A call for witnesses against racism and the ongoing killings of black men
Dr. Harold Lewis
Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Culture & society
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of Converge:
We are entering into a new season of Pentecost, that day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the early disciples as they gathered on one accord in that upper room in Jerusalem. Now, more than ever, we are aware of our critical need for a fresh anointing that will enlighten us and empower us to stand up and speak out as witnesses about the evil of overt racism that is plaguing our midst.
I am asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts and minds as a body of believers in Jesus Christ. I am asking the Holy Spirit to embolden us and stir us into faithful actions against the ongoing manifestation of racism and hate, which are becoming more and more prevalent, pernicious and painful across our country.
By now, George Floyd’s name has become a household one as it echoes around the country among the crowds and protestors who are marching and chanting against and protesting another dreadful killing of an unarmed black man. Mr. Floyd was murdered by a white police officer (who has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. A bystander’s cellphone video captured George Floyd’s final moments as he repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” as the white officer held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for approximately nine minutes while three other police officers looked on and did nothing.
These three words, “I can’t breathe,” have once again become the rallying cry of angry black and white protestors and have awakened and shaken cities and communities across this country. Just six years ago, we heard those same three words — “I can’t breathe!” — during the high-profile police killing of Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, in July 2014.
And now, here we go again; the modern-day lynching of Mr. George Floyd. The ink from a previous article written by Converge president Scott Ridout and me regarding the vigilante killing of Mr. Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, had not even dried before we addressed and responded to another murder.
My brothers and sisters, I am tired, I am frustrated, I am hurting and I am angry. I know there will be those who will readily suggest, “Don’t be angry; just pray about it.” To those voices, I say you are asking me to be better than Jesus.
Even Jesus got angry when he witnessed any discrimination or biases. He got upset when the mothers were bringing their children before him to be blessed, and the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14). Jesus got angry when he went into the temple and saw the money changers making a mockery out of God’s house, and he drove them out with a whip (Matt. 21:12).
Considering the hate, the racism, the bigotry, the injustices and the killings suffered by black and brown people in this country, if you have not become angry and spiritually incensed, I question your sincerity as a follower of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t make you mad that black people comprise just 12% of the population in this country but account for over 26% of those killed by rogue police officers1, I would question your alignment with the heart of Christ. If it doesn’t bother you that a white youth pastor in Georgia can accuse two black men of kidnapping him to cover up his behavior of soliciting a male prostitute2, I would question your alignment with the heart of Christ. If it doesn’t bother you that a white mother in Florida can accuse two black men of kidnapping her autistic son, causing a statewide search for the two black men, and later admitting that she drowned her son in a nearby golf course lake3, I would question your alignment with the heart of Christ. If it doesn’t bother you that a white police officer can apply his knee to George Floyd’s neck, squeezing the life out of him as he cried out for his deceased mother and declared, “I can’t breathe!” I would question your alignment with the heart of Christ.
Yes, I am tired, I am angry and I am frustrated. This anger and frustration are indicative of the poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar during the Harlem Renaissance, entitled Sympathy. In his painful predicament, Dunbar poetically pens, “I know why the caged bird sings, ah-me. When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, when he beats his bar, and he would be free. It is not a carol of joy or glee, but a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core. But a plea, that upward to heaven he flings. I know why the caged bird sings.”
As a black father with three black sons and four black grandsons, I feel like a caged bird being held hostage by the bars of racism, injustice and oppression. Like a caged bird, I am singing.
My songs are not of joy and glee, but of protests and pleas for justice, equality and opportunity; that my sons and grandsons will inherit a favorable future without racial threats, trauma and terrorism in this country.
Pentecost reminds us that we have been anointed as born-again and baptized believers with the power and purpose to be boldly vocal and visible witnesses of holiness and righteousness that call out racism, injustice and modern-day lynchings against black and brown people.
Let me be clear: Racism is a sinful stench and an evil epidemic that stands ad nauseam in the nostrils of God and is contaminating the Christian movement. Systemic racism is an infectious disease that is eroding the very fabric of this country. We cannot wish it away. We must confront it and call it out.
During this Pentecost season, black and brown people cannot be the only people groups calling out this sin and wickedness. We need our white Christian brothers and sisters to stand with us and for us as boldly vocal and visible witnesses as we seek to eradicate the spirit of racism within ourselves, our churches, our communities and our country.
As Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
During this Pentecost season, I am challenging our white Christian brothers and sisters to become boldly vocal and visible witnesses who speak out against the systemic racism that took the lives of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, George Floyd and countless other black and brown men, women and children who died at the hands of rogue police officers. I am challenging our white Christian brothers and sisters to become boldly vocal and visible witnesses who speak out against the racial disparities as they are applied toward black and brown people regarding health care, education and job opportunities. I am challenging our white Christian brothers and sisters to become boldly vocal and visible witnesses against the mass incarceration of black and brown people who make up less than 13% of the United States population but 38% of the U.S. prison population4.
This is a clarion call for every born-again and baptized believer to come together to work and fight against the systemic evil that is plaguing our communities, this country and the world. God has ordained the Church with the responsibility of calling the world from racism to repentance and righteousness, from hatred to holiness and from sinfulness to sacredness.
We don’t need to think about it, and we don’t need to pray about it. We need to be about it. Remember, it was Jesus who said in Matthew 18:18, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus also told us in Luke 10:19, that he has given us power and the authority over the enemy. The power is the ability and the authority is the permission to carry out our calling and commissioning as witnesses of the gospel and justice for all.
As I write these words in the aftermath of the killing of Mr. George Floyd, cities across America are burning, peaceful protesting is escalating into a violent rage and our country is sitting on a short-fused powder keg that is about to explode. The question resonating in my spirit is, “When it is all said and done, what will history record that our white Christian brothers and sisters did to support and resolve the inequities and injustices against their black and brown Christian brothers and sisters?”
The late Rev. Dr. Caesar A.W. Clark, one of our most celebrated black clergy, once shared a story about a man riding on the subway in New York City years ago. The man was sitting in his seat with his eyes closed. His friend sitting next to him asked him, “Man, why do you have your eyes closed?” According to Dr. Clark, the man replied, “Because a woman is standing up next to me. If I open my eyes, I will have to look at her, and that will convict me to give up my seat. So, I am going to keep my eyes closed, so I won’t have to do anything about it.”
Brothers and sisters, I pray that the Church in general, and our white Christian brothers and sisters in particular, are not sitting or standing idly by with their eyes closed while their black and brown Christian brothers and sisters are suffering from the sins and shame of racial injustices.
I pray that during this Pentecost season, the Holy Spirit will convict you to open your eyes and your mouths from your position of privilege and power to ask, as the author of 1 John 4:20 asked, How can we say we love God whom we have never seen and allow hate and oppression against our black and brown brothers and sisters whom we see every day?
I pray that during this Pentecost season, the Holy Spirit will convict you to open your eyes and mouths and declare, Whatever the racial system is doing to the least of our black and brown brothers and sisters, it is doing it unto Christ (Matt. 25:40). I pray that during this Pentecost season, the Holy Spirit will convict you to rise and declare, Who knows that God has not called us at such a time as this to be advocates and ambassadors of justice for our black and brown brothers and sisters (Esther 4:14)?
I know eradicating racism is not going to happen overnight. I know it will take strategic actions and engagements to cultivate the cultural conditions that will foster the fullness of life and liberty for those of us who have suffered and been subjected to the evil of racism for generations.
However, please note a few immediate actions that can be engaged and considered as we begin this journey together:
Initiate and engage in healthy conversations about race and its social construct.
Seek out partnerships with other churches of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to begin building relationships and racial awareness.
Connect with the Converge Office of Biblical Diversity as well as reach out to your district office for guidance.
Connect with local agencies and institutions that engage in constructive conversations about implementing appropriate policies for policing black and brown communities.
It is my prayer that our white Christian brothers and sisters will not allow closed eyes and silence regarding the ongoing killings of black and brown people to become an affront to God, but that your bold vocal and visible witness will be a sign of solidarity and that you stand for justice, healing, peace and the love of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Harold Lewis, Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold D. Lewis Sr. is Converge’s Vice President of Biblical Diversity. A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates. Dr. Lewis comes to Converge with over three decades of pastoral and leadership experience as a turnaround church pastor and a transformational coach for clergy and laypersons. His ministerial experience also includes more than 10 years of multicultural and justice responsibilities, which included collaborating with and resourcing Native American, Micronesian, Hispanic, Korean and Haitian ministries, as well as Black Methodists for Church Revival and the Conference Committee on Religion and Race.