During our COVID-19 shutdown, Pastor Zekveld plans to provide a personal reflection from Tuesday through Friday.
On Monday, May 25, police in Minneapolis responded to a call that a man had given counterfeit money at a corner store. The caller also said he appeared to be behaving not-quite-normally, like he was drunk or something.
The police found him, escorted him out of his vehicle, and even though it appears from that there was little, if any, resistance, an officer pinned George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, to the ground by pressing his knee into George’s neck. While Mr. Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, the officer kept his knee on his neck for more than 8 minutes until he was dead.
That was Monday, and since then Minneapolis has erupted into a frightening scene of rioting, breaking, looting and burning. (It should be noted that most, if not all, the protesters come from ‘out of town.’)
It’ll be sometime before we know the details of the arrest and death of George Floyd. But one thing is sure, the furor this event has ignited, and understandably so, will be with us for a long time to come.
It will take a lot of wisdom for America’s leaders to move forward from this. And it will take a lot of Gospel from black and white church leaders alike to give just and loving leadership which will magnify Christ and advance His kingdom.
But I want to tell you another part of the story of George Floyd’s life that gets lost in the May 25 video footage.
Before moving to Minneapolis in 2018 for work, George Floyd lived in Texas, in Houston’s Third Ward, a historically black neighborhood. There he was well-known as a Christian, a man of God, and a person of peace. He served his neighborhood for decades as a mentor to a generation of young men.
He knew that the Gospel was the key to breaking the cycle of violence among young people, so he brought the ministries of his Church, Resurrection Houston, to the Third Ward. He helped bring Bible Studies, church services, mercy ministries, and youth activities to his neighborhood. He wanted the youth to trade in their guns for Jesus.
He was a towering 6-foot-6 man, affectionately called ‘Big Floyd’ by all in his neighborhood. Big Floyd was well-known “as a gentle giant, an inspiration to his neighborhood, and a positive force for change. Floyd’s handle included the name ‘BigFloyd4God.’” (Kate Shellnutt, “George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston,” Christianity Today, May 28, 2020)
I don’t want to paint too holy of a picture of this gentle giant. No doubt his life would have borne some of the marks of his prevailing culture – and the same is true for all of us whether we are Christians living in Houston or Strathroy – but we can be thankful for the “Gospel Legacy” he left in Houston’s Third Ward.
And we should all mourn his death – because of his life as the image of God, because of the gift he was to his community, and because of the especially tragic way in which his life was brutally snuffed out.
The challenge is to mourn well – to mourn in a way that builds community, rather than destroys it; in a way that pursues justice, rather than violates it; in a way that advances the Gospel of reconciliation rather than perverts it. These are easy words for me to say; it’s a huge challenge to implement them.
Let us pray that God will give much wisdom and courage to everyone at the frontlines of this tragedy to respond in a way that promotes healing.
Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, pleaded with the public to protest his death in a peaceful way:
Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd… He loved the city….He was about love and about peace.Courteney Ross
Floyd’s family members also pleaded for pursuing justice peacefully. “We thank protesters for joining us in standing for justice, [but] we also cannot sink to the level of our oppressors, and we cannot endanger each other as we respond to the necessary urge to raise our voices in unison and outrage.”
One American Pastor who serves in an African American community wrote to me that earlier this week he was very anxious and not very hopeful about the church’s ability to overcome the tribalism of Babel in such times. But then the truth of Pentecost came to his mind.
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.John 16:13
Our great need in this situation is to know the Truth of our current moment. It’s not black truth or white truth but the truth of the Gospel. This is the only Truth that will move us forward together in justice and love.
May the almighty Spirit of Jesus Christ lead us to the Truth that conquers all our prejudice, racism, hatred, violence, despair, indifference and cynicism.
May the blood of Jesus cleanse us from all our sin and use us to build a community of faith which, like Big Floyd, urges people to replace their guns with Jesus, pride with humility, and hatred with love.
As Floyd’s life was ‘Big’ may his death also be ‘Big’ in the way God can use it to shake us, break us, and remake us into a community which seeks and finds unity in Jesus Christ, the One Man for All Peoples.