Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Protests over the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, have taken place in cities, suburbs, and small towns across the United States and have spread to cities around the world. Wikipedia lists hundreds of George Floyd protests in cities outside the US. Other sources also list protests in dozens of cities in over 40 countries.
Moreover, the outcry over Floyd's death and the larger issue of racist police violence has not been merely a secular one. Religious bodies and leaders around the world have condemned Floyd's death specifically and racism broadly in the past two weeks.
Racism is global, but the particular combination of systemic racism and police violence that has led to the George Floyd protests is in many ways a distinctively US dysfunction. Why, then, have Christians and others around the world joined this way of protests and proclamations?
The Guardian and the New York Times both have intelligent secular analyses of why these protests have gone global. Together, they identify three reasons why people from around the world have supported these protests. These three reasons can also be seen at work in recent worldwide Christian statements on racial violence:
1. People around the world feel genuine concern about racial injustices in the United States and want to express solidarity with African-Americans.
People around the world recognize the systemic injustices impacting African-Americans and other people of color in the United States and are speaking up against them accordingly, in the same sort of way that the international community has responded to other instances of injustice around the world, from apartheid in South Africa to the oppression of the Rohinga in Myanmar.
One sees this line of thinking at work in, for instance, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Church's Statement on Racial Justice in the USA, which reads in part, "The executive committee expresses its support and Christian solidarity with all US churches seeking and pursuing racial justice, proclaiming peace that is inclusive of all, and rejecting the instrumentalization of the outward forms of Christianity without its substance of compassion, service and self-giving love."
2. The George Floyd protests provide an opportunity for people to denounce racism in their own contexts.
While racism is deeply entwined with American society, the United States by no means has a monopoly on racism. Many of the protests around the world have called attention not just to police killings in the United States but also police killings and other instances of racial injustice in their own countries. In Europe and Africa, protests have linked current racism to past European colonial exploitation of Africa (and other areas of the world).
This sort of self-critique is noticeable in the statement on racism from Rev. Dr. Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Conference for the Methodist Church in Britain. Rev. Dr. Hustler wrote, "As Christian people, we are appalled that someone could die in such a fashion and appalled also at the continued injustice which many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people experience in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, and in many institutions, including, shamefully, the Methodist Church in Britain."
In a similar manner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, and Anglican Church in Canada put out a statement which said, "We as church leaders, acknowledge the pain, frustrations and anger of our Black communities, and recognize that systemic anti-Black racism is prevalent in our context in Canada as well; in the streets of our communities, in the justice and policing systems, and in our congregations and parishes."
From another perspective, the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians connected racism in the US with the global racism that includes oppression of people in the two-thirds world, including Africa. In their statement, they wrote, "This deep wound of racism is not only found in the USA; it is a worldwide structure of oppression. Since the days of colonialism when racism served as the instrument of white supremacy, it has remained inbuilt in global economics, politics and knowledge systems. Two-Thirds World countries continue to suffocate under the knee of racism that has relegated them to exploitation and poverty."
3. The protests reflect a complicated set of views about the United States' place in the world.
The rest of the world is aware of the rising levels of divisiveness, nationalism, isolationism, racism, and xenophobia in the United States, much of it connected in recent years to Donald Trump's presidency. Many around the world are opposed to such rhetoric and policies coming from the United States, and these protests present an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with how the United States has behaved as an international actor in recent years.
Yet the protests are not simply about hating the United States. Many of these same protestors deeply believe in the values that the United States has historically professed: equality, democracy, freedom, etc. Many protestors would like to see the United States better uphold these values. If the United States does a good job of upholding these values, that makes it easier for people in other countries to push for these values as well, because of the tremendous cultural power of the United States. It provides a balance to more autocratic regimes such as China and Russia, who are looking to expand their power. A strong United States, if it behaves justly and democratically, is still an asset to many around the world. Thus, these protests are also an attempt to hold the US accountable to its own ideals.
This complicated view of the US is clearly displayed in the All Africa Conference of Churches' statement "Condemning Injustice and Racism in the USA." That statement reads, in part:
"We have always appreciated how the USA attempted to be a champion of justice and human rights globally, always condemning and sanctioning countries and leaderships who violate the rights of their own people and against militarization of law and order. As we follow developments going on in the USA, we are asking, will the USA government recover its moral authority and credibility to dare call out any other country which uses military on the streets to dominate citizens demanding right to be heard, or which sanctions its law and order organs to brutalize its own people using flimsy and queer legislation, to humiliate its people? Where is the soul of America as a country of the free?"
The AACC's questions are open ones, but their statement makes it clear that the answers matter, not just in the United States, but to Christians and others around the world.