As the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin takes place in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities is reacting to another officer-involved shooting of a black man that occurred Sunday, Bishop David Bard issued the following pastoral letter urging Minnesota United Methodists to continue the long work of racial reckoning:
Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Minnesota,
Greetings in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
After May 25, 2020, an image from the streets of Minneapolis went viral: cell phone video of the killing of George Floyd, his dying while handcuffed by and in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. Instead of being known as the city of lakes, the home of University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Twins, that image made Minneapolis emblematic of racial injustice and of our nation’s need for racial reckoning. The eyes of the nation, even the world, are once again on Minneapolis, as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the death of George Floyd, continues.
I set out to write to you about this unique time and place we find ourselves in as the Derek Chauvin trial comes to an end and we await a verdict. But before this letter could be published, another black man, Daunte Wright, was killed on Sunday evening in Brooklyn Center in an officer-involved shooting. And again, our city erupts in grief and rage. There are many details that are still forthcoming, but this we know: A young black man is dead from a traffic stop. This has become far too common a story. Which is yet one more reason why the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial matters.
We ask our law enforcement officers to work to protect and serve the people of our communities. We grant them significant power and authority to carry out this work—work that is often dangerous, that asks for quick thinking in response to stressful situations. If and when such power and authority are misused or abused, when racial profiling shapes police response, when decisions made by those in power have tragic consequences, are we able to hold these same people, whose work we recognize as challenging, accountable? How will we determine appropriate use of power and force, and thus make decisions about its misuse and abuse? The verdict rendered in this case will speak to these critical issues.
The verdict matters. Yet no matter the verdict, there remains work to be done. No matter the verdict, there will be anger, disappointment, perhaps a measure of relief, and grief. Can we, as the church, offer space for meaningful and constructive expressions of these emotions, space for lamentation and sighing, offering such space so that we might use the range of our emotions as energy to continue the needed work of racial reckoning? As followers of Jesus, I hope we might agree that responses to the verdict, whatever it may be, that involve violence, looting, and destruction help no one and do not foster the building of God’s beloved community. As followers of Jesus, who breaks down dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14), I hope we might agree on the ongoing importance of the work of racial reckoning to our journey with Jesus. We need to learn our history and the church’s place in that history, a history tainted by racialized thinking that has not simply disappeared but rather continues to have an impact on our society and our souls.
And no matter the verdict, the long work of racial reckoning needs to continue. Beyond concern for an unleashing of emotion leading to destruction and violence, I am concerned that on the other side of the verdict we might be sidetracked in the work of racial reckoning either by cynicism or complacency. If former officer Chauvin is not found guilty on any charges, I would expect an initially strong reaction, and then the temptation toward cynicism. Nothing will change, so why bother? If former officer Chauvin is found guilty on some or all of the charges, there is the temptation toward complacency. We have cared for this matter, so there is nothing more to do. Neither cynicism nor complacency will serve us well.
As I write about this challenging moment for our community and conference, I am thinking of the words of Isaiah 58, the flow of images in this chapter. In verse 5, the prophet tells the people, speaking in the voice of God, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice?” (v. 6). The promise is that in doing so, our light will rise, “and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail” (v. 10,11). Further, “you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (v. 12). The Common English Bible translates the phrase: “Mender of Broken Walls, Restorer of Livable Streets.” This is our call in Jesus Christ. This is the work of building Beloved Community.
Daunte Wright. George Floyd. These are just two names among so many more. We are sad. We are angry. We are hurting. Pray. Peacefully assemble and protest. Ask questions. Ask for accountability. Allow for space for grief and lamentation. Let us commit ourselves to listening to the weeping voices. Let us re-double our commitment to the work of racial reckoning, of repairing the breach, of mending the walls, of creating livable streets for all—FOR ALL.
Grace and peace,
Bishop David Bard
Interim Bishop, Minnesota Conference
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church