In recent months, the divide in our country has been evident. The divide along political, ideological, racial, and socioeconomic lines has grown and has manifested itself in events we witness on our screens on a daily basis.
However, the church is an oasis and a sanctuary where differences are affirmed and where unity remains a hallmark. The reason is Christ. We are indeed different. We have different backgrounds, life experiences, and challenges, but Christ brings us together to forge a new identity in Him. Christ is our hope and breaks down the dividing walls while affirming the diversity that makes us stronger together than apart.
For this reason, I have asked our brother, Glenn Boggs, to share his unique experience and insight as a black Christian reflecting on recent events. In a primarily Chinese church, we need to hear his story so we can understand, empathize, and then act in a meaningful way. Let’s prayerfully read his story.
Over the past few years, I have been saddened to see so many black people killed. Why are we so hated? Why is it that so many ethnic groups dislike us? What’s unfolding before our eyes is not new. Trayvon Martin (2012) was not the first. Rodney King (1991) who was beaten to a pulp was not the first. Even 14-year-old Emmett Till (1955) who was murdered in the most brutal, horrific, barbaric way was not the first. Emmett’s mother, by the way, while crying tears of indescribable grief insisted on having a public funeral service with an open casket for the world to see what had happened to her son. He was completely unrecognizable as a human being. An all-white jury found the murderers not guilty. No, they were not the first.Since slavery hundreds of years ago, my people have been hated, maimed, beaten, shot, hanged, lynched, tied-up and dragged behind moving vehicles, among other ways of being killed.
And it continues to this day.
For those who may think slavery is a distant memory, let me give a little perspective.
When I was just a little boy, I remember having met someone who was born a slave. They were, of course, very very old at that point. My parents and grandparents knew people who had been slaves. What always struck me when they were asked about slavery was when they said it was as if it had happened just yesterday.
This time, a police officer kneeled on the neck of a man named George Floyd for nearly 10 minutes thereby suffocating him to death while he was handcuffed and crying out “I can’t breathe”, familiar words from Eric Garner who was choked to death by police officers in 2014! It was gruesome and despicable! The other three officers knew what was happening but did not intervene in any way.
Perhaps I missed it but I detected no resistance from him in any of the videos I saw. George Floyd was no saint, no martyr, no innocent bystander, no hero. He had a criminal record. But he was still a human being. The officers already had subdued him and had him in custody. Couldn’t he have been taken to the police station, booked, arraigned, and thrown into the slammer to await trial? Why did he have to be killed? How many more have died because of such chokeholds, strangleholds, etc.?
I realize that there are many bad people, criminals, in the black community. I don’t deny that. I’ve encountered some myself. But there are many, many more good, upright, law abiding people in our community as well. If a black person (or any person) commits a crime, they should definitely be arrested in my opinion. Then, due process of the law should take place. I can’t understand why some police officers (the vast majority don’t do this) take the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach when it comes to dealing with black people. Why are some police officers so hateful of, afraid of, and so willing to take the lives of people with dark colored skin? Why are we seemingly used for target practice? And why is it when one black person commits a crime, all black people are seen as criminals?Not only am I saddened to see so many black people getting killed, I’m also worried. The list of black people killed at the hands of officers is long. Unless a life threatening event occurs, no one deserves to be executed on the spot.
I live in a predominantly Chinese community.
When venturing to certain places in the community, I’m seen as a criminal, someone who is up to no good, solely based on the color of my skin and the background of my ethnicity. When I go to stores, restaurants, supermarkets, or other establishments in the community alone, I’m often monitored, followed, watched very closely, sneered at, or talked about behind my back in fear that I may steal something or commit some other crime. If one day I’m walking in the neighborhood and someone who hates black people, someone who believes all of the negative stereotypes, sees me and decides to call the police because they think I should not be there and must be up to something bad, could I be arrested? Could I be handcuffed and thrown to the ground? Could I even be shot despite being compliant and obedient? It’s happened to countless black people.I oppose and condemn in the strongest terms the violence, rioting, looting, vandalism, etc. which has ravaged our country since George Floyd was killed. Anyone and everyone engaged in such activity should be arrested and brought before a court of law regardless of their ethnicity or skin color. But we must distinguish between this and peaceful demonstrations. As American citizens, our constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee us the right to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations. While I detest and condemn the violence and rioting, I applaud the peaceful demonstrations and protests.While I vehemently oppose and object to their violent actions, I understand the feeling of despair in their hearts. I understand that in some areas it’s dangerous for black people to simply step outside of their homes. The possibility of losing ones life is high. Perhaps some feel that peaceful means of protesting has gotten them virtually nowhere since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. But that’s absolutely no excuse to resort to criminal activity!
I grew up in the 1960’s during the height of this Movement, the Vietnam War protests, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all proponents of reform and equality. My family lived in the deep South during “Jim Crow” when the police would sick ferocious dogs and turn large fire truck water hoses against our people for protesting peacefully. The Ku Klux Klan ran around rampant terrorizing black families. As a child, I was so afraid we would find a burning cross outside of our home and be murdered by them. At the time, we were segregated from white neighborhoods and schools. Everyone in my family was often discriminated against. I was pushed down, shoved, kicked, and hit for simply being black. And countless times I’d been called the “N” word. But no one in my family, not even anyone we knew, ever resorted to violent means of protesting.
Additionally, I host a weekly radio show on AM 1300, the largest Chinese radio broadcast station in the US located near the community in which I live. No matter which topic my co-host and I decide to cover, I do my utmost to give the black perspective (though ultimately it’s my own personal perspective). Due to the George Floyd incident and unrest, I decided to listen to other hosts at our radio station to see how they were covering the events. My ears were appalled at some of the comments from some of the listeners who called in. Strong expressions of hatred, disgust, and opposition towards black people. Their voices were filled with rage and anger. Listening to that, I felt so sad, shocked, and even lost. Is that what they think of me too, I dreaded. But just as I mentioned above, America has a constitution and a Bill of Rights which give us certain freedoms. It is a country which advocates freedom of speech, expression, religion, thought, opinion, and so on. I believe these are American virtues. In the end, I could not begrudge those listeners of their freedoms and rights.
No doubt the recent riots have left a dark scar on the black community as a whole. In this light, I feel ashamed to be black and angry at the perpetrators. But in a different light, under the light of those who in the past struggled and “fought the good fight” without so much as lifting an angry finger against anyone in violence, unsung heroes such as my father who despite vicious discrimination and racism became a physician during the “Jim Crow” era when most black people could be little more than just “fetch’ems for the white man”, to them I feel a deep sense of gratitude and respect. If black people of today could only learn from our forefathers of yesterday!
As a member of MBCLA where most of the membership is predominantly of Chinese origin, I stand out like a sore thumb. Due to this, I have faced discrimination even within the walls of this church. And it spans across all three congregations, the English, the Mandarin, and the Cantonese. Initially, there was push back against me both verbally and non-verbally, visibly and non-visibly.
I was told to my face to “get out, you don’t belong here” and “we’re watching you”. Many times people refused to sit next to me during worship service or Sunday school. And I’ve even been called the “N” word. There’s much more but I think you get the picture. Can you imagine how I felt? I was in the house of God among fellow believers who were my brothers and sisters in Christ yet they hated me because of my ethnicity? I didn’t fit in because I’m black? I needed to be Asian or white to be welcomed? “Jim Crow” resided at MBCLA too? It was really hard. I was devastated! I nearly left MBCLA never to return.
But something kept me from throwing in the towel, from “shaking the dust off of my feet” as it were. That something was those at the church who accepted me wholeheartedly as a fellow follower of Christ. They truly treated me as a brother in Christ, a person, a human being, a friend, and not as an unwanted intruder or suspicious criminal. They invited me to their fellowship groups, their outings, and even to their homes. They checked up on me when I was sick and brought food and medicine.
In short, from the pastors and leaders of the church to the congregants, they showed me Christian love, warmth, and acceptance! That is the something that kept me at MBCLA. And that love and concern continues to this day. During this COVID-19 pandemic, there are those who constantly pray for me and make sure that my needs are met. I thank our God for all of you who have welcomed me! I’m also happy to report that the prejudice and discrimination towards me has largely dissipated over the years (although not completely). I’ve even seen growth and maturity in a few who at first hated my guts but have had a change in heart. I believe this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, we should not be surprised that there is sin in the world. Discrimination is a result of sin. Prejudice is a result of sin. Racism is a result of sin. The murders and killings we’ve witnessed are a result of sin. The violence and rioting are a result of sin. God tells us in His Word in Genesis Chapter 3 where and how sin entered the world. God’s Word also tells us that things will get worse and worse as the time of Christ’s return approaches (see 2 Timothy 3:13 for one example). Genesis Chapter 4 tells us of Cain slaying his brother Abel. And things certainly have gotten worse over time. We’ve experienced such tragedies even in our lifetimes. But Paul points out in Romans 5:20 that “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” And Jesus says in John 16:33 to “…take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What carried many of my ancestors through slavery was their faith in Christ. What caused many former slave owners to free their slaves, repent of their sin, and even become abolitionists was conviction by the Holy Spirit. What propelled many of the Civil Rights Movement leaders through harsh discrimination and persecution was their devotion to our God despite all that was against them. What made the congregants of a Charleston church in South Carolina in June 2015 forgive Dylan Roof (a white man) after he joined them for a Bible study then proceeded to shoot and kill 9 of the members (all of which were black) including the senior pastor was their love for Christ and even for that lost young man. What’s the common thread? Christ is the only solution. We have victory over hatred, prejudice, discrimination, and evil intent in Christ. We have victory over sin through Christ. Even though we have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, diversity in our skills and abilities, and may even be divided in our political views, God makes us one. We are united as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul teaches us in Galatians 3:28 that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Though we may have racial, social, and gender differences, we are all equal and one under God. Romans 12:4-5 says this, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We have unified diversity in Christ!
So what’s the church’s role in the current upheaval and violence that is ravishing our country? What can we do as Christians in this hostile environment? No amount of government legislation, political jousting, or fiscal funding can solve all of our societal problems. The upcoming elections won’t be the complete answer either. But what we as Christians can do is try to placate the anger. We can shine our lights out to the world and point them to Jesus. We can lend a helping hand to those who are in need. We can seek to understand the issues that are causing the protests and violence and show sympathy where sympathy is warranted. But mostly, perhaps we need to get back to the basics. Perhaps we need to refer back to the two greatest commandments “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:37-40) which is similar to the Golden Rule. What we can do is show our love for one another and love those who are angry, upset, and feel marginalized, as well as the police officers who are trying to uphold law and order, and thereby perhaps quell some of the anger.
Hearts, minds, deep-set feelings and emotions, etc. are extremely difficult to change. But the Holy Spirit can do mighty things. If change for the better is to occur in our society, it must come from the heart. What can change hearts? The gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit within us. Let the Holy Spirit so work in our hearts and minds that our surrounding communities, our family and friends, our classmates, our co-workers, and the world at large can’t help but see something different, something desirable in us. Perhaps those at our church who still despise me and want me out can have a change of heart if they allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. If God so wills the opportunity for us to come across protesters or police officers, let us present ourselves in holy and Godly ways. And may we keep the protesters, the police force, and our government leaders in prayer.
In closing, I hope that through this terrible experience we are somehow drawn closer to our Lord and our God. People are people. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what language you speak, what traditions you have, or what color your skin is. We are all human beings. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. And that includes us black people. Let’s treat each other as such.
Your brother in Christ,