The HMS Richards Divinity School, as the soul of La Sierra University’s mission to seek truth, love God and serve others, offers the following statement:
In light of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officers after officer Derek Chauvin pinned his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes, and in the light of nationwide protests expressing justified outrage at both past and present realities of police brutality toward persons of Black and Brown bodies, the faculty of the Divinity School of La Sierra University calls upon all students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni of La Sierra University to join us in prayer and in action for justice.
1. Confession: We confess that the story of our community begins with the story of Jesus—the story of a poor, Jewish, menial laborer, who lived under foreign military occupation, who was arrested by the authorities of his day on charges of sedition and heresy, who was beaten and tortured by law enforcement agents, and who called out for his mother with his dying breath. We confess that we see this same Jesus in the death of George Floyd.
Yet we confess that we have failed to see Jesus in the life of George Floyd and in the lives of countless others who have endured—and continue to endure—the weight of the long history of racism in our country. We confess that our communal apathy has contributed to systemic oppression and inequality. We have failed to stand in solidarity with the downtrodden or to risk our own comforts and privileges to aid our brothers and sisters on “the road to Jericho.”
Until we learn to see the cross and the lynching tree together, theologian James Cone reminds us, there can be no genuine understanding of what it means to be Christian in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy. We therefore ask God for forgiveness and for the courage to confront our sins of omission and commission, both personal and communal, as we face these days of social reckoning.
2. Condemnation: In the name of Jesus, we condemn the killing of George Floyd. As followers of Jesus, we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice and brutality against any human being. Drawing wisdom and strength from a great cloud of witnesses (from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Dorothy Day, to Fernando and Ana Stahl, to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to Óscar Romero), we judge all acts of police brutality and racism—lethal and nonlethal—as heinous crimes that deface and vandalize the image of God, and that dehumanize both victims and perpetrators.
We lament and condemn also the glaring incongruity of so-called disciples of Jesus standing with the victimizers rather than with the victims of injustice. Many Christians have embraced a God of runaway capitalism, of materialism, of militarism, of racism, of misogyny, of chauvinistic nationalism, sexism, and of authoritarianism. Many Christians have silently endorsed the status quo when it has served their own interests, disregarding the common good of all humanity. Sadly, our own apocalyptic tradition as Seventh-day Adventists has led many of us to forget our duties to our neighbors and to think only of justice in the world to come. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to a ministry of social change and social healing here and now, not merely to wait for justice in the sweet by and by. The Jesus whose life began as refugee fleeing violence in his homeland, and who found asylum in the foreign land of Egypt, taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Even as we condemn police violence—and particularly police violence disproportionally targeting persons of Black and Brown bodies—we condemn all acts of violence and dehumanization aimed at law enforcement officials. The policeman or police woman who some might feel an understandable urge to hurl profanities or stones at is also a human being for whom Jesus died. They too have sons and daughters who are listening to our words and watching our actions. As we strive to redress the social inequities and abuses of power that give rise to feelings of understandable rage, we urge all students and other members of the La Sierra community to heed the apostle Paul’s warning: “do not let your good be spoken of as evil.” We know that some individuals have taken to the streets not to seek justice but from self-interested opportunism and a desire to sow chaos. As followers of Jesus our desire is not for chaos or vengeance but for community restored.
3. Conversation and Confrontation: We are mindful that community restored cannot be merely a return to the numbing and “normal” chaos of militarized policing and exploitive social and economic relations. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices”, for Jerusalem has “slaughtered my children” (Ezekiel 16:1, 21). In the words of the prophet Amos, “establish justice in the gate” and “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:15, 25). The prophetic tradition is clear, “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). La Sierra University is dedicated to listening to the spirit of prophecy. While as citizens and residents we have civic and political tools to effect desperately needed local and national change, and we should not neglect to use them, we need to go beyond that. We therefore now call on all members of our community to enter into a prophetic confrontation with the sin of racism.
Our confrontation must begin with candid and inclusive conversation as we seek a pathway forward. The Divinity School supports president Fehr’s call for action in establishing a task force. As a university that has committed to a criminal justice program, we now strive to be more faithful witnesses in our troubled age to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses—my martyrs—in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We ask that all members of the La Sierra community join us as we pray for the power of the Holy Spirit, and as we pray also for the family of George Floyd and all other families who mourn loved ones killed by law enforcement agents.
Dean and Faculty of the HMS Richards Divinity School, La Sierra University
June 2, 2020
This statement originally appeared on the La Sierra University website. Photo courtesy of LSU.
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