George Floyd, Racism, and Grieving with Those Who Grieve

Last Tuesday afternoon, one of Clear Creek Community Church’s pastors informed our Executive Team of the developing news concerning a man named George Floyd. According to a bystander video, Mr. Floyd, a native Houstonian, died as a result of treatment by some Minnesota police officers. The next day gave way to further details of the tragedy. I was heartbroken and posted to my social media accounts:

Grieving with our fellow black Americans who feel like this is the same horrible, deflating, despairing song that’s still stuck on repeat. Grateful for a better kingdom that comes. Come quickly. #GeorgeFloyd

In 2017, Clear Creek did a sermon series on race and racism where, on one of those Sundays, we spent time listening to a panel of four black pastors who shared their experiences of racism in America. It was an eye-opening, sobering, and needed conversation for the people of our church to be a part of. Since then we have preached other messages with applications addressing the sin of racism, but nothing has stood out to me as much as listening to those friends share their stories of heartbreak, despair, and disenfranchisement (as well as their hopes for the future).

I needed those voices.

Their experiences of racism, which they confirmed were generally the rule instead of the exception, are ones for which I have no personal context. I have never had rocks hurled into the windows of my childhood home with messages of hate attached to them. I have never been detained by authorities with weapons drawn as I was simply retrieving something from my car trunk. I never had families quickly scatter to the other side of the street when they saw me walking toward them going to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Once again, my black friends patiently remind me that this is par for the course for those in the black community.[1]

That’s why when the recent events of Ahmaud Aubrey and now George Floyd occur, the emotional dam breaks and all the pain and sorrow flows once again from people of color. It’s not just about the details of one event or another but what they represent: the relentless injustice of what daily life in America feels like for the black community.

My social media feed was a cascade from my black friends of sorrow, anger, and cries of “How long, O Lord? How long?”

How long will a people endure injustice? How long can followers of Jesus outside the black community be inattentive to the cries of their Christian brothers and sisters of color within it? How long will it be until believers live out the kingdom of the gospel as it respects race regardless of what it costs them politically, relationally, socially, or financially? 

There are many places to learn how followers of Jesus can better live out the gospel as it concerns race. I encourage you to figure out which steps the Spirit might lead you to better love your neighbor in this endeavor. A good place to start is by simply grieving with those who grieve (Rom. 12:15). Add your voice of support to the despairing masses who feel the crushing sorrow of what feels like another brutal, gut-wrenching reminder that things are not the way they are supposed to be. It could be as simple as dialoging with your friends of color about how they are doing and how you can love them well.

We, the leadership of Clear Creek Community Church, grieve with our black brothers and sisters within our church and also our black friends outside it. We hope that swiftly there comes a day where the stories of hatred and brutality come to an end, and we also hope Clear Creek Community Church can be a partner toward that end as it glorifies the kingdom and King Jesus who brings it.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16

[1] I use the term “Black community” instead of “African American community” because of some conversations with my black friends who believe the former term to be an inaccurate descriptor of the origins for many black Americans today.

*I wanted to write this because Clear Creek recorded the elements for the May 31st service before the events of George Floyd had come to the surface nationally. Because of this, we intentionally addressed the racial tensions of the nation in our pre-service “lobby time” Sunday morning. However, those who didn’t participate in that time would likely think we went the entire day without addressing this important, national issue. We did not, have not and, God-willing, will not.


Imago Dei: Beyond Dignity

Throughout history, the church has been called to be the champion of the vulnerable, the weak, and the persecuted.

This call for justice — whether to fight racial discrimination, defend the lives of the unborn, or end human trafficking — is an appeal to see every human being through the eyes of the Christian narrative which proclaims mankind’s creation in the image of God, or imago dei.

This truth is the foundation for all human rights.

All people have inherent dignity (i.e. are valuable) not because of any aspect of their lives or circumstance, but because they bear the image of God. Although human dignity found within the imago dei is often enough to convince people to avoid harming others, it does not always move us towards active love. In order to move towards the empathy, sacrifice, and desire for justice we are called to as God’s people, we have to understand the depth of what it means to be made in God’s image. It can be easy to downplay the significance of the imago dei, but it isn’t merely a reason to value others. The Bible tells us:

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

In the beginning, men and women were created by God to reflect his character and represent him in this world, but because of the Fall, this image was corrupted. Humans no longer reflected the character of God to each other as intended. Instead, men and women set up their own rules and ways of life, harming one another and persecuting the vulnerable, no longer loving and ruling as God had ordained.

Even the nation of Israel, the Old Testament people of God, did not reflect the love of God toward each other, despite continual commands from God to seek justice and protect the weak. We just cannot live and love as God created us to on our own.

But, a Savior has come in whom we see the true and perfect imago dei.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus, fully God and fully man, shows us what the image of God really looks like: loving the lost, protecting the vulnerable, and sacrificing for others — even unto death. And, because of Jesus, by the grace of God, we can now walk in newness of life. Through faith in Christ, we are freed from the power of sin and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, to reflect the image of God, loving and living as Jesus.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28)

Imago dei requires us to view all people as having inherent value and dignity. However, the imago dei is not only descriptive, it is prescriptive.

Image-bearing is not just a title, it is a calling.

We — those walking in the footsteps of Jesus — defend the rights of the unborn because every life is valuable. We should also care for orphans because we are representatives of God in his kingdom. We — the church — refuse to persecute the vulnerable because every person bears God’s image and has inherent dignity. We should also protect and love the persecuted, because as we are conformed into the image of the Son, we reflect his compassion and sacrifice.

One day, Jesus will return and make all things new: a restored world and perfect justice for all.

He will.

We rest in this certainty.

Until then, we live in the already and not yet, where there is uncertainty, injustice, and suffering.

Let’s remember that we were created in the image of God – a description of all people, and a call to Christians to be conformed into the likeness and love of our Savior,

Let’s spend less time creating our own rules and ways of life, and focus on reflecting to others a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like: peace, love, unity, and justice.

Let’s cling to Jesus.