racism in our culture…my silence does. Have I not spoken up when I heard racist statements, jokes, emails? Do I vote to increase funding for jails, while decreasing funding for social services? Do I expect my property taxes to stay locally for my childrens’ education, while expecting inner city school districts in Bethlehem, Allentown or Philadelphia to fund their own education? Do I perpetuate our system of injustice toward people of color, because the system works for me…a white, college-educated male?
I recently read that science has determined that we are a species that has “difference” categorized into our DNA. We notice difference. We classify. We judge. This has helped humanity in the evolutionary process. We survive best in groups. Humans are social creatures and this makes the quarantine difficult. We are not meant to be in isolation. However, our classifications have caused us to associate with like minds, and like-minded people. Our communities, churches, towns, sporting teams and political party affiliations create an US/THEM mentality. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Sociologists have noted that the most segregated time in America is Sunday mornings. Birds of a feather worship together.
Classifications, categories and judgments can be necessary, but Jesus often warns about the evils of judging.
John 7:24 (NRSV)
24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
For Jesus, right judgment has nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin. Jesus advocated for the broken, left out, marginalized. Today, Jesus would be very clear that all people are children of God. Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus did not originate that saying. He is quoting his Jewish Scriptures, Leviticus 19:18. If we are to judge people, judge them as neighbors. Classify them as children of God. Categorize them as brothers and sisters in this journey of life.
It is the reality of a fast-paced, fast food world that we don’t have time. We do have time! It’s an excuse. We just occupy it with stuff that is not important. People are important. Relationships are important. Relationships take time and effort. Relationships with birds of another flock take intention and conscious effort.
As my childhood Bible School song goes, “Red, Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in his sight, Jesus love the little children of the world.” A simple song, a simple truth. Do I live it? Am I living up to the standards Jesus professes? Am I using my resources to dismantle the systemic racism in our society? Am I using my talents to further the cause of justice for all people? Am I using my time to step out of my box and get to know others that are different?
Our culture will not stem injustice until people like me recognize our silence and judgements, in our own lives. We need to diversify our groups. Open ourselves up new and different people who see the world differently.
I will remember the name, the person and the death of George Floyd. He has changed my life. Will he change your life? Together we can help make America, welcoming, inclusive and full of hope for ALL people.
Rev. Phil Spohn is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Hellertown, Pa.