By Pastor Erika Uthe, Director for Evangelical Mission, Assistant to the Bishop
I was six when the video of Rodney King being beaten by LA police officers surfaced. My parents tried to shelter my sister and I from the news as much as possible, so I never saw the video at the time. But my mom is from Simi Valley. I remember walking in as the news was on and she was crying because she couldn’t fathom how that could happen. We talked then about how it was wrong to treat black people differently than white people. We talked about how God made everyone equal and because God loved us, we too were to love everyone else the same.
Fast forward 30 years to the fire pit in our backyard. My own children – ages five and eight – witnessed tears as we talked about what had happened on the news. How George Floyd had been murdered. How, because God has created everyone equal we are to love everyone equally regardless of skin color and how because of our white skin we are able to live differently in our world while people with black and brown skin do not have the same luxuries.
I just learned that one of Rodney King’s daughters was seven at the time of his beating. She found out about it by seeing the video on TV.[i] In all the videos since then, in all of the names and protests and trials – it has been 30 years since my first awareness of racism, and I am ashamed to confess that it has taken this long for me to begin to understand.
The insidious nature of racism and white supremacy have lulled many of us (white-skinned) good Christians into thinking that we just need to love everyone the same. To work harder at loving our neighbor. But here is where the shame lies for me: I know, deep in my bones, that loving everyone the same is just not enough. I can love my black and brown neighbor until they can’t take any more love and nothing will have changed. Black bodies will still be at risk simply for being a black body. 1 in 3 black boys will end up in prison, and 1 in 18 black girls, and when they do they will receive harsher sentencing than white boys and white girls charged with the same crime.[ii] Black boys and black girls are more likely to live below the poverty line simply because of unequal access to housing and job training – a trend that is built into the foundations of this country and that is clearly mapped, even in Iowa.[iii]
So no. Loving my black and brown neighbor is not enough.
In American Christianity, one of our favorite parables it that of the Good Samaritan. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus proceeds to tell the story of highway robbery in which the victim of the crime is saved by a Samaritan, rather than the faith leaders who ‘pass by on the other side of the road.’ The Samaritan does the duty of a field medic, takes him to an inn where he asks the owner to tend the man until healed, and promises to come back and pay the expense. “Go, and do likewise,” Jesus tells the lawyer.
It is easier to ‘take pity,’ as the Samaritan did in Luke’s gospel, and pay for someone else to actually do the hard work of caring and healing someone than to stick around. Sure, it may have cost the man some money but what did it cost him personally, in his soul? What if he had stuck around to find out who the man was? What was he doing on the road? Who was his family? What were his passions? How might they be in relationship?
No. Loving your neighbor, “going and doing likewise,” is not enough.
To do the hard work of dismantling systems from which many of us benefit takes hard work. It is uncomfortable. It will likely produce feelings of guilt, confusion, helplessness, shame, anger, resistance, denial, and only God knows what else.
But if we don’t do the work of dismantling systems of injustice and violence, my own daughters will find themselves sitting around the dinner table 30 years from now explaining to their own children how what is happening to black people is wrong. How God created everybody equally. How we need to love everybody the same. Years will have gone by and God’s children will have continued to endure violence, injustice, and death – simply because people in places of privilege and power tried to be like the Good Samaritan.
What if, instead of trying to be like the Good Samaritan, we tried to be more like Jesus. Jesus did not simply see the need and get someone else to take care of it. He put his body on the line – going into groups of lepers and touching them. Going to Zacchaeus’ house, eating with prostitutes and sinners. Building actual relationships that ended up transforming the world. Jesus’ desire to be with people, in relationship, in their homes, and on the streets resulted in his own body ending up like Rodney King. And George Floyd. And Breonna Taylor. And Daunte Wright. And Emmet Till.
And the list is so long.
In this Easter season, we remember that Jesus’ body, bloodied and broken, is raised again. Transformed. New. As resurrection people, we remember that we have been raised with Christ to a transformed life. No longer held by the sins of racism and white supremacy, we are set free to do the hard work of speaking truth to power, putting our bodies in the homes and on the streets with people who are oppressed.
As I write on April 16, 2021, Derek Chauvin’s trial is not over yet. We do not know if he will be held accountable for his actions and found guilty. We do not know if justice will be served. I do know that I am ready. I am ready – in homes and on the streets to build transformative relationships that can start to dismantle systems of injustice and violence.
[i] You can listen to her talk about her experience here: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2021/04/16/chauvin-trial-a-look-back-at-1992-la-and-the-beating-of-rodney-king
To find out more about how you can join in the work of becoming anti-racist and dismantle systems of injustice and violence, go to www.seiasynod.org/anti-racism-network or find us on FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ARSEIA
To find tools for self- or group-study, bibliographies, and articles visit www.racialequitytools.org