Editor’s Note: The author, Rev. David W. Good, is the Minister Emeritus of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.
When I was a senior in high school in 1967, our social studies teacher and debate coach, determined to teach us the importance of being engaged in the great struggle for human rights, taught us about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and a student, Ruby Bridges. Daily our teacher would ask us the same question raised by the ancient Greek philosopher, Thucydides, “When will there be justice in Athens?” The answer: “When those who are not injured are as indignant as those that are.”
The message was clear. There is such a thing as “White Privilege,” and those of us who are white have a moral responsibility to work for a “more perfect union” — to listen to people of color, to acknowledge our own complicity in racial injustice, and together with those who are injured work to transform our society.
Sadly, here in 2020, we are still dealing with the same racial injustices, police brutality, economic inequity, environmental travesties, failure of political leadership and the passivity of far too many that has characterized our nation for much too long. If we want there to be justice in our cities and towns, now is the time for those “not injured to be as indignant as those who are.”
For those of us who are Christian, we must show righteous indignation for a U.S. president who would defile our sacred spaces and use the Bible not only as a prop but as a weapon. For centuries, the Bible has been used in such a way. Bigots have held up the Bible to establish racist systems of slavery, Jim Crow and Apartheid. Biblical illiteracy has been used to articulate theologies of entitlement that have red lined Jews, people of color, women, Muslims, Native Americans and those of different sexual identities.
If President Trump would only open the Bible, he might read the prophetic indignation of Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” or the lyrical vision of Isaiah, “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” or the teachings of Jesus and the primacy of love. Not love in general but love in great specificity, love “for those who are hungry and homeless.”
Sadly, we are led by a president who doesn’t listen to the wisdom of the prophets and has proven himself to be neither Republican nor Democrat, neither conservative nor liberal. Our collective voices, those of all political persuasions, need to rise in indignation against the creeping fascism of our president and those who would enable it.
The body of George Floyd should serve as a tragic metaphor for the broken body of our nation. We are suffocating from racism.
But, thankfully, there is hope for resuscitation.
In one of her books, Arundhati Roy writes,
“We must tell stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe… Not only is another world possible; she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”
I can hear her breathing when I see police officers put down their batons and shields and, with tears in their eyes, hug people of color in the streets of our cities.
I can hear her breathing when I see the number of young people — white and black and brown — standing up against gun violence.
I can hear her breathing in soldiers “who more than life their country love” and so break their silence for the human rights violations they have witnessed.
I can hear her breathing in health care workers who love “mercy more than life.”
I could hear her breathing when I took part in a peaceful march for justice in Old Saybrook, led by Maryam Elahi, a longtime human rights activist and teacher in our communities.
I can hear her breathing in the people of war-torn Syria who, despite their own tragedies, have created memorials to George Floyd.
I can hear her breathing in the strident, indignant testimony of Greta Thunberg who has quickened the conscience of those who struggle for environmental justice.
I can hear her breathing in our precious teachers who keep alive the ancient wisdom of those such as Thucidides.
To honor the tragic death of George Floyd and so many others who have died, we all need to do what we can to breathe life into the body of our nation.