Compiled by Pamela Nielsen and Stacey Egger
A policeman who was called to protect his city during a riot. A pastor who brought the Lord’s Prayer into the midst of the protests. A layman whose brother was killed by police. A mother living in a neighborhood damaged by riots.
These are but a few of the voices speaking within the LCMS in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25.
The voices said different things. There was pain, fear, weariness, courage, grief. No matter who spoke, there was one refrain: Christ and His forgiveness are the only way forward. We invite you to listen in to portions of these conversations.
Tyree Toney, Mountain View Lutheran Church, Las Vegas, Nev.
As Lutherans, we’re always pointing to Christ. And this situation is something we should be pointing to Christ in.
I have a hard time believing anybody on God’s green earth would watch the George Floyd tape and, if that’s someone they know, wouldn’t have a problem with it. If it’s your cousin, your uncle, your nephew — you wouldn’t be OK with someone responding, “Well you know, people who look like your nephew are nine times more likely to commit a crime.” So why are you OK with it now? We’re all one in Christ; we’re all brothers and sisters in the faith.
You can take any number and manipulate it to reflect any stance you want to have. But we have three examples in one month that we all agree shouldn’t have led to people’s deaths: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd. And if someone can’t weep with those who weep in that situation, that’s something you’ve got to talk about.
So many people feel like they need to be the one with the bullhorn, leading the protest. But with our doctrine of vocation, you realize that in your day-to-day you have millions of opportunities that God laid before you. Something as simple as on Facebook, if you see people going a racist or bigoted route, you can say, “Hey, that’s not called for, that’s not right.” You might not even know there was a black person looking at it, like, “Man, how am I supposed to feel going to church knowing that these are my pew-mates? I’m supposed to feel OK with my daughter playing with his kid, knowing that when he sees my son he’s thinking, ‘There’s a 90 percent chance he’s going to be a criminal’?”
For me, this isn’t just a story, this is life. … When I was a teenager, my brother was murdered by cops. And no charge ever came, nothing. I had a lot of hate in my heart. God softened my heart to where I can say that I hope that [the officer has] turned to Christ. I do see the healing that Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit convicting and working on you, molding you to be more Christlike, can do, because He did it to me.
One of the things that really struck me about Lutheranism is we’re not afraid to own up to our sins. So, every week, every church service, when we do Confession and Absolution — I’m not just praying for random sins, I’m saying, “Lord, forgive me for what I’ve done and what I’ve left undone.” I also had to realize that’s also happening for my neighbor … even the cop that murdered my brother, if he had come to a Lutheran service. That aspect of not being afraid to bring your sins to the foot of the cross every single week really struck at me.
Toney is an LCMS layman who runs the YouTube channel “Wittenberg Project” and the Twitter account @Lex_Lutheran.
Rev. Dr. John A. Nunes, Village Lutheran Church, Bronxville, N.Y.
We are unable to read the mind, know the motive or the heart of former officer Derek Chauvin. So we don’t know that it was race hatred that motivated the murder of George Floyd. What we do know is that a death resulted, and he has been charged now with murder. And we as a pro-life church take a stand that life is a precious gift and that every life has dignity, worth, value, meaning, purpose.
Race is a scientific fiction. It’s a theological fiction — neither Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free. In Christ we regard no one according to the flesh. The vision of heaven is one of the eschaton, is one in which these categories are abolished, finally, because they’re not essential to what it means to be human.
But racism is a fact.
The dividing walls between people are completely obliterated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But you know, the old Adam, though completely drowned, he’s a really good swimmer, and he keeps on coming back. So what do we do with the walls that we have? I believe that the best way to tear down a wall is brick by brick, one brick at a time. And it’s in relationships that we build, the sins we confess and the absolution we receive, the conversations that we have … dialogue with real people across differences.
Nunes is president of Concordia College New York, Bronxville, N.Y.
Aaron Cawthorn, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Indianola, Iowa
This was one of the toughest weeks I’ve ever had as a police officer. I had to work six days in a row here in Des Moines, 15- to 18-hour days.
That first morning, over 1,000 people showed up outside of the police station to share their voice, which was great. They were telling the pain that they’ve suffered and the issues they were having. I listened and heard a lot of it.
That first night was kind of an eye-opening experience. … We have never faced several hundred people [at once] causing that much damage and who want to actually hurt us. They started vandalizing around the city, and then throwing stuff at officers. We had to set up a line to protect the police station because they were throwing bricks, rocks and bottles. I was hit in the head with a brick; it hit my helmet.
We saw a huge difference between the people that want change and want better things for themselves and their community and the people that couldn’t care less about the community.
It’s scary to know that you’re a target. When you have a lot of people decide if they like you based on a title, an outfit you wear and something that you represent … they don’t really see the true human underneath all that.
We adopted our daughter when she was 3. She’s African American. This makes me think, how, as a parent — as a loving father — am I supposed to explain this to my 5-year-old? She’s never spoken about color, but I know that someday it might matter to her. And I need to be able to explain what has happened in 2020. … From a daddy perspective, it scares me a little bit that she could be treated differently by people.
Cawthorn is a police officer in Des Moines, Iowa.
Allison Breininger, Glory of Christ Lutheran Church, Plymouth, Minn.
We live in St. Paul, about four miles from where George Floyd was killed. We did all the things like leaving the lights on at night, we took the things out of the yard that could be potential things you would throw, we brought in the garbage cans, we took down the propane tank, all of the things that they said. My brother and sister-in-law in Minneapolis hosed down their house because the risk of arson is high.
What you don’t see on the news is that during the daylight, neighborhoods are coming together, and there are food drives on every corner, and there’s cleanup organizing constantly.
This moment has turned into a national moment. And so I think that this is a moment for every church to be doing the work. Just because it’s not four miles from your house doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. This is the time. It’s always been the time. But now people are asking these questions, and this is a great moment for us to say, “OK, what can we do?”
Breininger lives in St. Paul, Minn., with her husband and daughter in a neighborhood that has been affected by riots.
Kaye Wolff, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Dearborn, Mich.
I have more tears than I have words now. Tears and prayers. … I think some of this is letting out the feelings that people have held in for so long. Now’s the time to go ahead and speak it.
I experience it. I’m married to a white German Lutheran pastor. I have gone with him to places where people didn’t know that we were husband and wife. I got treated one way and he got treated another way. And when they found out that I was there with him, and I was his wife, then they just tripped all over themselves to be kind to me.
You don’t always have to get out there and protest. I haven’t been out to the protest line yet. I’ve been at home praying, studying and preparing for the next wave. I always look at James [1:19]: “Be slow to speak.” I’m still in prayer. I’m still reading and learning, so that when I do speak, I can educate people based on cultural experience, history and the Gospel. We have got to show mercy, we’ve got to understand, we’ve got to forgive — oh my goodness, we’ve got a lot of forgiving to do, when all of the shouting is over.
Wolff is a former vice-president of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) and currently serves as LWML Deaf Ministry liaison.
Rev. Robert Zagore, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Fenton, Mo.
We do have a history of racist attitudes in the LCMS, and we haven’t dealt with it appropriately. The church’s tool to address this is Word and Sacrament. And if we try to engage this issue chiefly by other means, then we’re going to neglect the greatest means that the Lord has given us to resolve this.
Christ can take two divergent people and make them one. He can bind them together. … When our brothers and sisters in Christ are in pain, the whole Body suffers. And our response needs to be compassion and love and listening … that we need to work this out together, and that Christ will bring peace.
Zagore is executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. These words are from his presentation to the LCMS Board for National Mission on June 5.
Rev. Michael Grannis, Calvary Lutheran Church, Lincoln Park, Mich.
I led several of my members in a recent march here in our community. I went out there with them to be representatives of God’s people, bringing prayer and, hopefully, a presence of peace. We printed out the Litany from our hymnal, and the Lord’s Prayer. … People came up to us and asked us if they could have a copy and prayed along with us.
The Litany seems to speak to the moment, even before George Floyd: “To give to all peoples concord and peace; to preserve our land from discord and strife; to give our country Your protection in every time of need; to direct and defend our president and all in authority.”
Politics can’t answer these questions. Theology does. The Word of God speaks to the issue of sin, and it tells us that we have forgiveness through Christ, and we have that forgiveness to give. The people of God need to lead the way in repentance, because repentance is not what the world does.
The world will never be satisfied with what the church has to say, but the voice of God is always relevant, and the church has the commission of proclaiming God’s Word. So when the world is demanding that the church speak to something, give them God’s voice.
What’s wrong with the world is sin. It’s evil in us. And there is no set of laws that is going to get rid of this. There is no rally or march that is going to eliminate that. The only thing that can address that and bring wholeness to that is Christ. You might not like what somebody else has to say. You might think it’s the most disgusting, horrible thing you’ve ever heard. And yet Christ died for that person — that’s how much they are worth.
Grannis is pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Lincoln Park, Mich.
Rev. Christopher Esget, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va.
We have a police officer in our congregation. … He’s a righteous and godly man. This man, who I would turn to if I were afraid, has been turning to me: “Pastor, I’m afraid to go to work. I’m being targeted. And if I respond and something goes wrong, it will be an international incident.”
There is fear. There is this loss of trust in institutions. People heard and tried to comply with [COVID-19 regulations]. We closed our school. We shut down in-person church services. Some of our people have lost their jobs. And then, all of a sudden, it seemed like none of it mattered. People are angry, people are confused, people are scared.
One of my parishioners recently asked, “How is this all going to end?” He meant the coronavirus, the riots in the street. … But we know how this is going to end. It’s going to end in resurrection, and in a world where there is justice. Things may get very difficult. But the church continues because we know who Jesus is — that He is Lord, that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead, that there will be a day of resurrection and justice. So don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. We know how it ends.
Esget is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va., and fifth vice-president of the LCMS. His congregation, near Washington, D.C., includes police officers, journalists, politicians and military leaders.
Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, the Bronx, N.Y.
Things are being brought to light that have been on people’s minds and hearts for a long, long time. And we have precedents with Cain and Abel. As sin came into the world, we believed the lie that it helps us to harm or take the lives of our neighbors. …
This moment brings us to an assessment of our real fears. If we’re afraid of riots, if we’re afraid of cultures, if we’re afraid of being a minority, if we’re afraid of becoming a minority — if we’re truly afraid of that, then, as Dr. Luther would remind us, that’s become our god. We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.
Taylor is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx, N.Y.; first vice-president of the LCMS Atlantic District; and a member of the LCMS Board for National Mission.
Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., St. Philip Lutheran Church, Detroit, Mich.
The wickedness and the brokenness are never going to go away on this side of the cross, but the mending redemptive heart of God is there to walk alongside the broken heart of humanity and remind us, each and every day, that God has not abandoned us in our brokenness.
God has not abandoned us in this. Right now, it’s hard to convince someone because they’re going to say, “Where is God? Why did God allow this to happen?” But listen. His Word is powerful, and we preach, we share it and we pray.
Gray is executive director of LCMS Black Ministry.
Stay tuned to Reporter and LCMS social media for longer versions of some of these conversations.
What can you and your church do?
Some suggestions from those interviewed.
Pray, listen, learn
Light in the Dark Belt by Rosa Young, available from Concordia Publishing House
Rosa Young video and other resources at lcms.org/thefirstrosa
Racism and the Church, report and Bible study from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations
Statement on George Floyd from the LCMS Black Clergy Caucus at theunbrokencord.com
Find more resources at lcms.org/social-issues/racism
Collect and donate supplies to affected neighborhoods
Offer water and food to those in need
Volunteer to help restore damaged neighborhoods and businesses
Work for change
Suggestions from Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr.
Assess community needs: spiritual, educational, physical
Work with your circuit and district
Visit lcms.org/blackministry for more information
Posted June 19, 2020