Old Ways on New Days

The day Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd was the day I began to grieve. That process continues to this day. I grieve for him in much the same way I grieved for the many other Black people who have died extrajudicially. Like so many other Black people, in this country and around the world, I feel these deaths personally. At the same time, I also felt a sense of dread. A deep foreboding that the tired cycle would continue. An unarmed Black person would die extrajudicially. Black people would rise up and write and cry and scream and protest and demand justice. Their cries would largely go unheard, drowned out by victim-blaming, whataboutism, and apathy. Rinse repeat. I long ago gave up the notion that any particular extrajudicial murder of an unarmed, non-threatening Black person would be the one that would awaken broader mainstream society to the toxic past and present relationship between police and Black people in this country.[1] I distinctly recall that I was sure that Philando Castile would be the one – but I was wrong. That was probably the last time I got my hopes up.

To my surprise I was wrong again. People cared about the murder of George Floyd in a way that shocked me.[2] Even people who normally supported the cause of ending these killings found themselves moved to deeper levels of introspection. I know because many of them contacted me in the days following Floyd’s murder to check on me and to process their thoughts. In the protests that followed, the nation watched as a more diverse crowd arrived to demand justice. We saw protests take place not only in major cities, but in smaller towns where something like Floyd’s murder would never occur. The approval rating for the protest organization Black Lives Matter skyrocketed, gaining more favor in two weeks than it had in the two years prior. It is fascinating to think about why.

Place me now firmly in the camp of those who think that George Floyd’s murder is different, for two reasons. First, the way George Floyd died was different. Many of these cases involve guns or an arrestee who appears to be struggling. For those looking for a way to excuse inexcusable police behavior, it is easier to delude yourself into thinking that Philando Castile was reaching for a gun, or that Tamir Rice really did have a toy gun that looked real, or that the book Keith Scott was holding was actually a gun.[3] It is much more difficult to convince yourself that the officers had a good reason to choke a man to death, while being filmed, while that man is pleading for his life. The sheer horror of watching a man die, not in an instant but over the course of almost nine minutes, makes it difficult to ascribe any other rationale to those officers other than the fact that they did not care about this man’s life. Second, the societal circumstances led to more of us having the mental bandwidth to care about George Floyd. I believe it would’ve been more difficult for this particular murder to gain traction if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many of us not working, not going to school, and trapped in our homes, there was no escaping our internal wrestling with what we saw. The disruption to our normal routines created space for us as a society to focus on the injustice of what happened to this man. In combination these two things caused us as a society to care about the plight of Black people in ways we never have before.

Unfortunately, at a time when the entire world was surprising me, I could count on my church as an institution to fulfill all my low expectations. Other than the most perfunctory and milquetoast of statements, the church as a body has had little to say about this state of affairs.[4] It is as fascinating to me to think about why that is the case as it is to think about why George Floyd mattered when others did not. Here is the best that I can surmise – Adventism on a whole in America has no ability to speak prophetically to the issue of race in our society because we have not adequately addressed our own racist past (and present). It is hard to speak forcefully on the issue of race in our society when all we have to show for our own racial healing is a few nicely worded mea culpas that you can find only if you are willing to search. It is difficult to act on principles of racial equality when our past is littered with racial panels and forums from which no meaningful action has sprung. It is hard to bring the moral weight of our theology to bear on a world far ahead of us on the issue of race, as we exist in race-based conferences, with no hope for anything different because we have not shown any evidence of being able to handle anything better than this broken, antiquated, segregated system.[5] Slavery (and the racism that justified it) is often talked about as America’s original sin. It seems that it is our churches as well, and we stand as ill-equipped to deal with it as the rest of the world. Even with the Lord on our side.

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[1] To be fair, it is wrong of me to wish for the perfect victim. Every time a non-threatening, unarmed Black person is extrajudicially killed it is a wrong that demands justice. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a career criminal or a person with no criminal record at all. Except we know that unfortunately this does matter to those who would refuse to see the humanity in those who have died under such circumstances.

[2] Yes, when I say people, I am largely referring to White people in America.

[3] Or that Michael Brown, having just successfully fled from an armed officer, would turn around and attempt to run at said armed police officer.

[4] Of course this does not account for churches and groups of Adventists on the ground, who have been very involved.

[5] To be clear, I have in the past argued for and worked for trying to create an integrated conference structure. I remain unsettled about the issue today because I have no belief that Black people would be treated fairly in any integrated structure we would create.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10550
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"I remain unsettled about the issue today because I have no belief that Black people would be treated fairly in any integrated structure we would create."

I can understand why you might be “unsettled” about this particular issue based also upon the reality that not all Adventist women or Adventist LGBT+ aren’t exactly “treated fairly”. It remains to be seen whether the SDA church is even capable of doing so.

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I for one am tired of “grieving” for a powerful, aware statement about any issue involving social justice or race relations. Fear of offending some of those we seek to evangelize mutes our prophetic witness. My hope continues to dwell in specific congregations that model inclusion, multi-racial worship and congregants of all colors. My hopefulness also includes electing a charismatic, spiritually strong preacher and intellectually able person of color to the highest office in the General Conference. For America’s sake, we would be most blessed by a black leader. I have know several during my ministry who would have been magnificent, but they are retired now. Others are surely in their place even if I am not aware of them. May God help us make the right choice.

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Well said, and this is a message which I think all white members of the church need to ponder. The Christian church in general was fully complicit with that original sin, and although the SDA church made some statements on the evils of slavery, once slavery was abolished the church dropped the ball. The SDA church was almost fully complicit with Jim Crow, has made almost no statements against the evils of convict slavery, which resulted in the re-enslavement of blacks in the early 20th century, and has never really identified the injustices visited on black men by the war on drugs, let alone any forthright opposition to so many aspects of our country’s white supremacist systems. I so hope that George Floyd’s death is the stimulus to move the church to a prophetic work in social justice, but so far I am disappointed, and not a little disheartened when I see some of the negative responses to several of the articles Spectrum has published on Black Lives Matters. Keep speaking the truth and thank you for doing so.

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Seventh-day Adventists are formalists. What matters to them is not the reality whether they may or may not be racists but that they have a fundamental belief (number 14) that declares their formal opposition to racism. Indeed, FB 14 functions as a shield; Seventh-day Adventist white nationalists often claim that they cannot possibly be racists because they formally subscribe to FB 14.

Seventh-day Adventists believe and teach that the basis for their claim that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s remnant church of biblical prophecy is the codified set of fundamental beliefs. Therefore, it does not matter if many Seventh-day Adventists are racist or if our ecclesiastical structures, such as the racially-segregated conference system, are racist. Again, formalism predominates over realism in Seventh-day Adventist theology.

If you want to end the racially-segregated conference system, which remains a chronic humiliation of the Church, I suggest the following:

  1. You can’t put an end to a bureaucracy. That is Politics 101. Therefore, you keep the two conferences but aspire to deracialize them, so that you can eventually claim with justification that racial segregation in our conference system no longer exists.
  2. The state conference and regional conference of the Lake Union each vote a statement that includes a request that Andrews University, which is uniquely qualified, produce a study with recommendations for deracializing the conferences.
  3. Grant writers for Andrews University obtain funding for the study, which would be multi-disciplinary but spearheaded by the Department of Behavioral Sciences.
  4. There is some racial diversity in both conferences, but it is not appropriately flaunted. And lack of diversity is largely secret and thus sheltered from criticism and calls for change. Committing ourselves to following a plan for implementing the recommendations would be highly positive; commitment to progress can be as effective a witness as achievement of our ultimate goal.
  5. It is possible that funding can be obtained to help implement the recommendations.
  6. What is achieved in the Lake Union can be replicated elsewhere.
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I highlighted the part of the above quote because those that are interested in all the evidence before taking a. position are not just trying the excuse police behavior. I have found that unless I have all the data, I can make a misjudgment. You cannot just go on emotion. We can be manipulated by the emotional spin that media, and even our own minds make. We believe what we want to. Called confirmation bias.

And when this issue comes up, I take as evidence on whether a person is letting emotion rule their thinking, by how they explain the Michael Brown slaying. The case was quite clear to the grand jury and Obama’s Justice department. The officer was exonerated. Here is the NYT story about the 86 page document produced by the DOJ:

Darren Wilson Is Cleared of Rights Violations in Ferguson Shooting

By [Erik Eckholm
March 4, 2015

Offering the most definitive account yet of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager that stirred racially charged protests across the country, the Justice Department has cleared a Ferguson, Mo., police officer of civil rights violations in the death last August of Michael Brown.

In an 86-page report released Wednesday that detailed and evaluated the testimony of more than 40 witnesses, the Justice Department largely corroborated or found little credible evidence to contradict the account of the officer, Darren Wilson, who is white.

Versions of events that sharply conflicted with Mr. Wilson’s were largely inconsistent with forensic evidence or with the witnesses’ previous statements, the report said. And in some cases, witnesses whose accounts supported Mr. Wilson said they had been afraid to come forth or tell the truth because they feared reprisals from the enraged community.

The decision ended a lengthy investigation into the shooting in August, in which Mr. Wilson killed Mr. Brown in the street as he tried to stop the teenager for a possible theft of some cigarillos from a convenience store. Several witnesses said Mr. Brown, 18, had his hands up in surrender when he died, leading to violent clashes in Ferguson and nationwide protest featuring chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot.

But federal agents and civil rights prosecutors rejected that story, just as a state grand jury did in November when it decided not to indict Mr. Wilson. The former officer, who left the Ferguson Police Department late last year, said that Mr. Brown had leaned into his patrol car, punched him, reached for his gun, and then after running away, turned and charged at him, making Mr. Wilson fear for his life.

There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the report said. At the same time, it concluded that the witnesses who said that Mr. Brown was surrendering were not credible.

Those witness accounts stating that Brown never moved back toward Wilson could not be relied upon in a prosecution because their accounts cannot be reconciled with the DNA bloodstain evidence and other credible witness accounts.” end quote. (Note that some were afraid to stand in support the officer for fear of reprisals)

Mr Hines does not believe the grand jury’s assessment, nor the assessment of the Obama DOJ. That shows, in my mind at least, that he is letting emotion cloud his judgment.

I think the Floyd killing was horrible. But I think the same sort of emotional state caused the death of 17 people after the killing, (mostly black) and the destruction of billions of dollars of property (a lot of it black owned) that will not be easily restored. (Besides the discrediting of the BLM movement by the looting and burning, etc.) Ferguson has not recovered even with millions of dollars of investment, and attention my many people.

No doubt many here will see these statements as racist. I’ll take the risk. For Micheal Brown was not murdered, but was attempting to murder. And if you believe he was an innocent victim of police brutality, you do not have a grasp of the truth.

it is easy to follow the culture, and the masses. Harder to go against the tide. But sometimes it is the proper thing to do.

You are a member of the social justice wing of he SDA church. There are something like 4 other wings, Traditional, Prophetic, and a couple of others I can’t remember. The other wings have difference emphases. They might not go along with your thinking, but have a right to theirs as well, and you should note that yours is not the only righteous cause.

Hmmm. This group has some weaknesses. Is it out of bounds to critique them? Their actions have lead to deaths and destruction. I drove through Minneapolis a week or so ago. They are going to have a hard time of it. I think the Floyd death deserves condemnation, but destroying yourself, and your livelihood? Is that really a reasonable thing to do?