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George Floyd: church protests grow in the streets and online

04 June 2020

Diocese of Southwark

Members of the diocese of Southwark standing in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement

Members of the diocese of Southwark standing in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement

THE Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Budde, along with other church leaders, has prayed in support of peaceful protests against racial injustice and police brutality in Washington DC. Protests continue over the death in custody of George Floyd.

Mr Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis last week while being detained by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who could be seen in a video kneeling on his neck.

An ecumenical prayer vigil had been due to take place on the grounds of St John’s, Layafette Square, opposite the White House, today, but, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports, “a White House security perimeter forced the event north of its intended site on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square.”

In a street just north of St John’s, “standing in front of a line of police in riot gear”, the religious leader “offered a prayer of solidarity”. Bishop Budde and other church leaders, along with the Mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, “prayed in support of peaceful protests against racial injustice and police brutality”, the report said.

Bishop Budde told protesters: “We as people of faith are here to stand with you and for you.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, rebuked President Trump on Monday for using St John’s for “partisan political purposes”. President Trump had stood outside the church holding a Bible, for a photo opportunity, after police used teargas, rubber bullets, and physical force to clear the area of protesters.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has also criticised President Trump’s pose. She told BBC Radio Kent on Wednesday: “The God that I worship and serve isn’t interested in our religiosity. God is interested in whether we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, in whether we look after those who are most vulnerable in society. Posing with the Bible is not engaging with those things.”

The Bible Society described the use of the Bible as “disturbing”. A statement on Wednesday said: “As an organisation devoted to distributing and promoting the Bible, we might be expected to be happy about that. But we’re not. . . It’s genuinely troubling to see the Bible being used as a prop — particularly when, as the Bishop [of Washington] says, it’s associated with images of violence. Co-opting the Bible as a justification for repression is unacceptable.”

A protest in London, organised by the group Black Lives Matter, has received the support of the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu.

Dr Sentamu wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “Black Lives Matter organisers for the Protest Match to Hyde Park was FANTABULOUS! Thank you for standing up to Racism! WITH YOU! Ours in York outside York Minster looked small because of Social Distancing Rules but don’t doubt our Resolve! Racism Violates and Blasphemes against God!”

Asked during an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, on Tuesday, whether he would join protests, Dr Sentamu responded: “At the moment I’m self-shielding. I certainly would want to join. But the moment that turns into violence, I won’t be there, because I don’t believe that violence is the same as going out and protesting.”

He suggested that people light a candle in the windows of their homes “to show our solidarity, because I hope there will still be social distancing and people don’t go into crowds, because that’s not going to help us either”.

In a series of tweets responding to Dr Sentamu’s tweet, however, the Principal of St Stephen’s House, Canon Robin Ward, criticised the Archbishop’s comments: “Let’s just recall who the people were throwing CDM threats around over observing the lockdown? Deplorable.”

“Since March the bishops have insisted on no demonstrable legal authority that clergy adhere to rules imposed on them without consultation going beyond the government’s guidance, to show some sort of ‘solidarity’ backed by threats.

“And now there is a massive, hugely dangerous gathering in the capital, where the virus seems almost under control but where BAME people are particularly vulnerable, and you call it fantabulous. It’s a farce.”

Other demonstrations have taken place, including a group of people, many of whom are from BAME communities, who knelt and prayed together outside St Luke’s Church, Woodside, in Croydon, on Thursday. The video footage on Facebook shows demonstrators wearing face masks and keeping a distance from each other, while church and community leaders say prayers.

The Vicar of St Luke’s, the Revd Sam Dennis, tweeted: “Today we gathered to take the knee for 8 minutes 46 seconds, to remember the murder of George Floyd and commit ourselves to working for justice: I’ve not seen these colleagues in months. It felt important that our first gathering since lockdown was for this.”

The Vicar of St Chad’s, St Alkmund’s and St Mary’s in Shrewsbury, the Revd Yejide Peters, said: “What outrages me as an ordained episcopal priest is that this was a planned and deliberate decision, making sure the vicar of that parish was on an interview with Fox News while other clergy were supporting police and protesters spiritually by singing songs and praying with people.

“He decided to stage a photo op that was oppositional to what the Church understands to be the stance of Jesus Christ. We stand for freedom and justice and love and peace, and we don’t stand for the kinds of things he was calling for in that moment. It’s an evil use of scripture and my faith.”

On Thursday, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, and the Archdeacon of Croydon, the Ven. Dr Rosemarie Mallett, along with the chairs of the Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns Committees, held signs which read: “Our churches are closed, our hearts are open #BlackLivesMatter.”

Bishop Chessun said: “We wanted to stand in solidarity with those who are lamenting, praying, and protesting about the death of Mr George Floyd in Minnesota. We will encourage others in the Diocese and more widely to stand firmly with those who will mark next Monday 8 June which is two weeks to the day since George Floyd was killed.”

The Anglican Minority Ethnic Network issued a statement in support of the protests. It said: “That impunity is what takes the incident beyond that spot in Minneapolis to the rest of USA and the world. For a very long time, some would say for the past four hundred years, black people especially those in the United States of America have been treated as if their lives were not worth anything — as if their lives did not matter.

“They face constant harassment sometimes threat of sudden death in the hands of the police and discrimination in every sphere of society. This is what many people are now protesting against and we stand with the protesters.”

In a video of Mr Floyd’s arrest, Mr Floyd, having being pulled from his car, handcuffed, and pinned down by Mr Chauvin, says: “I can’t breathe.” The Bishop of Warwick, the Rt Revd John Stroyan, said on Tuesday: “The words ‘I Cannot Breathe’ are so powerful, and need to be deeply received, not just in our heads, but in our hearts.”

On Thursday the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a video posted on social media: “Whatever the news and however dark is gets, the good news of Jesus Christ does not change. Christians are filled with hope and courage. To be light and warmth and comfort in the world — that is the purpose of God’s call to us.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement on Wednesday: “The voices calling for an end to the killings of unarmed African Americans need to be heard. The voices calling for an end to police violence need to be heard.”

On Friday, the International Group of the Church in Wales affirmed its commitment to tackling racism. A statement from the group, which is chaired by the Bishop of St David’s, the Rt Revd Joanna Penberthy, said: “Current events in the USA have brought to the attention of the world the extreme injustice of white supremacy and racism. In challenging racism, the Church has much to learn and to repent of.

“However, the Christian faith is clear that before God all people are equal and are valued. Horrified by the murder of George Floyd, we affirm our commitment to work with others in combating racism. We declare, unequivocally, that #BlackLivesMatter.”

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