A Christian Response to Recent U.S. Riots and Protests

By now, “George Floyd” is almost a household name. I have decided not to watch the infamous video that shows him dying with a police officer’s knee on his neck, but I have read about him. While he had a criminal history, especially from 1997-2007, it appears that he had turned his life around; he had become a Christian and was a young man who lived out his faith. Like all of us, he was still a human being with human weaknesses and failings; in fact, his autopsy showed he had a large amount of fentanyl in his system. Regardless, I feel sorry not to have known him in this life, and I look forward to getting to know him in the next. As for the officer who may have been responsible for at least hastening his death: if that is true, I hope that he will be brought to justice.

Rioters have taken advantage of Floyd’s death; you’ve probably seen video footage of widespread destruction of property and looting, along with assaults resulting in even more deaths. Given the likelihood that Floyd was a Christian, I don’t believe this carnage is what he would have wanted. It has been disheartening to see that in some cases, police have stood by and watched. On the other hand, when rules of engagement are unclear and/or a mayor refuses to call in reinforcements, I can understand why officers would be hesitant to intervene. The “broken window” theory is applicable here; when small or early incidents of violence are swiftly dealt with, more serious acts of violence can be averted. There’s an interesting verse in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 8:11, that I believe is tangentially related: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” Mayors are responsible for issuing directives that maintain and, when necessary, restore law and order.

Regarding peaceful protests and marches: although I have never taken part in such events, I believe that other people have the right to do so under ordinary circumstances. However, this is the age of COVID-19, and in video footage that I have seen, most protesters and marchers have not been maintaining social distancing, to put it mildly. But wait: over 1000 health experts have signed an open letter which endorses mass protests against racism. If we as a country are going to allow this kind of mass protest, then it seems to me that we need to allow large peaceful social gatherings of virtually (pun intended) any kind. In other words, we might as well do away with social distancing guidelines. I’m OK with that; in fact, I’d prefer it. On the other hand, if our government leaders want to maintain social distancing guidelines, then I don’t believe it’s right to single out a certain kind of mass gathering as being permissible. Admittedly, the open letter includes supporting the health of protesters by “encouraging use of face coverings” and “distance of at least 6 feet between protesters, where possible.” However, these guidelines are more than vague enough to allow people to protest and march without maintaining their distance. The same document “advocate[s] that protesters not be arrested or held in confined spaces.” This essentially gives these protesters the freedom to be as close as they want without fear of repercussion from law enforcement. In some of the video footage I’ve seen, they have also been shouting and even singing, actions which have been discouraged in other contexts, such as churches.

Here’s what Romans 13:1 says: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” I am willing to continue social distancing or not, as our government leaders require or not, but what we need is consistency in its application. If a given law cannot be reasonably applied, then perhaps it needs to be changed.

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