William DeArteaga, Ph.D.
Like most Americans I was appalled by seeing the video of the killing of George Floyd, and also am appalled by the looting and violence that followed in American cities. In these events we see the fruit of dismissing biblical morality form our public discourse and relying on secular vocabulary to analyze the situation.
On the first night of the demonstrations which included looting many commentators opined that although the looting was harmful, it was the result of long held frustrations and anger over the treatment of African Americans by the police, and thus understandable. The major of Atlanta, Keisha Bottoms said this on the first evening of the demonstrations/riots. The next day, after she walked among the crows and saw first hand that the looting was instigated by specific outside groups (mostly Antifa) and had nothing to do with the protest demonstration, she changed the tone of her remarks. With the Atlanta chief of police by her side, she declared that there would be “zero tolerance” to further looting and arrests would be made. Thankfully, her forceful words and the firm actions of the Atlanta Police and State troopers have kept Atlanta free from further serious looting and mayhem – a contract to what has happened in New York City.
Historically, the assertion that frustration leads necessarily to violence is nonsense. Such statements give the TV commentators or politicians who says that a feeling that he or she are making a worthy moral observation. In fact, in regimes where injustice and tyranny are highest but the police apparatus brutal and merciless, the public swallows its anger and suffers its injustices without comment. Think for instance, the decades of brutality in Stalin’s Soviet Union, or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The dumbest citizens in those countries knew full well that any protest would be met with years in a Gulag with hard labor and torture.
Rather, the looters in America know that there is a built in reluctance by the political
establishment and police to use force to stop looting. They could probe the limits of looting while the authorities argue how to react. As mayor Bottoms learned, the proper response is “no tolerance” with pepper spray and stun guns, followed by arrests. That worked in Atlanta and other cites where the politicians and police agree in the need to stop looting and mayhem. President Trump statement “When the looting stops the shooting stops” was his bluff. It was a useless and exaggerated statement, true to his character.
The Biblical response to injustice, as in the killing of George Floyd, is not violence, as sin cannot be the response to sin. For instance, suppose a person is in an abusive marriage, where the wife constantly berates the husband and insults him in front of the children. The husband’s frustration builds up, and one day he severely beats her. Her sins of constant reviling (1 Cor 6:9-10) do not justify his sin violence. He could have sought counseling, prayer, etc. The Christian life should be one in which difficulties and injustice are met with prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit to channel answers constructively and non-violently with win-win solutions.
As a whole, Christian clergy have been remiss in their biblical and prophetic ministry in denouncing this false coupling of frustration and anger with violence. It would have been spiritually beneficial for prominent clergy to say the simple, biblical thing, “Sin should not be met with counter-sin. Police brutality is a sin, but looting is evil and a sin also.” The present moment is complicated by the fact that we now have a president who is not trusted to tell the truth by most people, and especially those in the opposition.
Yes, an unnecessary and violet killing took place. The police officer probably had racists motives in his use of force in this case, and the other officers indeed should have intervened. All of that is true and worthy of protest, since it repeats a pattern that is all too familiar.
But as a pastor, historian and a person familiar with classical Christian spirituality, I am also suspicious of some of the spiritual dynamics of the present George Floyd protest movement. Mass protests of this kind can be a double edged sword. They can bring society to a better and more just place, as in the original civil rights demonstrations and marches led by Martin Luther King, of the 1960s. These demonstrations led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act which opened up African-American voting in the South and led to major gains in civil right. But mass demonstrations can also produce destructive “collateral damage” that the organizers and participants cannot anticipate, or sometimes refuse to consider even after they manifest.
For instance, the years of anti-war demonstrations that led to the American pull-out from Vietnam are seen by many as a great achievement. A war was ended, and the US Armed Forces could no longer bomb innocent civilians as in the famous picture of “napalm girl” who was running away from a bombed area.
Demonstrators who took part in the anti-war movement thought themselves as more moral or enlightened than those (like myself) supported the war effort. But that view has proven a superficial analysis. We “cold war warriors” believed in the justice of the Vietnam War as necessary to stop the spread of Communism, and believed a communist victory in Vietnam and South East Asia would ensure massacres again as perpetrated in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. We lamented the collateral damage done on civilians as a tragic necessity of war. The protestors only saw the current conflict and death and had little historical wisdom, or naively trusted that the triumph of the North Vietnamese would lead to “peace and justice.”
We can now see that the end of the war turned out closer to the “cold war warrior” historical understanding than the anti-war protesters. The triumph of Communism in South East Asia led to the triumph of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and they carried out one of the great genocides of the 20th Centuries. Slaughter, too a lesser degree, was perpetrated on South Vietnamese in provincial areas away from the view of the world press. Vietnam was unified as a Soviet style state and attempted a central planning economy like the Soviet Union. This led to great poverty and near starvation in the immediate post war years.
After the Chinese Communist Party realized that Communism and central planning as a economic system did not work out, and morphed into a free-market economy, the Vietnamese Communist Party followed suit and made Vietnam into free market society, After that change it has prospered greatly. But it is still a police state with no human rights. Cambodia has semi-recovered from its period of horror as a more or less democratic country.
The famous Russian dissident and prophet, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, in his Harvard commencement address of 1978 noted that the abrupt end to the VietanmWar, forced by the anti-war movement, cost millions of lives. I and many of us who were in Vietnam agree. Had we stayed a bit longer, and continued to give the South Vietnamese Army our air support, we would have today in South Vietnam a democratic economically vibrant and spiritually healthy county similar to South Korea During the Korean War there was no significant ant-war party which forced the US to abandon the anti-communist fight.
In summary the anti-war protesters were not morally more enlightened or superior to the Cold War warriors, but rather morally presumptuous and less wise by the fact they refused to take Communist history seriously and trusted too much their emotions and desire for a quick peace. They would not like to admit it, but their collateral damage was genocide and the continued political oppression of the Vietnamese people.
I suspect that there may be serious collateral damage to the present round of demonstrations, not as serious as the Vietnam ant-war movement, but potentially still serious. Much prayer is needed to keep the “fruit” of the present demonstrations positive and restrict further collateral damage as already manifest in the lootings.
The Watts riots of 1968 left scars and economic dislocation in that city, and especially its African American residents, that has never fully been healed. New York City is a in a particularly precarious position now. Brick and motar stores like Macy’s had already suffered great loses from the Covid-19 pandemic and the relentless growth of e-commerce, such as Amazon. The looting of the commercial area of New York and various malls in the US may tip the balance to bankruptcy to many stores and bring an immense cost to it in jobs lost (and the pleasure of shopping in a “real” store). Amazon will prosper, further eliminating middle class jobs of store owners and employees.
The anger of the public to the present George Floyd killing may eventually reduce the meaning of manslaughter as a criminal category. My emotional response to the Floyd video before I checked myself was, “That SOB cop deserves to hang” Countless others must have thought or said the same thing. Well maybe, but biblically, manslaughter should not be confused with murder. In the George Floyd case that is very difficult as the video is ugly. But the Book of Numbers spells this out:
Select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. (35:11-12)
Politics normally breeds exaggeration, and protest movements exaggerate the exaggerations. The TV reporters and pundits often use the phrase “endemic racism” of Americans. This is an exaggeration that is convenient to the protest organizers and politically Left groups, but this can be a sin of false or exaggerated judgment. Yes, some whites are racist, but it is also true that some African Americans are racists (note the “Out of Africa” racist lies). But in both cases some does not mean many. Also note how many Whites participate in the demonstrations. This alone should be cause to temper the accusations of “endemic racism.” Let us begin using the phrase “vestigial racism” to signify those who have not yet overcome their prejudices.
.There is always the threat of the protest movement being taken over by extreme radical elements. This is a danger of any mass movement, and the most serious danger to the present movement. As a historian I have studied this played out many times, as in the democratic anti-Czarist movement in Russia taken over by the Bolsheviks (Communists). This led to the worst genocides of the 20th Century. We will note below how to pray that this not happen to the present movement.
The present protest movement may serve to unintentionally marginalize and occult a deadlier problem in the African American community, Black on Black killings. Every year thousands of young blacks, including some children caught in the cross fire, are killed in Detroit and other inner cities in America by gang violence. Many of these murders are not prosecuted. The police try to gather information, but the inner city populations are terrified of the gangs and do not cooperate. Thousands of murders every year go unsolved. The families of the murdered persons receive no justice, and the communities have no peace.
The gang violence and effective take-over of inner city areas are tremendous problems, similar to the ongoing drug cartel takeover Mexico. Both are unsolvable with the present day laws of court procedures and criminal justice. Every judge in Mexico knows that if he or she prosecutes a cartel king-pin his family might be kidnapped, tortured and murdered. That is, the cartels have more authority and power than the legitimate state. This is similar to the situation in some of America’s inner cities. A person who cooperates with the police to identify a gang suspect is in danger of death by torture.
On a secular level, a solution to both these examples involves more police and military force than the public would like to consider. But ironically, what if in the future, the gang violence in the inner cities reaches such a level that some Black major wants to move in and arrest the gangs. Will the police be hamstrung to the point of ineffectiveness by the new procedures and checks put in place through the current demonstrations?
Actually, one effective remedy is for the problems of inner city gangs or Central American cartels is to have true, nation shaking revival. Not just a “preach and altar call” revival, but one as happened in Wales in 1903 where the gory cloud of God moved trough towns and instantly transformed people. That cannot be legislated into being, but prayer could certainly help bring it about. A hint of how this could happen is indicated in the tremendous transformation that has happened in Juarez, Mexico, when a Pentecostal pastor coordinated prayer and ministries of mercy in that city.
How should we pray?
- The most important prayer focus should be that the present protest movement not be hijacked by its most radical elements (Antifa and various anarchists groups) who truly want to destroy America rather than make it a better place to life. These elements are demonically influenced to a major degree as were the Bolsheviks who took over the Russian revolution. They can be prayed against to be ineffective (and ultimately converted) in the manner of “command disablement” that Paul used in Acts 13 against the sorcerer who was opposing the Gospel. For details and scriptures on this consult my blog posting, “The Ministry of Command Disablement.”
- We should pray for wisdom on the part of local, state and federal legislators in forming laws to restrict police violence, and such things as neck holds, without making it more difficult to apprehend the truly violet and criminal.
- We should pray for wisdom of local and state officials in having action ready policies on looting. The point being to be like mayor Bottoms and have a “no tolerance” policy in place and reject the secular alibis such as the frustration-aggression link. To be truly spiritual in the biblical sense is to understand that the government must on occasions wield its sword of authority in unpleasant ways to restrain and punish evildoers. (Romans 13).
- We should pray for the leadership of the “Black Lives Matter.” Specifically that they expand their focus and activities to try the Black on Black violence in the inner cities. They would quickly come to a more biblical position that all sons of Adam (all races) are equally sinful, although sin manifests differently depending on cultural and economic circumstances. This sounds improbable, but with God and prayer all things are possible, including a Wales type glory cloud falling on the inner cities and transforming them into places of peace.
 This concept has been in circulation for over eight decades, made popular by the early psychoanalytical work, Frustration and Aggression, by John Dollard, et al, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939). Nonsense then and nonsense now.
 See my blog on “Donald the Dishonorable: On the spiritual damage of the Trump Presidency,” Pentecostal Theology, Posted Dec 26, 2019. http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/donald-the-dishonorable-on-the-spiritual-damage-of-the-trump-presidency/
 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Commencement Address, June 8, 1978. https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/alexandersolzhenitsynharvard.htm
 I go to more detail as to the possible positive ending had we stayed the course for a few years, in my article “Which Way the Trolley? Pneuma Review, data
 For an example of how a Spirit-filled pastor made a tremendous difference in a Cartel controlled city in Mexico, see: Jenny Rose Spaudo, “Pastor’s Simple Obedience Sparks Revival Among Mexico’s Assassins,” Charisma, (April, 2020) http://www.charismamag.com/spirit/revival/44697-pastor-s-simple-obedience-sparks-revival-among-mexico-s-assassins
 Pentecostal theology, blog. Posted Nov 7. 2019. recovered from a blog done years earlier but removed by Blogger as “against community standards.” http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/the-ministry-of-command-disablement/