“When the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
I grew up hearing this from Christian leaders in my rural southern community.
They said, “If there is no mention of it in the Bible, then Christian believers should not speak on the subject.” Simple enough, it made sense then. It doesn’t now that I see that life is much more complicated.
If the word exists, then the loquacious God who spoke an entire universe into existence likely has something to say about it.
God the Griot didn’t write it down but rather told a story of creation, “In the beginning” or “Once upon a time.” So, it is not likely that I am going to find God’s written commentary on a number of things.
Unlike the question, “What would Jesus do?” I don’t hear people asking, “What would God say?” When we want to know, we open up our Bibles.
But I need to know what God thinks of hate crimes and white supremacy, universal health care and climate change, the internet and social media, the coronavirus and the vaccines, peanut allergies and gluten-free products.
I’m not asking for disclaimers or endorsements, reviews or recipes, just a word or two. But, of course, there is no mention of any of these words or so many others that we choose not to talk about.
On the subject of justice and equality, the silence is not awkward, agonizing or even apathetic. Instead, life and death tied to our tongues, it speaks to what is important to us (Proverb 18:21).
In matters of life and death, it is evidence of who we want to save and who we can live without.
Not in the Bible, we talk about America and sports, the American flag and the national anthem, immigration and the border.
The “Good Book” also does not mention your church business meetings and what they’re doing with the money, the pastor’s sermon or the fact that your family built this church. But that doesn’t keep you from talking about it.
I say “you” because I have been a pastor and on the receiving end of interrogative and unsolicited advice. “Why did you change your hair?” “That was a good sermon, but we could use one on …”
But Jesus said he came with good news for the poor; his words undergird my lectionary (Luke 4:18). So, there is a word from the Lord about oppression and to the oppressed.
Yet, many Christians cannot say anything – not when it comes to words like police brutality and to George Floyd, who died with former police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck for a callous nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Sadly, George Floyd’s name could be replaced by thousands of others who were the victims of extrajudicial killings, public lynchings.
William Willimon wrote about one in his book, Who Lynched Willie Earle?: Preaching to Confront Racism.
He had grown up in Greenville, South Carolina, but no one in his family had ever mentioned it or said Earle’s name.
He writes, “Our racial history is like toxic waste: We attempt to cover it up, deny it, but then it bubbles up or gives off its stench and we are forced to admit its toxicity. … I write as a South Carolinian, someone born and bred to be a racist, to encourage my fellow preachers to speak up and speak out as Christians to our sins in black and white.”
Why can’t so many Christian pastors say police brutality in the pulpit or pray for the victims and perpetrators during the worship service?
Yes, I know we see things differently, and some things we don’t see at all because of our surroundings.
But did you see George Floyd?
The video of his murder was filmed and circulated on the internet. Did you hear him crying out, “I can’t breathe” and for his mother?
The trial for Derek Chauvin has been going on for weeks. You can’t miss it.
Protests, memorials and cash settlements won’t settle this. Willimon is right; it is going to come up again because there will be another instance of police brutality, of an extrajudicial killing.
Copying and pasting race onto our theologies is easy and expedient. But race is not in the Bible and if it is in yours, then the interpreter put a 20th or 21st century lens on a first century text.
Race simply didn’t exist until the 17th century. There was no word for it or the system that colors bodies in, then politicizes and capitalizes on them.
The Bible is not silent on murder.
Floyd is our brother, and we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:1-13). So, who killed George Floyd?
And just to save us some time, I already checked. The answer is not in the Bible.