What God Expects from Us Now

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this series of posts explores how Jesus’s teaching and example call us to reach out across racial lines to respond compassionately to unjust suffering in society. 

Minneapolis rioters burn businesses

I can’t get the image out of mind. On May 25, a white, Minneapolis policeman calmly kneels on the neck of a face-down, handcuffed, black man…until he is dead.

In the days that followed, Minneapolis was set on fire. While peaceful protestors marched in the street and set up memorials, violent ones started burning down buildings, smashing windows, blowing up cars, and looting businesses. And the protests spread throughout the country, and then globally.

For several days, I kept watching the endless stream of video clips of the murder and violence on social media. I’ve been horrified at all the destruction and lawlessness, and distressed, witnessing police shoving and tear-gassing protestors. I can’t watch any of these videos anymore. They are all too disturbing.

What’s going on? How could such a brazen murder by a uniformed policeman of a black man, in broad daylight, happen? Why did this killing ignite protests and riots across the country so rapidly? What kind of response would actually be helpful, rather than our usual reactivity, which tends to reinforce our biases, justify the status quo, or, worse, actually inflame the polarization and conflict?

For the past two months, I’ve been writing essays on the topic, “What can we expect from God now?” In light of the recent murder, extensive violence, and widespread protests, it’s time to turn that question around. What does God expect from us now?

Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA)

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, NRSV

In the eighth century B.C.E., Micah, the prophet, wrote unsparing words of judgment against widespread idolatry, exploitation, oppression, and other unjust practices of the privileged, powerholders in ancient Israel. In one of the most well-known verses in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), he sums up God’s righteous expectations with the three fold answer to the question, “What does the LORD require of you?” He simply says:

  • do justice
  • love kindness, and
  • walk humbly with your God.

When black people and their allies march in the streets, they are shouting out for justice. They are screaming their outrage. They want the world to hear their stories. They are calling out to people with power and privilege, whom they believe could to do something to help, to actually do something. And when peaceful protests devolve into violence, looting, and arson, white people need to go beyond judging the external behavior to see and feel the depth of the rioters’ hopelessness, rage, and grief.

The issue is not just one abominable murder. And it’s not simply about a corrupt police force, as if there would be no problem of crime or violence if only the police were better people. There are thousands of really good, sincere, hardworking, dedicated police in America; and there are some very racist, violent, corrupt ones, too. Significant improvements are needed in training and law enforcement, but that’s not the whole solution. The issue is also not about law and order, that is, the need to deal firmly with violent criminals who are serious threats to society. There are many criminals, of all colors, who need to be stopped; but controlling all the lawbreakers isn’t going to provide more opportunity, respect, and justice to people who are routinely demeaned, mistrusted, and mistreated just because of the color of their skin or racial/ethnic background.

No, the issue at hand, as I see it, is a whole society blighted by a spiritual disease of the heart (racism, self-interest, blindness to injustice) that keeps manifesting itself at the expense of those with the least power to defend themselves or to right the wrongs. All human beings, of all colors and backgrounds, have that disease to some extent (biblical writers call it, “sin”). Yet, what those of us in position to ensure justice and provide mercy must understand better is that those who suffer the most from this societal sin tend to be people of color, at least in the United States.

They and their allies are right to take to the streets. They are not right to destroy other people’s property, but they are right to protest, call for reform, and even scream as loud as they can. And if whites–those of us in positions of power and privilege—don’t listen, the screams will get louder. And should.

Minneapolis deployed the National Guard

Spiritual Application

Micah’s moral instruction was for the whole community. Justice, loving kindness, and humble submission to God is the calling for all of us, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, white, black, brown, or any color, race, or ethnic group we might be. It’s what God expects from everyone. Each of us has to determine for ourselves what that means in our contexts. Sometimes, the application is obvious. Other times, it takes a crisis to wake us up. We’re there now.

As a follower of Christ, how does your faith apply to blight of racism and injustice? Are you looking deeply into your heart and at your own attitudes and behavior? Are you asking the Holy Spirit to show you where you have harbored racist, indifferent, or even hateful feelings toward those who have a different skin color or ethnic background? Or, are you using most of your energy reacting to the extremists and defending yourself, as if proving that you’re not as bad as some people accuse you of being means that you are actually innocent and not responsible to try to do more to help?

I am not speaking from on high, but as a privileged white person who was raised in a highly racist environment. Even as an adult, pastor, and Christian leader, I confess that at times I have shamefully nurtured prejudice against others whom I did not understand or was afraid of. I don’t have all the answers for myself, let alone for our broken church and society. Racism and injustice are huge, deep-seated problems, without obvious or easy fixes. But I am sorry. I’m sorry for all the ways I’ve contributed to the problem and have failed to take action to right the wrongs when I could have done something.

Since I witnessed George’s murder on video, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think about what difference I could make. I don’t know yet. But I do know this. It’s not going to be just one thing. It’s got to start with a real change of heart and attitude toward others who are different from me. And the internal changes have to translate into external action. Action that translates into tangible benefit for those who are suffering from racial discrimination, exploitation, mistreatment, and lack of compassion and empathy. That’s what the prophets, like Micah, called for when they preached repentance to people in positions of power and privilege.

It’s what God expects.

Next week: What would Jesus say about all this?


Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “What God Expects from Us Now

  1. Sylvia Helser

    I knew we could expect a thoughtful and biblical response from you, Tim.
    I am finding it necessary to start with the third part of my Lord’s Instructions to me via Micah first: “walk humbly with your God.” Sylvia

    instruction via Micah in

    • Tim Geoffrion

      Sylvia, you are so right about needing to start with humility, and walking humbly with God, in seeking to listen, understand, not overreact, and then be able to listen to the Spirit for how to best respond!

  2. bahamas811

    Thank you, Tim, for this sincere and thoughtful piece which hopefully will move us all toward reconciliation.

    I question just one statement in your piece and the insinuation of corrupt police forces. You said, “I’ve been horrified at all the destruction and lawlessness, and distressed, witnessing police shoving and tear-gassing lawful protesters.” Did you really see much if any “police shoving and tear-gassing lawful protesters?

    I watched dozens of hours of news coverage and many home-made video posts and I didn’t see any police shoving and tear-gassing lawful protesters. The only instances where I saw police “shoving and tear-gassing” anyone was where protesters were doing one or more of the following: shouting inflammatory comments at the police from close range; throwing bottles, rocks, bricks, and/or Molotov cocktails at police; stealing an AR-15 assault rifle from a police car that had been broken into; rolling and burning police cars; looting, vandalizing, and burning local businesses that employ and/or serve the local community; violating an official curfew lawfully put in place to prevent the rioting/looting/burning/destruction that had already been occurring and indeed continued to occur; and/or refusing to back away or disperse when instructed to do so. In every case that I saw, these were not “lawful” protesters.

    In fact, the overwhelming image that I saw was police showing great restraint in their application of force. Had I been in their shoes, and I suspect if you had been in their shoes, threatened as they were and having a duty to “serve and protect”, I believe that we both would have used much more force including lethal force. (There are many examples readily available via a Google search of protesters and even pastors who have gone through police simulation training that used lethal force much quicker than a trained police officer.)

    I call this out since your piece runs the risk of continuing to advance a narrative (put forth by some) of systemically corrupt police forces, which I do not think is accurate and is certainly not helpful.

    Are there bad cops and bad practices that need reform? Absolutely! Let’s call out misconduct when it occurs and fully and quickly prosecute those who commit a crime. However, let’s not paint those on the front lines of defending and protecting our freedoms and civil society with an inaccurate broad brush that will cause the vast majority of conscientious, hard working, respectable police officers from being willing to risk their lives for us all during moments of crisis.

    If you neuter the police, you will get the anarchistic situation like what exists in El Salvador, Guatamala, Mexico and other failed states. In these places, the rich pay for protection and the poor suffer at the hands of roving gangs and organized crime. We had exactly this situation during the last couple of weeks as police were overwhelmed with the number of the protesters and they simply refused to go many places where riots were occurring. As you know, over 200 businesses in Minneapolis/St. Paul alone were looted and/or torched in the first week alone. These businesses, their middle class owners, and their local employees, already under great pressure from the pandemic, suffered under the hands of the protesters since the police were not allowed to use the force necessary to stop it.

    Let’s work together to root out corruption and discrimination in all parts of our country. Let’s not advance a false narrative that would lead to destructive consequences.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful piece and your efforts to reach reconciliation.

    • Tim Geoffrion

      Thank you, Tom, for your thoughtful and meaningful comment. I most definitely do not want to contribute to false narratives or opinionated generalizations that wouldn’t hold up under scrutiny. And scrutinize the claims of all arguments on all sides, we must do! I was not offering my comments in support of the claim that there is systemic racism among police, but rather to simply say how disturbing it was to me to see some police using, what seemed to me, excessive force. What was in my mind when I referenced police shoving and tear-gassing protestors, was, for one, Martin Gugino, the 75 year old man, who was smashed his head on the pavement after being shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo, NY. Another image was the tear-gassing and forceful clearing away of protestors in Lafayette Square, in front of St. John’s Church, so that the president could stage a photo op. I also saw video clips of policemen in New York City, shoving protestors to the ground who didn’t move fast enough for them. For me, there is no question that we need police to maintain order, but we must take seriously repeated claims of police brutality, discrimination, and excessive use of force. Thank you for this chance to clarify my point of view.

  3. Scott Volltrauer

    My favorite quote from your essay is, “They are calling out to people with power and privilege, whom they believe could to do something to help, to actually do something.”

    I grieved when I saw the video. Horrible. Inexcusable. That afternoon I was gardening, stewing and praying. I walked in the house and told Amy, “I have to do something. I don’t know what. I want to walk to our neighbors (three of the eight families around us are black) and say I’m sorry and listen.” We prayed. We walked over somewhat timidly. We listened and talked; with the third family for almost two hours. All expressed gratitude. And wonderful conversations with all three families continued since.  

    Where does change start? In my life, it starts with me.

    • Tim Geoffrion

      Scott, thank you. You are so right. It’s starts with me/us! Thanks, too, for sharing your experience of reaching out to your black neighbors, and their response. Very inspiring. Very practical. Thank you.

  4. Swe Maung

    Dear Dr Tim,
    Thank you very much for sharing and showing what God expects from us now in a time as such, particularly in the States. Your essay is a timely as well as prophetic reflection. I am very much impressed with your three biblical responses to what God expects from us;
    -do justice
    -love kindness, and
    -walk humbly with your God.
    These are truly what God requires us all. May God continue to speak the truth through you for peace and reconciliation.

    • Tim Geoffrion

      Thank you, Saya Swe Maung. Racism and injustice are such emotional subjects, it’s so important for us to stay grounded in God’s values and priorities as we work together for a more moral, just church and society.

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