© 2020 Chip Kawalsingh / Harvest City Church

‘I can’t breathe!’

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that the family of George Floyd is going through right now. It’s something that no human being should ever be put through. ‘I can’t breathe’ became Floyd’s last words, and they have sparked raw anger, rage, and a huge backlash across the United States and around the world.

The anger people are feeling is righteous and just. No one likes injustice, and the abuse of power and apparent racial motivation of the officer involved was indeed a great injustice. Racism is ugly and Jesus hates it, too. But we must be careful how we respond as images like we’ve all seen this last week can be disheartening and stir up all kinds of other unrighteous emotions as well.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

I’ve been the victim of racism—both in the world and, sadly, within the walls of the church—and nothing else hurts quite like it. But how we deal with that hurt matters. Anger, retaliation and hate are not the answer. Jesus said, ‘A new command I give to you: Love one another.’ Loving people, through Christ, is the key. It is lifting up the name of Jesus—not a social movement—that will bring about lasting change.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, NIV)

There’s a dire need for justice in the world, but rioting and rebellion are not the way to effect real, lasting change. Legislation may be updated as a result of the attention, but more than this we need to see change in the hearts of all mankind. The cure is found only in Christ Jesus. God spoke to Solomon after he had dedicated the temple and charged him with these words:

‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV)

We serve God, who sees and knows everything. He will not be mocked. There are so many things that need to be healed and changed in this world, and we have been given the opportunity to turn from every evil thing that would hinder Him from moving on our behalf, to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray and seek His face.

Jesus understood this when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ If ever we needed more of God’s Kingdom to be established here on earth, it is now. We do not fight against the evils of racism with guns and violence. Instead, as believers, we fight on our knees. In these days of pain and heartache, pray and ask God to intervene and bring to justice those who have done wrong.

Calling out churches on social media is not the way forward. It causes people to look through the lens of emotion and stirs up disunity and discord in the body of Christ. We should be a loving example of Jesus, despite what we see or even how we feel.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NLT)

I moved to the US soon after the Rodney King beatings in Los Angeles in 1991 and feelings were certainly still raw then, and for some time afterwards. Trust me when I say to you that I’ve felt the effects of racism, and I have had to make choices about how to respond.

There was the time a vendor refused to sell me a bottle of water, telling me there wasn’t any despite the fact I could clearly see them in his glass fridge. There was plenty of water, just not for me. Not for my kind. Or the time when, after a church meeting in the US where souls were saved, a lady said to my wife, ‘you should marry your own kind’. Or when I was changing my son’s nappy in church and heard a lady (who had no idea I was listening) calling me all manner of racist slurs. I’ve learnt over the years to burn my plough and let Jesus fight my battles.

Racism goes beyond skin colour to the very heart of man. For many, tribalism and the caste system are the real face of racism. They are both forms of prejudice that need to be eliminated.

A true believer is one who has been born again and lives according to Scripture, not their feelings or their culture. No aspect of sin or prejudice should carry over into the new life. Of course, we are all being changed from glory to glory, but if you truly have Jesus in your life, sin—which includes racism—cannot be part of you. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and you are called to love all of Him. Paul summed it up well:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

Jesus Christ died for all, no matter their skin colour, background, tribe, or culture. Jesus loves everyone and His desire is that all men—every one—will come to Him.

I want to end with an excerpt from ‘I Have a Dream’, the famous speech on civil rights and racism given by one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. in Washington D.C. in 1963:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day—this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

For a more in-depth discussion please see this interview with Chip.