Churches amplify urgent calls to address violent racism in US

The Racial Justice Accompaniment Visit in 2016 to the USA was a continuation of the WCCs long history of racial justice work. Photo: WCC

As protests erupted in more than 30 cities across the US in the wake of the death of George Floyd, churches in the US collectively expressed anger combined with a clarion call for a change—once and for all—in a nation that has tolerated violent racism for too long.

The National Council of Churches USA called the killing an outrage. “There is still no vaccine for the racism and white supremacy that is so pervasive in our society,” reads a statement. “There is still no cure.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America listed the names of some of the black Americans recently murdered. “Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon (Sean) Reed, and George Floyd were our neighbors,” said the church’s statement. “We grieve with, pray for and stand in solidarity with the families and friends of all whose loved ones have been and continue to be victims of injustices run amok, racist violence and the insidious venom of white supremacy.”

Dr C. Jeff Woods, interim general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA published a letter centered around racial justice. “Acts of current racial injustice as well as the effects of historic racial injustices have been brought into the light in recent weeks as we recognize that African-Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” he wrote. “In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control found that 45% of individuals for whom race or ethnicity data was available were white, compared to 55% of individuals in the surrounding community and that 33% of hospitalized patients were black compared to 18% in the community.”

Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos of the Northeast American Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church expressed grief at the tragic death of Floyd. “His death is met with a great sense of outrage, and anger, by all who love justice,” wrote Nicholovos. “May we all become vehicles to convert our brothers and sisters to the knowledge of love, compassion, and justice.”

Rev. Dr J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), in a video message, uttered the names Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd.

“Maybe you have heard these names,” he said. “If not, they are individuals who are African American who have been killed by bigotry and hate.”

The Hispanic/Latinx National Caucus of the Presbyterian Church (USA) specifically named Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“While people of color of all persuasions have suffered and continue to suffer violence, ignominy and systemic discrimination, the history of violence against black people in this country remains the most egregious example of white privilege and supremacy, perpetuating the mortal national sins of slavery and Jim Crow laws,” the caucus stated. “The murders of unarmed black people by the police in recent years reflect those dynamics.”

The national officers of the United Church of Christ published a statement entitled “Lynching Justice in America,” in which they point out that George Floyd was lynched on the streets of Minneapolis with the knee of an officer who needed no noose. “As comrades looked on, reminiscent of the public lynchings of the past, George Floyd pleaded for breath for over 5 minutes as the callous, vigilante actions of four officers hooded in blue ignored his plea,” reads the statement. “The unrestrained white rage that stalked Colin Kaepernick ‘taking a knee’ on AstroTurf to protest violence against black bodies escapes this country’s watchful gaze as an authorized officer ‘takes a knee’ on the throat of a black man pinned to the asphalt.”

United Methodist Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, said there is more than one pandemic ravaging Minnesota and our country at this time.”In addition to fighting COVID-19, we are besieged by a pandemic of racism, white supremacy, and white on black or brown violence,” Ough wrote. “The pervasive culture of racism and white supremacy, increasingly incited by political rhetoric, grows each day.”

Lutheran World Federation general secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge expressed “grave concern” over racism and violence in the US. “Knowing that no words can sufficiently offer comfort, I would like to express my heart-felt sympathy and solidarity with the family of Mr Floyd,” wrote Junge. This violence “is a sign of brokenness and injustice that must be addressed urgently.”

US Catholic bishops said they are sickened by Floyd’s death. “What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences,” reads their statement. “This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”

The World Council of Churches also mentions conversion in its statement on 29 May, 2020. “There must be a conversion (metanoia), reflection, repentance and rejection of all forms of racism and racial discrimination, and a true and genuine acknowledgement of the equal God-given dignity and worth of every human being, regardless of colour or ethnicity,” reads the WCC text.