The Good Samaritan and “Wokeness”

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Let’s talk about “wokeness” and the bible. When the teacher of the law asks Jesus “who is (εστιν) my neighbor?” in the well known parable of the Good Samartian (Luke 10: 25-37), we could talk at length about the social/power dynamics, or religious and ethnic discrimination, but before we get to that, let’s look at the end. Jesus changes the question in typical Midrash style and asks the teacher, “Who became the neighbor?” He doesn’t use the same verb as the teacher (εστιν), but uses the much more active verb of being (γινομαι) (here in the perfect γεγονεναι).

This changes the understanding of the command to “love thy neighbor” away from the neighborliness of obligation that is either individualistic (Kantian/Lockean) or even one with the clear demarcation of society as in Hegel’s Sittlichkeit–which focuses ethics to be in primarily in a societal realm. By changing the question of “who is my neighbor,” which implies reciprocity and societal rules/order, to “who became the neighbor” Jesus is subverting societal expectation and the very concept of individual/personal “rights.”

Now going back to Jesus’s decision to make a Samaritan his primary hero, we can see that this no mere tokenism. It is integral to the broader point that Jesus is making to the Jewish teacher of the law that the one who becomes the neighbor be a Samaritan. I’m sure you are aware of the racial implications of the “good Samaritan.” The Cottonpatch version did a good job communicating this to white Southerners in the 1960s by changing the story to the parable of the “Good Negro” (not so subtly calling out their racism). What is less well known, is the religious minority status Samaritans held among Jews. Samaritans were descendants of Northern tribes of Israel who were left by the Assyrians as too old/weak/poor to bother with and who married/had children with others from the Assryian empire.

They had already changed the worship of YHWH (see John 4) and altered it further by blending together their ancient Yahwehism with other Ancient Near East cultures. Thus Samaritan religion had some similarities with Jewish religion, but was not “pure.” They used similar terminology, claimed to worship the same God, but most Jewish people did not think that was true. A near contemporary parallel to the Jewish relationship religiously with the Samaritans for the Modern American/Western European would be a Christian in relation to a practitioner of Islam (a Muslim).

So, going back to the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable, before Jesus tells the teacher to emulate the ethnic and religious minority, how do we set that in our contemporary context? There is a subtle draw to adopt a modernist ethics pervasive in the Church today. While we are told to beware the dangers of “postmodernism,” ethically, philosophically, and theologically, the real danger to the Christian message as presented in the bible and throughout most of its history is found in modernism.

Modernist Ethics seeks to ground the authority for ethics in reason alone. It acts in terms of clear cut rules for what is and is not acceptable and believes these are arrived at through universal reason. It may vest that authority in something else, like the bible. It justifies doing so because that authoritative text is proven trustworthy. So a modernist Christian will accept the bible is the source for ethics because it is true. It is true because it is verified as such from the experiences of many, coherence to historical fact, scientific truths, etc.

This is behind the obsession with proving a Young Earth Creationist view of the world, insisting that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, not a whale, or that the Mustard seed is in fact the smallest seed. These types of concerns are modernist ones that fail to grasp history or differences of language in translation (especially of ancient texts). The bible, for its part, is not concerned with these modernist notions. That’s not to say modernism is always bad, just foreign to the world and concerns of the Bible. So we should not necessarily be surprised when the biblical worldview is conflict with the modernist one. Nor should we try quite to hard to conform the Bible to our Modernist sensibilities.

The fear of “woke-ism,” too, is a modernist one. It is a fear that we cannot readily identify the boundaries of which group is where. Critical Theories (CT) like Critical Race Theory (CRT) are extensions out of modernism, but are not bound within modernism. Integral to CT and cRT work is challenging the prevailing narrative as (for instance with CRT) too white-centric or too male dominant, etc. CRT challenges the modern categories of race as artificial, and demands we listen to the story of others and take them at face value, at least initially, prior to making judgment.

CTs are not completely anti-modern, though, as they tend to back up claims with a methodology that incorporates hard data and statistics, often focused on economic realities, but other metrics as well. Still, they challenge the idea that everyone fits into neat boxes.This is especially true when one begins to discuss Intersectionality or “Identity politics.” It subverts the clear cut narratives. On the one hand, the fear is understandable. If I can’t clearly define exactly what the rules are, I might unintentionally break them.

The reality is much more complicated, though. There are no rules, at least not ones with clear cut boundaries as in modernist ethics (like you get with Kant and Hegel). This is uncomfortable. Returning to the parable of the good Samaritan, then, we see this play out. Jesus asks the teacher of the law “who became the neighbor?” This implies first, that while each act and incidence might be self-contained, “neighbor-ness” is not a permanent status, but a goal to be striven after, over and over again.

Second, the boundary for who this includes is beyond the scope of what we would normally consider. By all accounts, the Levite, the priest, the other characters were the neighbor, but they did not *become* the neighbor. Only the Samaritan did. So the question this poses to us, then, is not “what are my (ethical) obligations?” But rather, “how can I demonstrate love, kindness, neighborliness today?” By making the conversation about maintaining the societal order and status quo, questioning the notion of “wokeness” as valid, opponents to CRT in the Church excuse themselves from asking the second and more difficult question. They excuse themselves from hearing, listening, or seeing the “other,” from seeing the one who “fell among bandits,” from understanding their own relationship to a society that creates bandits in the first place, or allows others to fall victim.

An obsession with dismissing “wokeness” makes for an easy life that is not concerned with loving the down-trodden, but instead with excusing one’s actions and justifying oneself. The dismissal of the work as “wokeness” accepts the goodness of the kingdoms “of this world” to the neglect of the Kingdom not “of this world” (εκ του κοσμου).


Critical Race Theory (in brief)

I apparently made a splash by confronting Owen Strachan about his use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a convenient bogey man for anything that made him uncomfortable. He uses the term, suggesting it will destroy the church, in a vague way (with how it destroys the church even more vaguely). So I asked him to define the term. I will admit I as a little snarky with the way I asked him, but this is not the first time he has used the term as a vague catch-all, and I had previously asked politely with no response. This time, I received a response rather quickly: I was blocked.

As I noted on Twitter, I am not bothered so much when anyone blocks me. I can be irritating. I know that about myself. I am bothered, though, that Strachan purports to be an academic and a public theologian. You can’t be those things without some thick skin. And if you are going to throw a term around, labeling it a massive threat, and condemning anyone who utilizes it, you better be able to say, with some precision, why. He can’t. In the interest of fairness, I decided to give a brief description of the term. Also in the interest of fairness, I wrote the following without any additional research. As someone who claims to use it, I thought it best to use simple recall to explain, because I thought that is a reasonable ask from someone in a public forum. Even if he were to respond by giving me a quick response that lacked some precision and then made the caveat that Twitter is insufficient to truly discuss it, that would have been an appropriate response. So in response I gave the following definition:

The rest of this is continuation of that thought

History and Nuance

Critical Race Theory (CRT) began in 1970s in Law Schools in the US as a way to explain why the gains made during the 1960s began to stop or stop having much of an impact. It is a Critical Theory in that it is grounded in sociology theory of Karl Marx. This does not mean it is necessarily communist, socialist or even (actually) Marxist. Marx argued that present conflicts were the result of material actions taken in history. That is, you cannot explain most disparities in societal treatment through appeals to God (only), genetics, or fate. Instead, people took real actions in history that resulted in the present disparities and conflicts that we observe today. This is not controversial. It is also a Critical Theory because it grounds its claims in quantifiable data. So CRT: a) acknowledges that there are real disparities and conflicts, b) uses data to show this, and c) argues that these disparities and conflicts are a result of historic actions. That’s what makes it a Critical Theory.

Some assumptions are built in here: 1) racism is real; 2) it’s a result of history and 3) we might be able to change it. In the course of its application, most Critical Race Theorists began to suggest that the reason relatively little progress has been made in Civil Rights since the 1960s is because racism had become enmeshed within the fabric of society, largely through certain key institutions. This is not to say that there are not racist individuals. Instead, it argues that the best way to address the disparate treatment of certain ethnic populations is to exam the institution/systemic racism, rather than only addressing the exist of White Supremacists. If, rather specific individuals being responsible, the continued unequal treatment of non-white ethnic groups was the result of systems/institutions, this also meant that non-racists or even non-white ethnic groups might be participating and incentivized to uphold systems and institutions that result in racist outcomes. Again, these are not imagined outcomes, but backed by data.

An Example

Let’s take, briefly, the example of policing that was highlighted this past summer. A Critical Race Theorist will examine instances of violent crime in predominantly white and Black neighborhoods (the existence of such “ghettoization” and its connection to redlining practices is another example of systemic racism), and notice immediately that police respond significantly faster and with more arrests when violent crime occurs in white neighborhoods than Black neighborhoods. However, they will also notice that non-violent crime arrests are substantively higher in Black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods.

Further they will find that police treatment of Black suspects vs white suspects reveals further disparities, with higher incidence of violence used on Black suspects than white suspects in apprehension regardless of the severity of the crime. Additionally, they can pull the sentencing disparity for convicted white offenders (lesser sentences) vs Black offenders (harsher sentences) for the same offences.

A CRT theorist will also look to the way that laws are passed which indicate disparate treatment. For instance, in the 1980s, crack cocaine, which was bought, sold and used more frequently in Black communities compared to white communities, had additional laws and significantly harsher sentencing guidelines than powder cocaine, despite the fact that they are essentially the same product, only ingested differently. Yet powder cocaine was much more common in white neighborhoods (one could demonstrate that powder cocaine was used at a higher rate in white communities than crack cocaine in Black communities). Both of them paled in comparison, at the time, to the heroin epidemic.

Historically, the practice of policing in the US is different from other parts of the world. In the US, policing has its roots in methods and practices not only in the principles of Robert Peele (from Britain), but also in officers tasked with finding and arresting runaway slaves. Further, police were used to enforce segregation, including in brutal attacks on non-violent protestors.

All of this would lead a Critical Race Theorist to conclude that the problem is not racist police officers or judges (though that may still be a problem), but rather than something about the justice system in America is fundamentally flawed that produces this disproportionate outcomes—outcomes that have ripple effects on the communities of these individuals, which are rooted in the historical development of that system. The result is that some sort of drastic change must take place.

This has led to 4 different calls with regard to policing (not a comprehensive list). The first is police reform: something needs to change within policing as it exists. The next is “defund the police,” which advocates in redistributing funds for police from simply not allowing police to buy military grade weaponry to reworking funding toward mental health and community services to the more extreme version that comprises the 3rd call: “abolish the police.” This suggests that policing in America is so fundamentally flawed that it needs to be stripped down entirely and reimagined as something else. The most extreme version of this is the 4th call the: ACAB movement. The ACAB movement suggests that any institution whereby one person operates as an agent of the state to enforce laws upon another as their fulltime occupation with result in all of those agents necessarily acting unjustly either because unjust/racist individuals are the type of person most drawn to those positions, or the level of authority vested in those institutions necessarily corrupts those people. It is important to note that these are not all the same people. These are discrete individuals and groups that often have their own heated disagreements between themselves, but they do agree one issue: something is wrong with the Criminal Justice system in the US.

“White Guilt”

CRT is useful because it presents hard data with an accompanying historical narrative that can act not only to demonstrate the problem of racism, but provide an explanation for its cause. Once both of those are demonstrated, advocates have a stronger position from which to argue for system change, whether in education, housing, the loss of inherited/generational/family wealth, etc.

Because of the historical narrative, it is evident that white Americans have historically been the primary driver of racial/ethnic disparities. It also becomes apparent that ethnic whites have a certain level of privilege that comes from these disparities. This is not saying that other privileges do not exist, nor is it saying that all white people are culpable for the current state of the world, these are mere statements of fact, not value judgements. A prima facia, naïve, and bad faith reading of CRT would suggest that “white guilt” is the expected response, but it is not. While it may be true that white people are not necessarily morally culpable for this state, white people, as those who are in a state of privilege do bear some responsibility to address the issue. Failure to recognize or own up to this responsibility could make one morally culpable, but there is some leeway here.

The Church

In a Church setting, some objections are to the idea that CRT is Marxist and therefore anti-Christian. I hope it is clear by this point that such is a bad faith reading of CRT. Many other objections are rooted in the idea that either: a) white culture/domination of culture is synonymous with the church, b) racism is not actually an issue/we’ve moved beyond it or c) changes to the current culture are upsetting to those who have (often unknowingly) benefited from the culture and they do not believe they bear responsibility to change it.

Most other objections are more or less permutations of these or a form of White Nationalism. One potentially valid objection is that Critical Race Theorists do not necessarily accept limits/bounds of authority over actions and activities. While in practice such boundaries would be unlikely have very much impact, it remains true that those who work in and for the Church do recognize the authority of Scripture and, potentially, the Church as having an authority that may act as a boundary to certain types of actions. Again, it is unlikely that this would result in materially different action other than to limit some of the most extreme applications of CRT. The way that most seminary professors, clergy, and churchwomen and churchmen employ CRT recognizes these other sources of authority.

My own application of CRT finds its most ready use in my Christian Ethics classroom. In particular, with deep seated roots in Black Theology and Liberation Theology, I make particular effort to engage with the voices of Black, Hispanic, Womanist, Mujerista, and other theologies when examining ethical topics. It also has an impact upon topic selection. We will discuss racial disparities in housing and policing when we discuss justice. We will talk about the role of civil disobedience a bit longer when discussing the relation of the Christian to the State. This does not mean I have bowed down to CRT. Rather, it means that, as a scholar, I have kept myself aware of trends and methodologies, examined their usefulness as appropriate. As a Christian and a Theologian, I look to see if they accord with Scripture and the actions of God in history. Clearly systemic sin and racism are issues addressed in Scripture. Just read the entirety of Ephesians (to those who say institutions/systems can’t be sinful, I invite you to consider the preface to the armor of God where Paul declares that “Our Battle is not against Flesh and Blood.”)

That’s a rundown, off the top of my head, of CRT: what it is, and why I use it. I hope this can be an example of sorts. I am by no means a CRT expert, nor anything approaching a sociologist. I do, however, bristle at anyone who declares a theory/method off limits, especially when the one making such a declaration cannot seem to articulate the specific reasons why such a declaration is made. The reason so many predominantly Black churches, Black pastors and teachers are leaving the SBC over its most recent declaration condemning CRT is not because they are all Marxist. It’s because, when present with a reasoned, evidenced based approach to use as one tool among others to address the actual problem of racism, the SBC seminary presidents (and many of their faculty) said that to even begin to address the issues of racism in the country, to even consider looking at things from a perspective that was not “white,” was tantamount to heresy. They didn’t even look at it, but listened to the ill-informed, bad faith readings of non-experts and took the word of these white men as gospel.

How We Got Here

Yesterday, January 6, 2021, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in a horrific attempt to install Donald Trump as a de facto fascist despot of America. Clearly it failed, but it did not do so comically. It went further than most thought possible, and the repercussions will be felt for years. It also isn’t over. It likely won’t be over for some time, if ever. These actions weren’t “unAmerican;” they are, tragically, exactly what America has always been. She hid away this side, but, emboldened by the rhetoric of Trump, this side of America, one that is much bigger than many of us would care to admit, felt empowered to come out. Yet, how we got here precedes Donald Trump. He is merely the latest step in what logically could have (and should have) been predicted by America’s unholy union of Church and State.


The seed for what happened in America dates back at least to the end of the nineteenth century. John Nelson Darby re-introduced the concept of “Premillennial” theology as part of his sweeping framework for biblical interpretation known as Dispensationalism. While Premillennial interpretations of the return of Christ date back to at least the second century Church (that Christ would come back visibly and then establish his 1000-year or millennial reign on earth), Darby’s interpretation was a little different. In addition to the “second coming,” Dispensationalist though also began to speak of a “secret coming” that was not as visible. The effects would be visible.

The “secret coming” that predates Christ’s second coming is loosely based on a passage in 1 Thessalonians describing how Jesus will come “like a thief in the night” and “we will be caught up in an instant.” This text, coupled with Darby’s particular reading of Revelation, led not only to the idea of a rapture and a great tribulation, but also to reading all of Revelation, after the letters to the churches, as a text exclusively describing future events.

The “beast” and the “anti-Christ” thus became synonymous with some individual who would trick non-believers (and possibly some believers) into following after him (usually a man) often with economic implications tied to the “mark” of the beast. This interpretation also started the obsession with supporting Zionism and many other tropes now prevalent in evangelical Christianity.

Suddenly, the world was a much more terrifying place. We are living at the cusp of the end times and must be ever vigilant for the “beast” and “anti-Christ” and careful we don’t accidentally accept his mark. Politics were no longer just politics, they were an extension of an unseen spiritual warfare that would culminate in the very real battle of Armageddon and very soon.

Americans did not rush immediately to Darby’s interpretation, but, at the beginning of the 20th century, Cyrus Scofield published a version of the King James Bible with his notes and headings added, making it one of the first study bibles. Since the format was relatively new, and Scofield had a matter of fact style of writing, many of those who purchased or received these early editions, read them unquestioningly. It was especially the premillennial dispensationalism, or apocalyptic prophecy, that held the attention of what comprised the fundamentalist movement in American churches in the early 20th century.


It is difficult to overstate how influential Fundamentalism was in the early days of the twentieth century. The doctrine that distinguished Fundamentalism in those early days was premillenial dispensationalism, but most Americans who were not part of the Church, especially those who were not part of the churches in the American South, first encountered Fundamentalism through the now famous “Scopes-Monkey Trial.”

While the teacher who taught evolution was found guilty, the radio broadcast of the trial made William Jennings Bryan, and with him the Fundamentalist movement, look like fools in the eyes of most Americans. However, because he claimed to stand for historic and unblemished biblical Christianity, many, especially in the South, lifted Jennings Bryan up as a hero. Clarence Darrow became the embodiment of the villain: well educated, well spoken, northern liberal.

William Jennings Bryan (Seated) and Clarence Darrow

The knock-on effect of this trial was a guarded mistrust of most scientific investigation and a sudden unease at any form of higher education because it had birthed the villain of Darrow. Scientists weren’t just presenting findings in a neat paradigm when they discussed evolutionary theory. To the contrary, in the minds of many, they are agents of Satan, part of the same spiritual warfare mentioned above, conspiring against Christianity and her city on a hill: America. Academics are perceived to be working a nefarious agenda to subvert Christian life through outright deceit. The Fundamentalist ideology of the mid-twentieth century has morphed into the core belief system for nearly all evangelicals. Today, this is the root of much of the anti-science and anti-vaccine rhetoric in many churches (couple the anti-science the fear of the mark of the beast and there is an even stronger anti-vaccine group).

Jesus Freak

In the 1990s, evangelicalism had created a full blown sub-culture complete with their own bookstores, TV shows/stations, movies, music and concerts, complete with kitschy clothing lines. This was created with the intent of sheltering children from the ugliness of the “secular” forces that sought to upend Christianity. At the heart of much of this, were the Christian “super-groups”: Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, and, in particular DC Talk.

One of the best selling Christian Albums of this era was “Jesus Freak.” It. Was. Everywhere. The album was so popular, not only did it make DC Talk known outside of the evangelical Christian subculture, it spawned books, other music groups, and a nationwide tour before sold-out crowds. The tour took over both churches and major concert venues alike. It was huge.

One of the more popular off-shoots was a republication of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, rebranded as “Jesus Freaks.” Christian radio stations frequently played clips of a DC Talk band member reading an historic martyr’s account, rebranding him a “real life Jesus Freak.” The message to the “youth” (church word for teenagers) of evangelical churches was clear: they, too, should seek after martrydom. The only problem was, it’s really hard to be a Christian martyr in an overwhelmingly Christian culture.

So the message was massaged just a little: to be a Christian, a real Christian, meant you must be persecuted. It was too hard or scary (or maybe their parents stopped them) for a teenager to leave and venture into an actually dangerous territory. Plus, even if you did, you were unlikely to be literally executed for your faith. So the response was that Christians need to find another way to signal to others that they were being persecuted.

Couple this with the now pervasive belief that the “secular” culture was trying to attack Christianity and the next logical leap is that Christians were being persecuted. Right here in America.

Persecution Complex

The result of romanticizing persecution was that evangelical Christians began to look for persecutions everywhere. The universities and their professors were out to get Christians and make them renounce faith. Politicians sought to marginalize the Christian voice. In response evangelicals sought out politicians on their side, accounting for the two terms of George W Bush. They saw persecution everywhere:

There was a “War on Christmas.” The sight of “X-mas” was meant to remove Christ from Christmas (ignoring the historic roots of the Chi Ro). Secular forces wanted to remove prayer in schools. Country Music began to play up the “traditional” values of God and Country in response. After 9/11 it was easy to see the religious warfare. The attackers hate me because I’m Christian and American. If you don’t fall over yourself for the flag, you hate America and thus hate Christ. America, as a whole, became the city on a hill. At the same time, secular centers within it, LA and New York, became the Babylon to fight against.

American evangelical Christians had found their persecution. The longer they bore that styrofoam cross, the more they craved its false splinters. The prophetic readings of Revelation weren’t enough. They went to other apocalyptic books: the book of Daniel and the exact future telling in Isaiah, where Isaiah declares Cyrus the Lord’s annointed. This was God’s political people, Israel, against the wicked nations. Into this milieu entered Donald Trump. Trump definitely played to this side that felt persecuted and marginalized. Evangelicals found in him the new Cyrus. He clearly wasn’t morally upright enough to be the righteous prophet. They looked to the theme of the old testament where God used ungodly kings to bring about his will.

They looked for those evil forces who would stand against him. Trump was America. If you disliked Trump you were unamerican. If you disliked Trump, you were working against God.

For many, if not most, of those who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, this was the beginning of Armageddon. They were engaged in a spiritual war, but one they could see. Trump had supported Israel, working to restore it to their Zionist vision. Trump had given voice to their deepest uncertainties. He was endorsed by their religious leaders. Voting for Trump was a religious act. Coming to the Capitol was a pilgrimage some took at great cost. Most of those who marched were not the wealthy (the wealthy need stability to keep their wealth and power), they were the everyday Joes. They had been given a taste of power by Trump; he had been their voice and he was in the Presidency and that was being taken away. This was a fight for the soul of the nation.

What happened on January 6 is the result of a long history. It should not be surprising. Horrifying, yes. Disheartening, absolutely. Terrifying, sure. Even shocking (because we are often shocked by things we nevertheless expect). But it was not surprising. It has been building to this point for well over a hundred years. What’s worse, this is the work of religious zealots. It’s not over, not by a long shot. The center of this group is emboldened, more than anything. They will try again. They are not afraid of death. This is a battle for their eternal soul, and the souls of the nation.

George Floyd

“They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods,
shedding innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters,
sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.”

Psalm 106: 37-39

On May 25, 2020, at 8:08pm, Minneapolis Police Officers J Alexendar Kueng and Thomas Lane receive a call about someone using a counterfeit $20 bill. Please note this is a non-violent crime, and it is difficult to know if Floyd was using the bills knowing they were counterfeit. The Officers find George Floyd in a car with two passengers. Upon George-Floyd-Wallpaperapproaching the car, Lane immediately points his gun at Floyd who puts his hands on the steering wheel. He is asked to get out of the car and he complies and, after being handcuffed behind his back, at their direction, sits on the ground. He is described, and seen in video, as calm.

At 8:14, the officers attempt to move Floyd to the back of a squad car. Floyd says he is very claustraphobic and wants to comply, but is having difficulty. He says he’s trying not resist, but can’t get into the back seat. At some point in the next few minutes, Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrive on the scene and force Floyd into the back of the squad car.

At 8:19, Chauvin forceably pulls Floyd out of the car, whereupon he falls, face first, into the pavement (because his hands are behind his back). While Keung holds onto Floyd’s back, Lane restrains Floyd’s legs. They consider using a “hobble restraint” but opt not to use it. Instead, Chauvin forces his left knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd begins to be more distressed, screaming “I can’t breathe” calling out “Mama please” and eventually says, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to die.”

By this point onlookers have gathered, and video is being taken. Chauvin’s response to Floyd’s pleas are “You are talking fine.” This indicating the (mistaken) belief that if someone can talk they get enough oxygen. Shortly after, Lane asks Chauvin if they should roll Floyd onto his side, to which Chauvin responds that he’s “staying put where we got him.”

At 8:24 Floyd’s “slight movements” slow and then stop altogether.

At 8:25, it becomes clear that Floyd is no longer breathing at all. Lane again asks for Floyd to be rolled onto his side, Chauvin does not respond. Keung checks for a pulse and https _cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_200604092316-02-george-floyd-police-mugshotscannot find one.

At 8:27, TWO MINUTES AFTER it was known he had no pulse, an ambulance arrives and then Chauvin removes his knee.

All four officers were fired. All four have since been charged. The Police union is actively opposing these actions and attempting to paint Floyd as a violent criminal of whom these officers were to be scared.

Breonna Taylor

“Do not shed innocent blood in the land which YHWH, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, lest the blood guilt be upon all of you”

Deuteronomy 19:10

On March 12, 2020, Breonna Taylor, an ER Tech and former EMT, went sleep in her bed next to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, in Louisville, Kentucky. In a different part of town, police secure two separate “no-knock” warrants. One for a somewhat well known location where drugs are passed around, and one for Taylor’s apartment, naming Taylor specifically. It is now clear that the second warrant was entirely a mistake.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Taylor and Walker were awakened by loud banging on their door. Both called out into the darkness, trying to ascertain what had happened, only to be met with silence. While the police dispute what happened next, the neighbors in the apartments surrounding Taylor’s seem to corroborate Kenneth Walker’s account. The13louisville-1-superJumbo-v2 police use a battering ram to break open the door, at which point Walker, who is a registered and licensed gun owner, and who had awakened to unidentified intruder’s breaking into the apartment after midnight, grabs his registered weapon and fires a single shot, that hits an one police officer in the thigh. Police return fire in what is described as “a hail of bullets” leaving Breonna Taylor dead, having been shot multiple times (“at least 8 times”), despite being completely unarmed and not even affiliated with the drug ring police were attempting to find. The apartment next door, where a pregnant mother with her 5 year old were, had multiple bullet fragments as did the upstairs apartment.

This happened on March 13, 2020. Originally, police claimed Walker had killed Breonna. When that did not match any of the evidence, they charged Walker with attempted murder of a police officer. The three officers who entered Taylor’s apartment have been placed on (paid) administrative leave. No charges have been filed. No state or local investigations have begun. One FBI investigation was recently announced, but expectations are low that anything will be done. No drugs were ever recovered from her apartment.

Ahmaud Arbery

“Their feet run to evil,
They are quick to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are thoughts of sin
Their highways are devastation and destruction.”

Isaiah 59:7

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery put on some workout clothes, and went for a run in Glynn County Georgia. According to those close to him, this was not unusual in the least. As someone who runs with frequency, I get it. Most, but perhaps not all, runners are creatures of habit. You have to have strong habits in order to train for anything. Whether it is preparing for a race, trying to lose weight, or just trying to be fit, you get up multiple times a week and run. You need that.

merlin_171704250_9351ea8c-9a44-4ed2-8057-50cbee202fcd-superJumboProbably because the aforementioned consistency can be so boring, runners on the whole tend to be curious. Most of us don’t like to run the same loop 20 times, every day, without change. So we will explore new routes. We’ll run through somewhat familiar territory, make little changes along the way. If we see something new or different, that curiosity takes over and we’ll often go an examine it.

This is why, as a runner, it was not at all surprising that Arbery would go to a home under construction, when no crews were there, to take a quick look around. A lot of it is human nature.

At some point later, at least two white men, one of whom was a former police officer and current (at the time) investigator for the police, George McMichael, along with his son, Travis, found out that a black man was running near their street. The McMichaels had their truck broken into not too long before this incident, but had no lead on who had committed the break-in. They grabbed their guns, jumped into a truck, and sought to find this black man, Ahmaud Arbery. At some point William “Roddie” Bryan was enlisted by the McMichaels to assist in detaining Arbery. It is unclear what their relationship was, or what let Bryan to assist them. The McMichaels’ original story was that they were attempting to detain Arbery because they believe he was responsible for a “string of burglaries” in the area. The only reported burglary had been the breaking into the McMichaels truck. They did not know (despite current claims) that Arbery had entered a construction site, nor were any of these individuals police.

The McMichaels and Bryan caught up to Arbery and these three men, two of them armed, in their vehicles, demanded that Arbery stop. Again, as a runner, it is terrifying enough running down a road when a car tries to pass you a little bit too closely (there’s so much extra road over there), that I can only begin to imagine what a black man, in Georgia, being chased by multiple vehicles, one with two armed white men demand I stop, would have thought. I’m sure he knew he was probably going to die the moment they told him to stop.

After unsuccessfully trying to get away, and being pinned by two vehicles (that were not afraid to drive off the street toward him), Arbery changed from flight to fight. As Travis McMichael ran out of his truck, gun pointed at him, Arbery fought back. It was likely his best (if incredibly slim) chance of survival. Travis McMichael shot him multiple times (not just once), then stood over his lifeless body and delcared “F****ng n****r.” It’s important to note that Michael’s lawyers do not dispute that he said that. They merely try to excuse it as part of the culture in the region (akin to saying “he can’t be racist if the whole culture is racist.”).

That happened on February 23. Multiple DAs refused to look into the case. For months, nothing happened. The crime could be seen on video. No one did anything. It was not until April that anything began to happen. Since then, and most especially since the George Bureau of Investigation took over, all three men have been arrested.

Why is this different?

“But your eyes and your heart are intent solely upon your own dishonest gain and on the shedding of innocent blood and on oppressing and extortion.”

-Jeremiah 22:17

To start, we need to see why this time at least feels different. It’s still too early to see if the current protests will result in any lasting change, but it could start something, and begin to move it forward. The protests at least feel different. So the first question many will ask is “why?”

This is not the first time a black man or woman has been killed. This is not the first time the person committing murder was a white police officer. This is not even the first time it has been caught on video. The death of Eric Garner was so eerily similar to that of George Floyd. He was approached by police for a non-violent crime and killed by asphyxiation (Garner’s and Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe” even became a battle cry both times). This is not even the first time such events have happened in such rapid succession. So what makes this different?

Part of it has to do with our news cycle. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, where everyone has ready access to instant video making and watching, together with the need for a 24 hour news cycle tailored to your particular interests, there has been an overflowing amount of news over the past few years. It is impossible to take it all in. Then, in March, the Coronavirus began to dominate the news. So much so that it drowned everything else out.

Further, as the world collectively began to shut down, it seemed to many that very little of note was occurring outside of the pandemic. The only thing that broke through all of that, it seems, were the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. While similar stories had happened in the past, and had even happened in rapid succession, this was the first time that, it seemed, there was little else to drown it out.

Beyond that, the ubiquity of mobile phone video, and how people have become more adapt at shooting live video with them, meant that responses to protests (which in many cases mirrored the same brutality the protesters had organized against) were widely

protesters holding signs

visible, fueling the protests rather than quashing them.

All of these factors coalesced to make this, at least for the moment, feel substantively different. God’s indictment against Israel for its oppression and extortion of the vulnerable seemed to suddenly be more applicable in America to so many people for the first time, while being a familiar refrain to others whose protest the first group joined.


Blood on our hands

An earlier version of this pay was mistakenly published early

Then YHWH said to Cain “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know” answered Cain, “Does my brother, the keeper of sheep, need a keeper?”

YHWH replied, “What have you done? Can’t you hear it? Your brother’s blood is screaming out to me from the ground!”

–Genesis 4:9-10

I’ve struggled to write this post. On the one hand, I’ve felt so inadequately placed to even begin to address the issues surrounding the most recent series of murders of Black men and women at the hands of current or former police officers: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I had originally planned to write about Ahmaud Arbery, and then the news of Breonna Taylor came out. I thought to write about what happened there and the challenge it presents the Church. Then the video of George Floyd being murdered before us by an officer of the state was posted.

I will not be posting that video here. It is shocking, it is uneasy, it is also far too common. A High School classmate of mine, who now teaches rhetoric, has spoken about the uneasy tension such videos have. On the one hand, people want to be informed, and they should know what’s happening. On the other, the history of public lynching in the US gives the viewing of the video an even darker tone than it had before. Make no mistake, when you saw the video, you saw a man being murdered. So what do we say to that?

I am not a black. I am an almost middle-aged, white man who grew up in the American Southwest. My college education was primarily in the American Southwest and South. As a result, I recognize I am ill-equipped to approach this topic. So I’ve been listening.

person s hands covered with blood

I’ve pointed people to other resources, to black authors, especially those in the Black Theology and Womanist Theology traditions. I’ll continue to do so (James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree should be required reading for whites in churches and Delores S Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness for all men). Before I get too far into this, I want to be clear: this is the perspective of one white man. I can only lisp where others, due to their education and experience, are better equipped to speak.

Despite this, I recognize that while it is tantamount that priority and preference be given to black voices above white voices like mine, it is also extremely important that I not be completely silent in these conversations. With that in mind, I will not be entirely silent. This is partly so people of color might know they are not standing alone. Whatever privilege I inherited by virtue of my birth and history, I hope to use in order to lift up black voices.

Also, I am still learning. I will never not be learning. I may falter and fall. But I won’t let fear of failure keep me from adding my voice to the voices of many others.

Above all else, I would hope my white friends would hear this: it is not enough to simply not be a racist.

You must move toward being anti-racist. That journey starts with listening, recognition and educating yourself. I hope to contribute to that process. I hope that, together, we might learn to listen.

As God declared to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me”. The implication is that Cain should be able to hear the blood cry out too, if only he tried to listen. By not listening, Cain continues to do violence to Abel. In the same way, even though we may not have performed an explicitly racist act, even though you were not the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, by not listening, by not letting the blood of the black saints cry out to you from the ground, you perpetuate the violence against them. All of those unjustly slain as part of system set up to keep them down. So I hope to acknowledge, on the one hand, the blood on my own hands, and to give voice, on the other, to the blood that cries out.

For those of you still with me, I’m going to start next time by examining these most recent cases.

Love and COVID-19

“You do whatever you need to do to protect your family”

“If you need to protect yourself, that’s fine, just don’t try to force me to do anything”

“If I’m willing to take that risk what’s the big deal? I’m not asking you to do so”

“Everyone just has to do what they think is right for themselves.”

Last week, I shared about the fear that is driving a lot of responses to the current Coronavirus situation. The quotes above are not made up, but ones written or spoken to me or someone I know very closely. I want to make clear that I am not living out of fear, but I will (again) be addressing the thought processes behind these types of statements. At the end of last week’s post, I noted the biblical mandate to love one another is the exact solution to fear. That’s what I’m hoping to explore in this post. Besides sounding like a twentieth century Spanish novel, I firmly believe that love is the appropriate response during this pandemic time. So what does that look like.

Not me, but you

The first thing I would like to note is that, for many of us living in free and open societies, we have a view of individual rights as supreme. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the idea of how important individual liberty from government is. This is, no doubt, behind the strong reactions against government orders to wear face masks or to stay home.

But that’s not the way of Jesus.

The Jesus way is one of putting yourself second. “Don’t do anything for your own desires or wishes” writes Paul to the Philippians,

“Instead, humbly put others ahead of yourselves, for you are no longer meant to look at your interests, as individuals, but to the interests of others. In these relationships, one to the other, unite your mind with Jesus Christ, who, though he was fully God, didn’t think this was something to grab onto for his sake. Instead, he emptied himself completely, becoming fully a servant, by taking on the image of man. Being fully man to any who would examine him, he humbled himself still further, obeying authority to death–yes even a death upon a cross.

It is for this reason that God raised him to the highest place, giving his name a high place also, that at Jesus’s name, every knee would [humbly] bow, in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, [solely] for the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:3-11

I do not mean, by pointing to this passage, that one should blindly follow the state as though such allegiance is what it means to love your neighbor. Instead, I urge you look to the above passage and consider how we might best love our neighbor during this time. It is possible that what the state asks of us, and what God asks of us, happen to coincide. The bible clearly lays out the division between state and the Kingdom of God, while still acknowledging the authority of the former. But that’s not the point.

The point is that your own personal rights, no matter how valid or justified they are, are always placed behind the rights of others. So I ask the question again, how do we love one another? How do we drive out fear? By putting our rights behind those of others. We consider their values first.

The Whole and the Individual

A lot of reactions are going around about different aspects of the government response to the present pandemic (I will state again that it is real, it is not part of a conspiracy, and it is serious). One strain of argument I have heard countless times is “Why can’t I decide to take the risk for myself to…go back to work/go to the store/not wear a mask/not socially distance?” This is usually backed up by some declaration of “you do what’s right for you.”

Except, that’s not how life together works. If you live within a society, you are automatically bound to other members of that society. In the same way that within a

two firemen standing on stairs
Photo by Tobias Rehbein on

family one person’s actions affect everyone else, so it is within a broader society.

The reason that fire departments exist as a municipal entity is because one neighbor’s home on fire is a threat to every neighbor’s home. There was a time, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, where private fire departments would only hose down houses whose members had paid their fees. The results were disastrous, including, among many other issues, the Great Fire of London.

We should think of public health in much the same way. Your decision not to socially distance, doesn’t just affect you; particularly so when there is a long incubation period and asymptomatic transmission as is the case in the current situation. It affects the whole.

The same issue goes for masks. Cloth masks do very little to protect the wearer from getting a disease. They do something, but not much. To protect the wearer you need a properly fitted N95 mask (and most people don’t know how to properly wear one). That’s not their point. The reason that masks are common in many cultures is not because the wearer is worried about getting a disease, it’s because the wearer is concerned with not spreading the disease.

A cloth mask doesn’t mitigate all spread of disease. It does effectively remove a lot of water droplets (part of normal speech and breathing) that can hang in the air and carry the disease (but because it does not prevent all such spread, it only works in conjunction with distancing). However, masks do almost nothing to protect the wearer; and they only work when a significant portion of the population wears them, washes hands frequently, and maintains distance from those with whom they do not live.

woman wearing face mask
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I do not wear a mask because I fear for myself. I do not wear one to look out for my own family. I wear one for you. Even if you refuse to wear one out of some sense of freedom, thus putting my family I risk, I will continue to wear one. Because it is the loving thing to do.

A PR Problem

My wife, who has asthma among other health factors and is thus at increased risk of death from COVID-19, pointed out, amidst her frustration, that the politicization of mask wearing seems largely due to a PR problem.

In Houston, where I live, local authorities mandated that masks be worn, but offered no reasoning as to why it should be done. These local authorities are mostly from the Democratic party. The (mostly Republican) state authorities saw this, and immediately issued an order superseding the one of local authorities to not require face masks. The result was that the order in place to wear masks lasted only a couple of days, ones where the police openly acknowledged they would not enforce it.

The result is that many are actively refusing to wear masks or socially distance for the sake of making a political statement. They want to make it clear that “the government doesn’t tell me what to do.” Such persons are correct that they have every right to do so. But that is not love.

Nor are they correct in giving an individualistic account of things where “you do what you need to do and I’ll do what I need to do.” What you do affects me and what I do affects you. It is unavoidable. Perhaps the appeal should have been made on the basis, then, of love.

As my wife continued, she noted,

“It’s frustrating because the same people who are actively pushing back on these rules are the same people who would give you the shirt off their backs. The ones who would not only lend you their truck, but help you load and unload it and not ask for anything in return. A lot of these people are the exact ones who would be willing to make sacrifices for others if they were only asked in the right way.

“They need new PR. The message should have been

‘We’re Texans. Texans care for people. Texans help people. Right now there’s this virus and it is putting your grandma at risk. Not just your grandma, but everybody’s grandma. Wearing a mask is one of many things that can help our grandmas and lots of other people too. It may be uncomfortable, but we’re Texans and we can do this. We’re Texans and Texans help people’

There would have been open carry protesters, with masks on, handing out masks to everybody without one as they walked into Kroger and HEB.”

So I’m asking you, as a Christian, to show love for one another. You show love by staying home, by wearing a mask and staying distant when you have to go out, and by taking this seriously.

I absolutely understand the desire for many to get back to work. I have many close to me whom I know are struggling financially and unable to work. There are understandable fears and worries related to that. At the same time, though, is it worth the risk not just to that person, but to countless others? The failure of our society to care for the financial well-being of its citizens does not mitigate the responsibility to care for one another’s physical well-being. That is a false choice, and a dangerous one at that. Should something be done? Of course. How we do that, though, must be considered from a position of love, not financial well-being.

We show love by putting others ahead of our own rights, thoughts and desires. We defer to others.

Fear in the time of Covid-19

This is part 1 of a 2 part series


“I can’t believe you’d give into fear”

“You know this is all a scam so the government can take over your rights”

“I think this is the end of humanity; the virus is going to kill us all”

“They don’t even care if people die”

“They don’t even care if I lose my home”

“I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I’m about to be on the street”

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to die”


These are all snippets of conversations from the past few weeks. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the facticity of most of them, aside from noting that this is serious and this is real, and not a fabricated disease (I won’t spread falsehoods about that). That’s not really my point. Instead, I’d like to get behind these statements to the people who made them and where they are actually coming from. I’d like to do so because I think the Gospel has something very real and prescient to say in each to all of us; to each of us; to every person individually, right where you are, in May of 2020.

What is Fear

Fear is a common human response to something we do not understand. The reason we fear is because we don’t know what the ultimate future will hold, but it calls something about our present existence into question. Will I still have a job? food? a house? Will I ever be able to see my family? my friends? Will I still be here? What’s after death? Nothing? Something? Something awful? This is at the root of most fear.

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People watch horror movies because it has certain specific defined confines while allowing us to explore the uncertainties of existence itself. That’s a “safe” way to be fearful. It’s removed from us, but allows to explore these uncertainties. It’s somewhat close in that we can imagine it happening and understand the level of uncertainty, but it’s not too close. We enjoy the catharsis of it because we can leave it. I don’t actually expect to be murdered by a psychopath. While it could happen, it’s pretty unlikely. We can explore other more serious topics in horror films, while placing them in this defined, but still somewhat removed setting (see “Get Out” and its portrayal of racism for the new paradigm for how this can be done). But it’s that distance that makes, for some people anyway, such experiences enjoyable.

No one wants to watch a horror movie about a guy who is living a “normal” life and suddenly losing his job as his life very, very slowly falls apart. That’s a different sort of movie. It evokes a different experience. Perhaps it might be a drama or art house film, but it’s a much more personal type of fear.

Where is Fear

The present experience, with the impending sense of government or corporate invasion of privacy, the struggle of where the next meal is coming from or of a viral outbreak, for many people around the world is this second type of fear. The future is painfully uncertain, but it is also not very removed. We are confronted with it closely and can easily see ourselves in one or more of these situations very easily. This is not a cathartic fear, but one of existential dread. We know the reality (or realities) that confront us, just beyond our present now, and we’re not sure which one will play out.

It’s not only a common experience to be fearful, particularly in this time, it’s also to be

woman wearing face mask crying
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on

fully expected. Fear, in and of itself, is not a sin. True, the bible does say that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity,” but the bible also understands the response of fear. The “fear of the Lord” is the rational response once one begins to grasp who or what God really is: someone fully and truly infinite, and therefore with an infinite amount of uncertainty before you.

In a time when so much is uncertain, it is normal to be afraid. It is common to be afraid of an invisible virus (one that can be spread for two weeks with no one noticing). It is not irrational to be afraid of whether you will continue to be employed as businesses stay shut or run at reduced capacity. It is common be anxious about where the next meal is coming from, or if you will be able to keep your business, your car, your home. As governments and corporations, who have not shown themselves to be the most trustworthy, begin to ask for more information, it is common to be afraid.

This is not to say that fear is good. It may be normal or rational, but, if you recall the last time you were afraid, you know it is not pleasant. If left to fester, fear turns to anxiety. The bible has a lot to say about fear and anxiety. Many times God or his messengers reassure others to not be afraid. Jesus asks that people release their anxiety. This is not because fear is sinful. Fear is a felt response, it is a reaction, it is no more sinful than anger. The actions you take out of fear, though, might lead to sin. (Indeed fear of the “other” may be behind many of the worst atrocities of human history)

Rather than think of fear as itself sinful, it should rather be understood in terms of the result of sin, like disease and decay. In the same way that Jesus came to heal the sick or set captives free, so he came to release us from fear and anxiety. When Jesus tells us to not be anxious (or fearful) about our life, it is not an admonishment against sin; it is a message of hope. The comfort of God’s angels “Do not be afraid,” is a invitation to come and know this mysterious unknown.

How to Handle Fear

Because God is infinite, knowing God means necessarily stepping out into the unknown, the uncertain, the undefined. In our human sensibility, this is a scary proposition. Metaphors about the relationship of God lean into this: moving out to deeper waters, a wild Lion, a leap of faith. Yet it’s in the uncertainty and out of the unknown that God creates his wonders.

God, being a loving God, calls us to come out of the fear and live boldly in the midst of uncertainty. To be clear, this isn’t recklessness. Courage and boldness exist between a fear that paralyzes you and a recklessness that fails to grasp the seriousness of a situation. It is alright to accept the uncertainty, acknowledge the seriousness, but move forward anyway.

This is not a call to engage in unsafe behavior. Honestly, I will continue to observe a lock-down approach to going out, even as my state re-opens. I do think there is wisdom in

woman in pink long sleeved dress with child
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listening to experts, and in practicing deference. We are not to test God as we seek to live boldly for him.

It is, of course, one thing to say that we are not afraid, and quite another to actually stop living out of fear. How do we stop living in fear?

“This love is fearless because perfect love pushes out all fear…”

1 John 4:18a

Love. Specifically, the perfect of Love of God drives out all fear from us as it grows in and through us. Leaning into the love of God, like a small child pushing his face into his mother’s dress, releases that fear.

When I encourage people to stay home as much as is possible, when I wear a mask and try to keep others at 3 meters distance, and when I express disappointment at the pace with which my state government is moving, it is not fear that motivates me, nor is it callousness to the position of others. It is love. The abundance of God’s love is from whence I am trying to live my life. The only question, then, becomes how to live out of that love. I will address that in my next post.