Church leaders demand racial justice following death of man at hands of US police
Anglicans across the world have spoken out to demand racial justice following the death of another black man at the hands of the police, that sparked a week of protests. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday (25 May) while being arrested by police.
One police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes – and continued to do so despite being told that he couldn’t breathe. Three other police officers stood watching and ignored pleas from a watching crowd of members of the public to intervene. The incident was videoed by a witness using a mobile phone and widely shared on social media. All four police officers have been fired, and Mr Chauvin will appear in court next week charged with murder.
The violent killing of Mr Floyd sparked outrage across the world and led to protests across America – some of them violent. In several states, heavily-armed militarised police have fired at protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas, and have also targeted journalists with the same weapons. One reporter with the CNN television network was arrested as he reported live from the scene of one protest. His production crew were also arrested. They were later freed after the Governor said that the arrests were wrong.
Elsewhere, journalists from Germany and Russia report being hit by rubber bullets; and one Australian journalist was thumped in the face by a policeman as officers stormed through a peaceful protest in a park near the White House – the official residence of the Presidents of the USA.
The policing operation to clear the park was to provide a route for President Donald Trump to visit St John’s Church in Lafayette Square, an Episcopal church which had suffered minor damage in a fire. He posed in front of the building holding a Bible in the air, in a move which has been criticised by many church leaders, including the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who said that President Trump had used a church and the Holy Bible for political purposes.
“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Bishop Michael said. “The bible teaches us that ‘God is love.’ Jesus of Nazareth taught, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’
“The Bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.
“We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’”
The Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, said that President Trump had “just used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.
“The President did not come to pray; he did not lament the death of George Floyd or acknowledge the collective agony of people of colour in our nation. He did not attempt to heal or bring calm to our troubled land.
“The Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbour; that all people are beloved children of God; that we are to do justice and love kindness. The President used our sacred text as a symbol of division. We are followers of Jesus. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. We stand with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd through the sacred act of peaceful protest.”
Speaking of the fire at the Church, Bishop Mariann thanked well-wishers, before adding: “A building can be rebuilt. The deeper wounds of our nation remain our focus.”
The Rector of St John’s, Rob Fisher, said in a statement with Wardens Paul Barkett and Jeff Hanston, that the fire was “small”.
“Thankfully, it appears to have been contained to the nursery”, they said, “though, as you might imagine there is smoke and water damage to other areas of the basement.”
“We’re very happy to report that the rest of the church and parish house is untouched except for some exterior graffiti, which the city’s graffiti team has already covered up. Fire investigators are still working, but once they are done, we have a crew standing by to secure the buildings.”
Elsewhere, church leaders around the world have responded to the ongoing crisis. In England, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, issued a joint statement this evening (Tuesday) in which they said that recent events had “once again drawn public attention to the ongoing evil of white supremacy.”
They said: “systemic racism continues to cause incalculable harm across the world. Our hearts weep for the suffering caused – for those who have lost their lives, those who have experienced persecution, those who live in fear. God’s justice and love for all creation demands that this evil is properly confronted and tackled.
“Let us be clear: racism is an affront to God. It is born out of ignorance, and must be eradicated. We all bear the responsibility and must play our part to eliminate this scourge on humanity.
“As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, ‘In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Therefore, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
“We pray that God’s abounding wisdom, compassion and love will guide leaders across the world to forge a better society.”
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said that many South Africans had been “shocked” by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. “George Floyd's killing flies in the face of the solidarity evident in the world's response to the pandemic”, he said, adding: “we condemn the brutal treatment he was subjected to.
“As we heard those words of desperation, ‘I cannot breathe’, we mourned for the loss of all life at this time, through violence everywhere and in the COVID-19 pandemic. May Mr Floyd rest in peace.”
Pope Francis takes part in Church of England’s video-based service for Pentecost Sunday
History was made on Sunday when Pope Francis took part in the Church of England’s video-based service for Pentecost Sunday. The Pope was among a number of Christian leaders from other denominations who took part in the service, which was themed around the Thy Kingdom Come global wave of prayer.
In the service, Pope Francis began his message to “dear brothers and sisters” by saying: “with joy I join Archbishop Justin Welby and all of you to share some thoughts from the heart.”
He spoke of the Holy Spirit as bringing “new and previously unknown hope, peace and joy”, saying: “At Pentecost God ‘infected’ the world with life. How different this is from the contagion of death that has ravaged the earth for months now! Today, more than ever,it is necessary to implore the Holy Spirit to pour forth into our hearts the life of God, who is love. Indeed, if there is to be a better future, our hearts must change for the better.”
Pope Francis also spoke of “this journey that we are making together”, saying: “How greatly I desire that, as Christians, we can be more deeply united as witnesses of mercy for the human family so severely tested in these days. Let us ask the Spirit for the gift of unity, for only if we live as brothers and sisters can we spread the spirit of fraternity. We cannot ask others to be united if we ourselves take different paths. So let us pray for one another; let us each feel responsible for the other. . .
“Dear brothers and sisters, you are proclaiming the Gospel message of life and you are a sign of hope. I thank you from my heart. I ask God to bless you and I ask you to pray that he bless me. Thank you.”
- You can read a full transcript of Pope Francis’ message here, and watch the whole service on the Church of England’s YouTube channel here.
Bishop survives serious bout of Covid-19 after 18 days on life support
Bishop Tim Wambunya of the Diocese of Butere in the Anglican Church of Kenya has returned home from hospital after recovering from Covid-19. Bishop Tim spent 18 days on a life support machine after falling ill with the virus following a trip to the UK.
Speaking to journalist Enock Sikolia from Kenya Citizen TV News, Bishop Tim said he was semi-conscious when he was transferred to intensive care unit (ICU) of the Aga Khan hospital. “I had lost most of my faculties. I got there and as soon as the doctors saw me all I heard was ‘ICU straight away.’ They took me to ICU and at that point, I think I blacked out.”
Over the following two weeks doctors and nurses battled to save him as his body grew increasingly week, until, on the 16th day of treatment, he began to respond.
“They gently brought me back but I wasn’t able to eat or drink”, Bishop Tim said in the television interview. “I was very, very thirsty. I asked for water and they said I couldn’t have water. One of the nurses, God bless her, gave me 5 millilitres of water in a syringe as a way of quenching my thirst.”
Bishop Tim will spend a further 40 days in hospital as medics work to improve and heal his damaged lungs.
Anglican academic promoted at Virginia Theological Seminary
The Director of the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies at the US-based Virginia Theological Seminary, Dr Robert Heaney, has been promoted to Professor of Theology and Mission. Dr Melody Knowles, Vice President of Academic Affairs at VTS said that move came about as the result of the unanimous recommendation of the faculty, which was confirmed by the Board of Trustees. Professor Heaney is a member of the Lambeth Conference Design Group.
In his role as Director of the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies, he has “worked to define and clarify the centre’s purpose as ‘promoting and practicing better community for the Communion’”, Dr Knowles said. “He is an engaging and academically rigorous teacher and a colleague who can be trusted upon to speak with honesty and wisdom. Robert now takes his place as a senior member of the VTS faculty, and we congratulate him and look forward to his future accomplishments.”