Christians are called to care for the most vulnerable people in society. For that reason, I’m sickened by the death of George Floyd, and I’m grieved by the rioting and looting that’s being excused by those who claim to be on the side of the oppressed. Contrary to the expectations of some, these are not mutually exclusive reactions. In fact, they flow from the same principles.
Many of my friends have been quick to defend the rioting because they view its violence as (1) not of the same sort to what happened to George Floyd, therefore (2) not as morally compromising.
The argument goes something like this:
“The looting and rioting are making an important moral point. Besides, stuff can be replaced, lives can’t.”
I have sympathy for that line of reasoning, but only to a point. There can be no doubt that a human life is infinitely more valuable than a box of sneakers or a fist full of snacks. And yet, my friends who make this argument are, nearly without exception, driving back to the suburbs each night while the streets are still raining ash.
At the very least, they have a car so as to easily access this “stuff” like groceries, medicine, etc. even when the markets and pharmacies are plundered. Not everyone is quite so privileged.
Do you know who isn’t leaving the rubble in the aftermath of these riots? The poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable in our society.
Those who defend the looting and rioting will respond: “Yes, it’s a shame that the poor are left hungry, jobless, and occasionally dead on the street, but such is the price of the revolution. If we want justice, we need to accept some collateral damage.”
This would be easier to swallow if some of this damage was provided by their own collateral.
The irony of their logic is how similar it is to those who instinctively take the side of police in the aftermath of these senseless killings. Those people, on the opposite side of the barricades, will say:
“Yes, it was a shame an innocent man died, but such policing tactics project strength and are effective in pursuing, apprehending, and restraining bad guys.”
It’s like the meme of Pam from “The Office” where she’s asked to tell the difference between two images. If the “Back the Badge” crowd looks the other way with a George Floyd, then the “Viva la Revolution” clique can’t be bothered with a David Dorn. When image bearers of God are cut down unjustly, they’re the same picture.
This utilitarian sacrifice of human life is the logic of antichrist.
My instinctive reaction against this sort of thinking is what sends me to the streets to protest with my black brothers and sisters. Enough is enough. People aren’t props, they aren’t tools. They can’t be summarily executed as a means to some greater end of law and order. Neither are the homes and livelihoods of the poorest among us an acceptable sacrifice for some ever-elusive abstraction of “Justice.”
Those excusing the rioting have this much in common with those excusing the police brutality, the blood they’re willing to spill is not their own.
Sure, both sides have different goals, but both are willing to leave a trail of blood and tears in their pursuit of their respective ends, but not their blood and not their tears. Those bleeding and crying are the poor.
This is why my stomach turns when I see self-professing Christians tweet a painting of Jesus clearing the Temple, accompanied words like, “looter and Lord.” Do you know who in the Temple money scheme was being hurt? The poor. Do you know who the rioting is hurting? The poor.
If Jesus were in the streets of America tonight with a whip in His hand, He wouldn’t be using it to smash the windows of a Cheesecake Factory or a corner market. He’d use it to defend the vulnerable.
He took His stand with neither the establishment Sadducees nor the revolutionary Zealots but lived His life and died His death among the common people of the land. He identified with the poor, not just as a token statement, but as a way of life. “What you do for the least of these,” He says, “you do unto me.”
When a police officer puts his knee on the neck of a handcuffed, helpless man, it’s Jesus he’s asphyxiating. When “chaos tourists” pillage the urban core of a city, whether it’s for the things or the thrill, it’s Jesus they are leaving hungry and hopeless.
It’s Jesus they are leaving jobless. It’s Jesus they are leaving beaten to a bloody pulp. It’s Jesus they are leaving shot. It’s Jesus’ corpse we find once the streets clear—lifeless, trampled, alone.
While those who excuse the violence raging in our streets may view themselves as radical followers of the way of Jesus, they are anything but. Like those who habitually excuse police brutality, they are privileged bourgeoisie pragmatists who are willing to crack a few eggs in the service of their political agenda, so long as the eggs don’t come from their cartons.
Those being hurt the most by the rioting and looting aren’t the business owners, though they are no doubt in agony. Nor is it the cops, though they, too, are in pain.
No, the people hurt the most are the poor.
They don’t have Twitter. They aren’t influencers. You won’t score any cool points by being on their side. But, make no mistake, when you stand against violent rioting and looting, you’re standing in solidarity with the vulnerable. You’re standing with George Floyd. You’re standing with Jesus.