After the Protests, Now What?

Image by Tom Sramek Jr from Pixabay

After absorbing the video of George Floyd gasping for breath under the knee of a policeman, the country erupted in protest.  The anger and frustration of blacks especially, but also of people of all races in many nations across the globe, is palpable. While the protests continue, people are starting to ask, “What do we do now?” Indeed. What can we do about intractable racism?

I believe one answer comes from our Lord, of course, but what that answer looks like is seen in a little-known moment in the life of Francis of Assisi.

It occurred at a general chapter of the Franciscan order in September 1220.  From its small beginnings ten years earlier, where a dozen men lived together in humble dwellings, the order now numbered thousands of men from all over Europe. It was everything Francis had dreamed of since the beginning—a large and devout movement that would reform the church to live the teachings of Jesus in poverty and humility. Surely the Lord had made all this possible and put him at the head so that he might continue to guide it at this crucial moment. And no one in the order would have disagreed—Francis was the man of the hour and the era, and his leadership was desperately needed more than ever.

But Francis pulled a fast one on his brothers. He announced at the general chapter that he was going to step down as head of the order. He would turn matters over to Brother Peter of Catanio.

The brothers were stunned. Many wept openly. They pleaded for him to change his mind. But Francis refused. To drive home his decision, he bowed before Peter and asked him to appoint him a companion, “who will represent your authority to me and whom I shall obey as if I were obeying you.”

/———/

In the course of human events, some groups, some ethnicities, some races end up dominating a society. And human nature being what it is—addicted to sin–that empowered group schemes (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes inadvertently) to maintain their privilege and then marginalize and oppress one or more other groups. The longer the history of oppression, the harder it is for the dominant group to stop oppressing—even when its members see injustice for what it is and believe it a terrible wrong. The dominant group becomes as addicted to their privilege as an alcoholic is to the bottle. They will talk change, they will advocate change, they will even march for change–but it will be a long time coming. In the meantime, let’s have just one drink to settle the nerves.

I agree with my black brothers and sisters when they complain that change is taking too long in America.  So we have to ask, “Why is it taking so long?”  I know there are Americans who are vocal and conscious racists, but I dare say they are very few these days. Many right-wing conservatives also lament the murder of Lloyd and police brutality against minorities. Everybody and their uncle believes that racism is a terrible blight on our history and insidious in our present.  But year after year, very little seems to change this reality.

Since I came of age in the 1960s, I’ve watched many a demonstration and riot in the name of racial justice. The same slogans and mantras appear time and again, from “Justice now!” to “Work the system!” But my conclusion after six decades is that the system is broken.  That’s because it is run by the ideas of the dominant political and social class, which now includes a fair number of minorities who have gained access precisely because they have agreed to abide by these ideas.  They are all addicted to privilege—even when these elite say they ardently desire change. It complicated, they say.  It takes time, they say.  You just doesn’t understand, they say. (And yes, we say.  I said such things a few too many times as editor in chief of Christianity Today.)

I no longer believe that the privileged will ever get around to the justice demanded by the marginalized, and so it’s time to turn the problem over to someone else. We privileged have had our historical moment in the sun. And I’m proud of what we have accomplished in our time. We’re not nearly as evil and clueless as the woke make us out to be. To use a football analogy, we’ve carried the ball of justice into the red zone. But there is some defect in the way we think and the way we execute that prevents any significant progress from this point forward. It’s apparent we can’t get the ball across the goal line. Time for some new coaches, new offensive coordinators, and new quarterbacks.

/——–/

Concerning what this means for the nation, I have nothing new to offer. The best one might hope for is a new crop of candidates from marginalized communities to run for office, from city boards to Congress—and candidates that will not use the playbook of the privileged class once in office. We need some fresh thinking here. The current ruling class has run out of ideas; it is exhausted and out classed by the problems of the hour.

But when it comes to those of Christian faith in groups and organizations that are faith-based, I have a thought experiment for us to consider.  It applies to those of us who lead anything from small groups to a Sunday school class to a church committee to a non-profit. It’s not a thought experiment, really.  More of a command from our Lord, and something modeled by St. Francis: He who wishes to be first must become last; he who has authority over others, must become their servant.  He who is in a position of authority must relinquish that authority and hand it over to someone who is marginalized.

It’s unclear in my mind exactly how that would work in various circumstances—whether one is employed or managing the household or retired, whether volunteering or paid, whether one has financial obligations for others or not. The principle as it stands—give up authority–is naked as it stands.  It will have to be dressed in justice, mercy, and wisdom.

But this much is clear: it is the eye of the needle that the privileged must walk through. It will not be easy, for it shakes the foundation of our souls. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

If we’re going to sacrifice our privilege, each of us is going to have to destroy a piece of his own heart.

This move alone, if done by enough Christians in churches, community groups, and non-profits, could revolutionize the face of Christianity in America.  Seeing Christians of privilege take the gospel sayings of Jesus seriously, following in the footsteps of St. Francis—why it might give unbelievers cause to question their unbelief and cynicism.

Martin Luther King Jr. expressed Christian eschatology eloquently when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward justice.” It also bends the mighty and the proud, and puts them on their knees, so they can wash feet and raise others up, as did their Lord.

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14 Responses to After the Protests, Now What?

  1. Nat Dee says:

    This is a great idea for Christianity Today. All of the white leaders should resign and be replaced with people of color. In fact, you could have done this yourself a few months ago. Why didn’t you?

    • markgalli says:

      Hey Nat, good question. I’m writing a piece that explains why I never got around to doing what I now suggest. I’m sorry I didn’t understand then what I understand now.

  2. Mike Weber says:

    I am reminded of the story in Acts 6 and the choosing of deacons. When the widows of Greek speaking Christians were being neglected the church deliberately chose deacons from the minority group. The minority was empowered to exercise leadership.

  3. Linda Herod says:

    Having lived in Guatemala for 25+ years, I have seen discrimination and hatred among the ladino and Mayan populations and the impact it has had on denomination leaders and local pastors in rich and poor communities. The temptation of Christ by Satan came to mind as I read your article. It is about power, prestige, and authority. I have asked myself, “Where are the civil rights leaders of today? Where are the strong Black voices that calm and comfort?” Truly the temptations that Christ endured have application for us today: instead of focusing only on our personal needs and comfort (and protecting them) we must live out the words of God. Instead of expecting God to save us, we must embrace our situation, trusting God in obedience – again living according to His words. Finally, we must recognize the call of that insidious poison of power and prestige that Satan uses to take our eyes off the one true God. We must love the Lord (not power or prestige; not money or security) and serve HIM only. In humble service with concern for all humanity, let us live to please the Lord.

  4. Eric James says:

    Great post MG. It seems to be time we turn this ongoing problem over to the next generation. Ours has done nothing to resolve it, and has no incentive to push hard for change as we will all be in the grave before real movement happens. Unfortunately we’ve followed the generations before us and grip power more tightly the longer it’s held.
    Until White America admits we have a racial issue nothing will change, although this season feels different. We might see youth and more Black Americans participate in November’s election and throw the bums out of office. I’ve been pondering where does a 63 year old white Christ follower fit into that future? A black women of the Lord gave me some direction: find youth – pray for them, mentor and pour the love of Jesus into their lives.

  5. Bruce Gilbert says:

    With due and genuine respect, I think a more helpful application of the Francis story may have been missed. While you advocate passing the leadership torch to “a new crop of candidates from marginalized communities,” Francis (in humility) passed his torch to someone before whom he could comfortably bow. In our contemporary reality the role of Peter of Catanio is not best assumed by someone(s) necessarily less “privileged” (we did our best, now it’s your turn to try) … but by Jesus himself. Our best hope is trusting him … not simply with the promise of getting us into heaven when we die, but trusting his teaching on how life is best lived (Matthew 5,6,7). Jesus who said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” passes his torch to no one. Early in his public ministry he told all who would listen, “The time has come. The kingdom of God (where every relationship is marked by God’s love, goodness and will) is near. Repent and believe the good news.” It’s the only gospel Jesus ever preached. The kingdom of God has come near, and we can live in it if we want to.

  6. Gary Wood says:

    What came to mind after reading? “The Morning After.”
    This song was sent to me, in spirit, a few weeks ago:

    There’s got to be a morning after
    If we can hold on through the night
    We have a chance to find the sunshine
    Let’s keep on looking for the light

    Oh, can’t you see the morning after?
    It’s waiting right outside the storm
    Why don’t we cross the bridge together
    And find a place that’s safe and warm?

    It’s not too late, we should be giving
    Only with love can we climb
    It’s not too late, not while we’re living
    Let’s put our hands out in time

    There’s got to be a morning after
    We’re moving closer to the shore
    I know we’ll be there by tomorrow
    And we’ll escape the darkness
    We won’t be searching anymore

    There’s got to be a morning after
    (There’s got to be a morning after)
    There’s got to be a morning after

    https://seaclearly.com/2020/05/16/the-morning-after-by-god/

  7. andrew phillips says:

    Challenging thoughts for all Americans and indeed all humanity. May I add a tiny seed of advice? In South Africa, around 1980,just as we were beginning to unofficially struggle away from the pains of apartheid, our church appointed a coloured man as our Treasurer. Yes, embarrassingly a first for us, as a previously white only congregation. In a frank but beautiful moment he shared from the pulpit one day that he would really like to be just known as Bill Williams, not Bill, the coloured guy. We tried to oblige and it sticks in my memory, together with some other advice, perhaps from the writer and activist Adam Small, that we should never use the term black or white without adding “people”. I have tried to keep to this as a constant reminder that we are all so much more than our skin colour. I remain grateful to Bill, and commend this thought to you all with love.

  8. Eileen says:

    A couple of years ago I was listening to a sermon given by a black pastor. He was addressing the problem of racism in America. He summed it up by saying, “Folks, we don’t have a RACE problem; we have a SIN problem, and Jesus Christ is the only cure.”

    To some, this may sound like a pat answer that has been stated to the point of it sounding cliche’. But it’s the truth.

    I was a little girl when MLK was killed. I was at LAX, trying to get out during the Rodney King beating. I am also a white woman who was married to a black man for 25 years. And believe me, racism goes both ways. I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it. And so, here we are again.

    Yes, there needs to be change. Much change. And it begins with the church; with followers of Jesus Christ. How? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that Covid has forced us out of our church buildings is a good thing. We are far too comfortable in our worship “habits”. Maybe this is a starting point from which we can begin to see things from another perspective. I don’t know. But what I DO know is that we, in our flesh, cannot “fix” this no matter how hard we try. And racism is only just one of the symptoms of our problem of sin.

    So where do we begin? Logically speaking, the only place where true and lasting change has a hope of taking root and sticking, is on our knees. And with a sincere and humble heart, repenting of our action, our inaction and our unwillingness to even care about the many, many injustices we see and hear about every day.

    And only with God’s direction, His help and His guidance can we even hope to make a difference in reversing the evil of racism as well as so, so many other issues that we face.

    Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Maranatha.

    Bottom line

  9. Violet Ng says:

    This is so revolutionary and pure and true. Why should this astound me and discomfort me. Our Lord Jesus was a revolutionary. St. Francis a favorite saint of mine.

  10. LeAnne Hardy says:

    Whew! May your voice be heard in our churches! However, I’m not sure walking away is the answer. We need more deliberate passing on of leadership–mentoring, training, opening up opportunities for experience, including space for mistakes. And when the baton is passed, we need more cheerleading, more facilitating, more taking on supportive background roles to help it to happen. SIM as a mission has been working for decades on what our role is as the international church steps into leadership. As you say, we have to relinquish authority and hand it over, but then we need to be there to support, encourage, and pray.

  11. Wilma Korthuis says:

    . I was born in a country that experienced the “Golden Age” and I was led to believe in the history classes in my Christian school that God highly favoured us in our colonization of the East Indies, South Africa etc. Not until I read the book” The Covenant” later in my life did I feel the shame of what my people had done to so many people. We had a saying: If you are not Dutch, you are not much” and we would giggle and laugh and somewhere we actually believed it. I pray that I as a privileged white person may truly see those who are other as equally precious.

  12. Ron Demolar says:

    This has stimulated my thinking. I’m not sure why I haven’t thought like this before. Clearly Jesus modeled this for us. The St. Francis illustration is great…

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