To Christians in Iowa: Loving Our Neighbors Is Not Enough
Protesters stood on the streets for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Thousands of people gathered for the event, which started in Greene Square before a march through the center -City of Cedar Rapids, to protest racism and police brutality. and the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, who died as Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
I was 6 when the video of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles cops surfaced, just a year older than his own daughter. I walked over to my mother who was crying as she watched the news. We talked about how wrong it was to treat black people differently, how God made everyone equal, and because God loves us, we have to love everyone too.
Thirty years later, I sat by the fireplace in our backyard with my own children – ages 5 and 8. I cried as I discussed what happened when news of George Floyd’s murder broke. How, because God made everyone equal, we are to love everyone equally and how our white skin gives us privileges in this world.
It’s been 30 years since I first became aware of racism, and I’m ashamed to admit that it took me so long to begin to understand.
The insidious natures of racism and white supremacy have made many of us (white-skinned) good Christians to think that we just need to love everyone equally. But I can love my black and brown neighbor until he can no longer accept love and nothing has changed.
One in three black boys will end up in prison, and one in eighteen black girls, and when they do, they will receive harsher sentences than white boys and white girls accused of the same crime. Black and brown children are more likely to live below the poverty line, in part because of the system built into the foundations of this country that is clearly mapped, even in Iowa.
So no. Loving my black and brown neighbor is not enough.
In American Christianity, a favorite parable is that of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the story, the anonymous and unexpected hero makes sure that the victim of the road theft is treated and Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” But it’s easier to “take pity”, like the hero did, and pay for someone else to do the hard work of caring for the victim, than to do the work yourself. It probably cost the man, but what has it changed?
No. Loving your neighbor, “doing the same”, is not enough.
Rather than imitating the Good Samaritan, what if Christians tried to be more like Jesus? Jesus didn’t see a need and asked someone else to take care of it. He put his body on the line – making real relationships that ended up transforming the world. He touched and healed the leper. He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. And in doing so, he changed the system they all lived in.
Jesus’ desire to be with people in their homes and on the streets resulted in his own body ending up like Rodney King’s. And George Floyd. And Breonna Taylor. And Daunte Wright. And Emmet Till. And the list is so long.
Derek Chauvin is guilty, but our work has only just begun. It is time for Christians to move beyond the simple love of their neighbor and begin to follow Jesus by speaking the truth to power, putting our bodies in homes and on the streets with oppressed people, building communities. relationships that transform our world and dismantle injustice and violence.
If we don’t do this job now, my own daughters will find themselves sitting around the dinner table 30 years from now, explaining to their own children what is wrong with black people. How God created everyone on an equal footing. How we are to love everyone equally. Years will have passed and the children of God will have continued to endure violence, injustice and death – simply because people in places of privilege and power loved only their neighbor and did not go to work. . I’m ready.
Erika Uthe of Ely is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and is currently the Bishop’s Assistant for the Southeast Iowa Synod.