By Leonard E. Fairley
“What Started Out As A Peaceful Protest Turned Violent,” “Seven Shot in Louisville Demonstration Against Breonna Taylor’s Death,” “Chaotic Minneapolis Protests Spread Amid Emotional Calls For Justice, Peace,” “Protest Turns Violent!”
These are the headlines we’ve been waking up to lately. Like many of you, I read these headlines with a broken, devastated, and troubled heart, a heart that was already breaking due to the death of three people of color who should be alive – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
As an African American male, I felt these deaths on an intimate level because I know firsthand what the evil of racism feels and looks like. My heart wept at the sight of an effigy hanging right here in Kentucky: As an African American male, I felt the historic pain of countless brown- and black-skinned people hanging from lynching trees. My heart wept when an African American bird watcher suffered the threat of harm by having the police called on him. This list could go on and on.
We must not dishonor the memories of these souls by practicing the spirit of an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth. We must not dishonor their memories by causing more blood to run though our streets or the destruction of property to occur. These deaths deserve better.
My heart also weeps when protesting for right becomes the face of the very evil, injustice, and oppression it tries to eliminate and call attention to. It has, and will in the days ahead, become incumbent on all of us to nonviolently work toward driving from our communities, nation, and world the hatred, violence, and injustice, caused by racism or any other “ism” that fosters prejudice and oppression.
In our heart of hearts, we know none of these evils are from God. We as Christian disciples of Jesus Christ shouldn’t accept them as normal. We must together fight them with hearts and actions of peace, not war.
I acknowledge that much of the protesting comes from pent-up frustration and disappointment. We have a right to be disappointed when a life is taken needlessly and unjustly. It is never easy to suffer injustice and not become bitter when you feel your only recourse is protest. “It is always right to protest for right,” Martin Luther King said.
However, protesting for right doesn’t mean we replace one violent act for another. Violence is a vicious cycle that leaves only victims. Again, we cannot allow our protesting for right to simply become another face of the wrong or injustice we’re protesting. We cannot live by trading one form of bitterness and violence for another. Hatred, vitriolic words, chants, or slogans are never the answer. Hatred, violence, and injustice are cycles that feed on each other. King also said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“I am weary from my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping.” – Psalm 31:9-10. Like the psalmist, we grow weary of all the violence, all the hatred, and all the polarization and division.
I think people have grown immune to voices that can write eloquent statements that come with a title and office such as a Bishop. One would expect me to respond. Yet how can I live into my role as Bishop and shepherd and remain silent? What we long for and must hear are the actions and voices of passionate, spiritual disciples who have a desire to do right – a desire to do God’s will as we pray, “deliver us from evil.” We long for voices of people who have never spoken out against anything and would never dare join a protest or write a political statement or get lost in social media battles.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is happening in our world, our communities, and our nation goes far beyond politics or labels. Christian people of goodwill must find their voices or we will continue to fall deeper into this darkness. Somehow our voices of hope, peace, love, and kindness must rise from the ashes and help swing this pendulum toward what the Lord requires of all of us who dare call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Somehow the spirit of Jesus that lives in you must rise up in all humility and proclaim in his name: Enough is enough. “Come, Lord Jesus, come” and show us how to live with each other, reminding us that there is a more excellent way.
I have little left but grief and heartache. Yet, with every ounce of my one hope, I pray we will learn that all cops are not bad, all black men are not thugs, and racism is a disease that must be admitted before it can be cured.
I appeal to the Christian conscience of every passionate, spiritual disciple and sisters and brothers in Christ to join my spirit and say, “Not like this!” Stop the police killings. Stop the racism. Stop the divisive and vitriolic language. Stop the injustice. Stop the destructive protest. Protest we must, but not like this.
Let us rise up and tell the world, the nation, every perpetrator spreading injustice, every perpetrator spreading hatred, death, and violence, that this is not the way. There is still a more excellent way to rise up and tell this divided world and nation that his name is Jesus, bringer of peace and healer with the power of reconciliation and redemptive sacrificial agape (love), as the only true light in darkness.
Help us to remember in these dark days, as King said, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”
“Be gracious to [us], O Lord, for [we are] in distress; [our] eyes waste away with grief, [our] soul and body also” (Psalm 31:9).
Leonard E. Fairley is the episcopal leader of the Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. This statement was issued by Bishop Fairley on May 30, 2020, and is reprinted here by permission.