Every one of us lives in a community, society and country that is racist
I spend many hours each day working on my computer, often during this time on zoom meetings. So in the past couple months I have been less interested in watching tv, too much screen time. Because of that, I get my news from the paper, which means at least the next day, if not even later. I did not hear at first of the news from Minneapolis, the news that George Floyd had been killed by a police officer kneeling on his neck, kneeling there for close to 9 minutes as George Floyd cried out that he could not breath, kneeling on his neck as George Floyd stopped asking for breath and became still. Kneeling there as bystanders pleaded with him to stop and instead he simply continued, looking complete at peace with what he was doing. It was a horrific action to see, and we only are seeing it because it was taped, and shared, and now all can see for themselves those long minutes of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer kneeling on his neck.
George Floyd was black, the police officer white. Immediately people started to say that George Floyd had been stopped by the police because he was suspected of a crime, and he had resisted arrest. Immediately people started to imply that what happened to him was his own fault. Not all people of course. The police officers involved were promptly fired, the officer who killed him has been arrested, and law enforcement around the country have condemned the actions.
What we saw, in the killing of George Floyd, is yet one more example of the killing of black men at the hands of white men, that is so common. One more example of the racism that is embedded in the founding of this country, one more example of one of the original sins of this country. The sin that says that some people are fully human, and some are less, based solely on the color of their skin. The sin of this country that says some are worthy and some are not, based solely on the color of their skin. The sin of this country which says some are allowed to enter and some are not, based solely on the color of their skin. The sin of this land which says that the descendants of immigrants from Northern Europe are privileged over the descendants of all other immigrants. The sin of this country which says that the First Nations of this land have no claim on this land.
When I was a child, on Sunday mornings as I knelt for the general confession I would stubbornly think to myself, "Why do I have to confess, I haven't broken any of the commandments." That was the faith and understanding of a child, who thought about sin only as my own personal actions, and who failed to see the truth of my actions.
As I grew up in age and understanding I came to understand the reason why our general confession says "we confess," not "I". We say "we believe," "we rejoice," "we pray". In our faith we acknowledge, we learn, that we are not simply individuals living autonomous lives, we are part of a community of the whole, responsible to and accountable for the community.
The sin of the community is my sin as well. The first step in repentance is acknowledging that sin. Some who hear this might reject the idea that there is any sin, any responsibility for the acts of others. Some who hear this might think "but I do not act in that way, I am not a racist." Some who hear this might think "but what about black on black violence," as if that excuses what has happened.
Every one of us lives in a community, a society, a country, that acts in that way, that is racist. And if you are like me, if your skin is pale and your ancestors lived in Northern Europe, you too are called to look at what is happening and acknowledge the sin of this land, to say "most merciful God, we confess to you..."
Some will see this as only a conflict between the police and African Americans. It is certainly true that you are more likely to be stopped, arrested, jailed if you are black than white. When we say that this is just about how the police act, we ignore the fact that law enforcement is a reflection of our society as a whole.
We cannot simply say that this is a police violence issue and then feel good about ourselves. We are called to look at what type of society brings about these actions and allows them to continue.
When I worship, I kneel. I kneel in prayer. I kneel in humility. I kneel to confess. I kneel to my God. What was the god that the officer was kneeling to as he knelt on the neck of George Floyd until his breath left him? As a follower of Jesus, I claim that there is only one God, and it cannot be the false god of white supremacy, racism, and violence.
Are we willing to work for the day when the killing of black men is considered an aberration and not the norm? Are we willing to speak up against all forms of racial oppression and violence? Are we willing to acknowledge our own complicity and sin in this oppression and violence?
What God do we kneel to? My brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ, let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor. Let us change this country! Amen.
Gretchen Rehberg - Bishop Episcopal Diocese of Spokane - May 31
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2020