Culture

As long as we can breathe, we cannot stay silent

by Edric Sng // June 3, 2020, 5:52 pm

RESPONSE TO US PROTEST 3

We have gotten calls to respond to the ongoing race-related protests in America. It’s so difficult to comment on because of the deep-seated emotions and sensitivities attached to the issue. It’s a minefield, and every comment is potentially incendiary.

But silence can be just as dangerous, if not more so. Silence suggests either apathy or unvocalised assent. Ezekiel 3:18 and Ezekiel 33:8 warn us against silence in the face of wrongdoing.

Singapore is not without history on this front, though thankfully it’s not seen widespread violence since the race riots of 1964. But there is a casual, everyday, racial stereotyping/profiling which can inform our interactions. For example, when you see a headline on the crime pages, do you immediately assume certain crimes are more likely to be committed by people of a certain race? 

It feels harmless – normal even – but if you take that thread of thinking, fail to address it and over the generations incubate and systemically empower it, eventually, what happened to George Floyd could happen here as well.

We are called to speak Shalom on the land. I fear sometimes our words and actions instead bring shame to our Lord. 

We already see it to some degree here with our migrant worker population.

When the first reports surfaced of widespread COVID-19 cases in guest worker dorms, some Christians on my Facebook feeds were very outspoken – not in their mercy and compassion towards the workers, but in their fear that Singaporean local households would be exposed to the coronavirus due to relationships between workers and foreign domestic helpers. Lock them up! Send them home! What are you doing, Gahmen?!

… I could barely even type that paragraph. Rather than see the very real threat being posed to a group of fearful humans just here trying to make a living, some people – self-professed believers – chose to give voice to their basest instincts, plumbing every negative racial stereotype to feed their fears. Just as culpable were the chorus of echoing ayes to those comments, the mob given voice, awakened and emboldened.

We are called to speak Shalom on the land. I fear sometimes our words and actions instead bring shame to our Lord. 

Entitled. Privileged. Selfish. Heartless. Christian.

“I UNDERSTAND YOU’RE UPSET”

The problem with the George Floyd situation is the segment which has reacted to the injustice in a manner that has eclipsed and discredited the validity of the protests (the majority of which has been heartfelt and peaceful). But when it spills over into violence – because wasn’t an act of violence what they were protesting? – and becomes a gateway to unrelated acts of criminality, that’s heaping transgression upon transgression, an eye for an eye.

Injustice is worth fighting for.

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)

However:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. (Romans 12:19)

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. (1 Peter 3:9)

The conduct of the police towards Floyd: Reprehensible. The violence and the looting that followed: Inexcusable.

I could find very little edifying or redemptive about the situation. Until I saw this – the most powerful 2 minutes I have seen on video this year.

Terrence Floyd, Brother of George Floyd: 'Let's Do This Another Way'

Watch: “Let's do this another way.” Terrence Floyd, brother of George Floyd, speaks in Minneapolis

Posted by TIME on Monday, 1 June 2020

 

In case you can’t see the video, this is Terrence Floyd, George’s younger brother, visiting for the first time the very same road intersection in Minneapolis where his brother died days ago. He was so emotional he needed people standing at either side to keep him from falling, according to NBC News.

This is what he told the crowd of protesters there:

“I understand you’re upset. I doubt y’all are half as upset as I am,” said Terrence, whose face mask bore his brother’s image and the words, We can’t breathe.

“So let’s do this another way … let’s do this peacefully.”

“But if I’m not over here wildin’ out (going wild), if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community — then what are y’all doing? Nothing (useful), because that’s not going to bring my brother back at all.”

“My family is a peaceful family. My family is God-fearing,”

Said Terrence, urging protesters to use their vote to effect change: “So let’s do this another way … let’s do this peacefully.”

He then lead the crowd in a chant of, “Peace on the left and justice on the right.”

In every line, this man in his moment of greatest despair preached words that reflected the heart of the God whom he fears. Hear the echoes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) in his every line.

TERRENCE FLOYD AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

“WHAT ARE Y’ALL DOING?”

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

In Matthew 5:22, Jesus taught that even those with inner thoughts of anger – let alone act upon them – are answerable to the judge. What are y’all doing? Do you really want to be in danger of the fire of hell?

Then in Matthew 7:3, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of those protesting the offences of others. What are y’all doing? You can find fault in others, but can’t you see the error of our own ways?

“LET’S DO THIS ANOTHER WAY”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

When someone does you evil, don’t repay evil with evil. Bad + Bad ≠ Good.

In fact, go the extra mile. With that much anger and hatred in them, they don’t need to be hurt, they need help. Pray for them. Love them. Let’s aim for the perfect response befitting of our heavenly Father, not our natural, carnal response.

In other words: Let’s do this another way – let’s try responding to evil with love.

“PEACE ON THE LEFT, JUSTICE ON THE RIGHT”

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” (Matthew 5:25)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:8)

These two streams must flow in parallel. Peace without justice is permissiveness – silence in the face of sin. Justice without peace is the motto of the vigilante, who in his thirst for blood becomes as guilty as the original offender.

Our focus should not be on taking someone to court and getting vengeance or recompense. Our focus should be to seek a loving conclusion in any conflict. Think of how Holy God resolved the problem with unholiness: He sent His Son Jesus to die to atone for the sin of all who would believe.

What Terrence Floyd was saying was: Peace on the left, justice on the right, Children of God reflecting the character of a God who represents both peace and justice.

DON’T LET THIS BE SOME OTHER COUNTRY’S PROBLEM

Everyone is culpable.

The policemen whose apparent racial bias cost a life – and George Floyd was hardly the first such victim. Even his words, “I can’t breathe”, echoed those of Eric Garner, another victim of police brutality in 2014.

Those among the protesters whose indignation has escalated to looting violence against police.

Those who stay silent, for choosing indifference over injustice.

And society at large, for institutionalising systems and norms that oppress minorities and foreigners.

Everyone is culpable, because everyone is fallen. But this is no new revelation to those of us who read the Bible; in fact it should be our starting point in approaching the human psyche.

An unlikely peacemaker in Terrence Floyd, who had every reason to choose the path of anger, instead pointed us to the words of the Preacher on the Mount.

The good news is: God knew this, too. From heaven above, He grieved the sinful nature of man – What are y’all doing? – and said, let’s do this another way. Jesus, Prince of Peace who will return as Judge, is that Way.

So many lessons in this still-unfolding situation, so much self-examination needed as a society, even here in Singapore, where we don’t have a George Floyd incident but we have parallels, like how we view migrant workers or our everyday profiling of minority races.

Thankfully, as we grapple with the way forward, an unlikely peacemaker in Terrence Floyd, who had every reason to choose the path of anger, instead pointed us to the words of the Preacher on the Mount.

As Jesus Himself showed, the death of a man doesn’t have to be the end of hope; it can open up a pathway to righteousness. If only we would stop, breathe, and ask God to show us:

  • Where we can do better in our treatment of our fellow man
  • Where we have been silent and indifferent, when we should have spoken up
  • Whether our response to injustice is righteous or self-righteous
  • What the Church of believers can do to lead the way in fighting discrimination and breaking down strongholds of systemic oppression

One George Floyd anywhere on this Earth is one too many, and yet it happens again and again. Let’s do this another way.

About the author

Edric Sng

Edric has spent a lifetime in mainstream and digital newsrooms, and has the waistline to prove it. He is a lapsed divemaster, a father to four and husband to one. Could use more sleep.