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Personal From the President: May 27, 2021

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Personal From the President

May 27, 2021

Minneapolis a year later—seeing the Light

As I write, one year has elapsed since the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury trial on April 20. Millions of Americans watched that trial, including the shocking video of Floyd pleading for his life as then-officer Chauvin bore down on Floyd’s neck for a terrible nine and a half minutes.

A maelstrom of outrage and riots exploded in this country and around the world when the video first aired on mainstream media. In a special report this week (economist.com/special-report/2021-05-22) the British Economist magazine noted Floyd’s public death “sparked the biggest civil rights protests in America’s history. Some 20 million Americans took part, flouting COVID-19 restrictions.” Now, violence boiled over anew on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, as gunshots rang out at the scene of his memorial in Minneapolis.

On the positive side, Floyd’s public murder spawned numerous efforts to address racism and other societal ills. The Economist makes a profound point: “Racism remains a curse in America . . . But since it is lodged in bigoted minds, rooting it out is largely beyond the power of any government” (emphasis added throughout).

As we today reflect on all the disruptions of the past year, here are two important questions: What should we as Christians be thinking and, more importantly, how should we be acting and reacting?

I hold a special interest in the Minneapolis region. This is where I grew up. In my mind and heart, it is still home to me. This is where I attended my first service of the Church of God in 1965. We met at now long-demolished Laidlaw Hall near Lake Street in South Minneapolis, which is a mere two miles from the Powderhorn Park area where George Floyd died.

After I was ordained into Christ’s ministry, my connection with Minneapolis continued. Over a period of 11 years, I served members living in the Twin Cities in three different assignments. As an elder, I regularly visited our members and prospective members in South Minneapolis in the area that has become notorious.

The heart of this area is Lake Street, a street that burned out of control in rioting after the death of George Floyd. Seeing the familiar scenes of burned-out buildings on the news affected me deeply and brought forward a profound yearning for the coming Kingdom of God. I still relate personally to that region. The relationships I formed during that time run deep to this very day. For years, Minneapolis served as a haven for the resettlement of many different refugees, many of whom settled in the Lake Street area. Having been a refugee myself, I sympathized with displaced people who found a new home.

In the 1980s, our Church membership included numerous African Americans and their families. We formed warm relations. For me, the 1970s and 1980s in Minnesota were years I remember fondly in my ministerial career.

I know I would have been shocked if I had a future glimpse of the violence that would engulf the area some 30 years later. It’s still hard to fathom what happened to these familiar neighborhoods.

How should we think and reflect on current trends as disciples of Jesus Christ?

As a spiritual assembly, we are in unity with the Bible when we condemn racism. As individual disciples, we know that all humans are created equal and all will have the marvelous opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life through grace, without regard to ancestry. As Paul writes, both in the coming Kingdom and in the Church of God today, there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11 Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
American King James Version×
).

Paul explains further: “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-14 Ephesians 2:13-14 [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version).

What are we to be?

We are to be light-bearers. Our example, our behavior, which springs from our thoughts, should bear a living witness to God’s way of life. Let’s not curse the darkness. That is futile. You cannot fight darkness with darkness, but only with light.

Consider the apostle John’s words: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6 1 John 1:5-6 [5] This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
American King James Version×
).

As disciples, we must be sensitive to what people are going through, regardless of race or origin. About a month ago, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, an African American from South Carolina, related to the American people what discrimination feels like. Even as a U.S. Senator, he has experienced hurtful intolerance.

During that speech, he said this: “The real story is always redemption. I am standing here because my mom has prayed me through some very tough times. I believe our nation has succeeded the same way. Because generations of Americans, in our own ways, have asked for grace—and God has supplied it.”

We do not demonstrate strength through bellicose, cocky, strident language. We in the Church of God should be demonstrating spiritual strength through our acts—the very power of Jesus Christ living His life in us and shining it to others. And, make no mistake, it is needed now more than ever as we face further final chapters in the demise of civilization.

Do we act kindly toward all? Do we go out of our way to offer opportunity to all? Do we reflect the marvelous grace that we have been given? As designated light bearers, are we in fact fulfilling what Jesus Christ said of our responsibility? Are we truly a light to the world, a highly visible city on a high hill (Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
American King James Version×
)? Do we daily ask God to pour out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5 Romans 5:5And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
American King James Version×
)?

Each day God will give us opportunities to demonstrate His way of life, to our families, our friends, our co-workers and to the world. Our personal example is a critical and vital part of our commission to preach the gospel! When people see God’s way of love being actively demonstrated—especially when it’s done at inconvenient times when we ourselves may be stressed—the words of the Bible suddenly become authentic and living!

With all of this as a backdrop, I invite you to listen (or re-listen) to two of my podcasts that address this current topic. They are The Church of God and Race ucg.org/inside-united-podcast/inside-united-podcast-204-robert-baucom-the-church-of-god-and-race, and the Christian Perspective on Race (Dan Preston and Ernest Grier) ucg.org/inside-united-podcast/inside-united-podcast-195-dan-preston-and-ernest-grier-christian-perspective-on-race.

You may also want to read my July 2020 Beyond Today article “Is There is a Better Way?” ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-magazine/is-there-a-better-way that describes what happened shortly after George Floyd’s death.

Let’s remember these words of Paul and fulfill them: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16 Philippians 2:14-16 [14] Do all things without murmurings and disputings: [15] That you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the middle of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world; [16] Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.
American King James Version×
, ESV).

God Himself is love (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
American King James Version×
). God defines and manifests this incomparable quality. As we live our daily lives, let us rededicate ourselves to “be imitators of God and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2 [1] Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; [2] And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).