WARRENSBURG — First Baptist Church Warrensburg hosted a panel Sunday, June 7, to discuss the death of George Floyd, the protests that followed, systematic racism in America and ways to achieve a more peaceful and diverse society.
“I see these as critical components of what it means to be a Christian,” FBC Lead Pastor Patrick Edwards said. “It felt like it was necessary for us as a church to get more in-depth into it.”
Edwards said he believes churches should model what justice and peace look like and be engaged in current affairs to speak up when something isn’t right.
“We as Christians ultimately believe there will be only be true justice and true peace in this world when Jesus returns,” Edwards said. “But that doesn’t mean we just sit around on our hands and just wait. The whole Bible is full of God commanding his people to care for the helpless, to care for the marginalized, to be proactive, to give the world a glimpse of what justice and peace should look like. As a church, we have the opportunity to model racial reconciliation, to model peace, racial justice even within our own community.”
Edwards said he wanted people watching the panel to walk away wanting to listen and seeing the value in listening to other people’s experiences.
“I was hoping that if people were to watch it and watch it in full, they would hear a perspective different from their own and the need we have particularly as whites in America to be willing to listen and be willing to acknowledge and say, ‘I hear what you’re saying, I appreciate the experiences you have been through and I want to listen and learn from you.’ We are never going to be able to get to the next stages in racial reconciliation until we can listen to another person’s experience,” Edwards said.
Edwards also said he hopes the panel encourages others to have the same conversation with those around them.
“People are unable to have some of these conversations about race, about policing, without it becoming very personal and very visceral,” Edwards said. “Certainly that’s because this is a very emotional topic. At the same time, we have to learn to how to dialogue with one another and how to listen.”
Edwards said hosting a panel helped to allow multiple voices to be heard regarding the topic.
The panel speakers included Edwards, Whiteman Air Force Base Airman/FBC Decan Leo Long and FBC church member/University of Central Missouri campus minister Rico Jordan.
“I hope to be able to educate well and be educated well and have dialogue that allows us to bring unity, but I don’t see that happening without pointing out things that might be hard to talk about,” Jordan said.
During the panel, Long and Jordan shared their experiences as black men in America.
Long spoke of a situation where he was stopped by an officer because he had thought Long was the suspect in a robbery due to the color of his skin.
Jordan spoke about the deliberate actions he takes whenever he goes in public places to avoid being racially profiled such as keeping his music low in the parking lot, avoiding putting his hands in his pockets, avoiding wearing a hood and ensuring he does not look as if he is angry or up to something.
“Some of this may be seen as etiquette and how you should treat people in a grocery store, but I am not afforded the margin,” Jordan said. “I have to worry that I can literally end up dead. When we look at Eric Garner, even George Floyd where he’s literally just coming out of a store, these are ending in death.”
Jordan said the death of Floyd is not a single instance of race discrimination, but rather part of a thread of racism that has existed throughout the country’s history.
“That is where the rage starts to come in, and the hurt and the brokenness because we’re talking 400 years of this,” Jordan said. “Four hundred years of crying out and no proper response or there being a push to live within the comfort of the majority culture as opposed to getting the opportunity to sit at the table and have these conversations and actually see change come out of them.”
Long discussed instances in the Bible where it speaks against not only racism, but sexism and classism by condemning partiality between two different people.
“The Bible, whenever it speaks of racism, we don’t ever see the word. ... It doesn’t call it racism. It calls it partiality,” Long said.
Long went on to discuss the protests occurring across the world and the meaning behind them.
“As a black man, our protests are for the value of life,” Long said.
Some of the other topics discussed during the panel included systemic racism, the emotions behind the topic and cultural accommodation.
The panel closed with discussing steps that people can take to address these issues.
Jordan suggested people diversify what forms their world view by reading works, following people on social media or having a conversation with those who have different viewpoints and cultures.
“We wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a discussion about the issues, but also to propose some action points and some steps that people can be taking,” Edwards said.
In addition to the panel, Edwards preached about the topic of race to church members during its Sunday service.
Edwards said he received a lot of encouragement from members of the congregation in doing so, but he also received some angry responses.
“The common theme I found in those responses, the angry ones, were folks feeling like I was making light of their hardships and challenges in life,” Edwards said. “That’s certainly not at all what I was trying to do, but rather highlight the challenges, hardships and injustices particularly that the black community has gone through.”
Edwards said the Black Lives Matter movement is meant to call attention to a particular group and their struggles, not to downplay the struggles of everyone else.
“When we focus on one group, that’s not to minimize your hardship or your stories or the challenges you face in your life,” Edwards said. “We all have our experiences and we all feel them very deeply, but we often look at the world through our own experiences and we have a hard time perceiving the world through someone else’s experiences.”
A recording of the panel and Sunday service can be found on the First Baptist Church Warrensburg Facebook page.