The most important teaching of Jesus is inclusive and self giving love. His life was permeated with pure love in such a way that he could pray for his tormentors and executors while he was suffering from excruciating pain and was about to die. All those who came into contact with Jesus could experience his all inclusive love. They included the lepers, the blind, the prostitutes, the disabled, mentally sick people, tax collectors etc. whom the upper strata of the Jewish society branded as objects of God’s curses and ostracized from main stream society. No one was excluded from the circle of Jesus’ love and service. That is why before his death Jesus gave only one commandment to his disciples, summarizing all his teachings. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13: 34-35).
According to the scholars, there are twenty two miracles of healing recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and a good number of them were infected by dreaded diseases like leprosy. Because of the nature of their disease the infected and affected people were discriminated and excluded from the main stream society. Jesus chose Galilee as the centre of his public ministry and there was a large concentration of socially discriminated and excluded people in Galilee, according to some biblical scholars. The main objective of Jesus’ healing was to restore the dignity of the infected and affected persons and thereby to bring them to the mainstream of the society. In fact, Jesus was empowering the powerless through his healing in view of restoring their human dignity.
The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, Our Father, is more than a prayer. Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God is in a way explained through this prayer. Jesus envisions a society in which God is perceived as a loving Father and all human beings as brothers and sisters with equal rights, opportunities and dignity. No one should be deprived of his/her basic needs and all should be ready to forgive each other. In that society there is no place for hatred and revenge. It is a society in which the members should be able to transcend the petty identities like race, caste, religion, gender etc. and focus on the most important identities of humanness and the divine presence in every human person. Saying this prayer is a reiteration of one’s commitment to build such a society/community. It is a sad story that many people recite this prayer while nurturing hatred and revenge against others.
Any kind of discrimination and exclusion is diametrically opposed to the vision and the core teachings of Jesus. The followers of Jesus should be the first to condemn discriminations based on race, caste, religion etc. The fierce protest in about 75 cities of America against racial discrimination nakedly displayed in the brutal killing of George Floyd is to be seen from the perspective of Jesus’ vision and teachings.
Video footage of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46 year old African American man, as he gasped for breath and died later, shocked the world. Indeed it was heart wrenching. The incident that took place on 25th May in Minneapolis triggered large scale protest and violence in many cities throughout the United States of America. It was reported in the media that the US president Donald Trump was taken to a bunker in the White House for an hour because of the protest before the White House by a large crowd.
As per the media reports, Floyd a resident of Minnesota was arrested on 25th Monday after he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 note at a local delicatessen. According to the police version, Floyd resisted arrest after he was told to exit his car. But mobile phone footages recorded by several passers- contradict the police claim. A white police officer then went on to restrain Floyd, and kneeled on his neck for at least seven minutes. Floyd was gasping for breath and was repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe”. The officer remained in that position even after Floyd became unconscious. Later he was taken to hospital where he was declared dead. The officer who pinned him to the ground, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third degree murder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is entrusted with the task of conducting a federal civil rights probe.
The incident has brought to the fore concerns over the law enforcement’s bias against the African American minority, with Floyd’s death being cited as the most recent incident of racially-driven police brutality. According to the media reports, Brutality on the African Americans by the racially based police is not new. In the recent past such incidents had taken place. They include 2016 shooting of Philando Castle, a 32 year-old black shot seven times at close range during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Another incident was in 2016 when a police pinned to the ground and shot 37 year old Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in Louisiana where he was selling CDs.
It is a contradiction that racial discrimination still persists in America, a country that claims to be the first in the world to be founded on equality. America was born with the promise of equality and freedom, a promise enshrined in its Constitution. It is a reality that the blacks in America had to suffer oppression and inhuman slavery for 400 years till they could access civil rights in 1965. Even after the signing of Civil Right Act in 1964 and Voting Rights Act in 1965 the African Americans have been subjected to various types of discriminations.
A pastoral letter issued in 2003 under the title, ‘In God’s Image’ by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, the head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul Minneapolis, pointed out the following as the “faces of racism”.
· We hear racial stereotypes, slurs, and jokes in everyday conversations.
· We read about the increasing use of racial profiling.
· Newspapers carry stories of racist hate crimes.
· Public leaders, radio personalities, and even elected officials make insensitive and offensive remarks that are perceived as racist.
The pastoral letter also exposed the “disturbing economic and social gap that existed between white people and people of colour”. Many write ups that appeared in the Indian media after the killing of Floyd have highlighted the marginalization of the African American people and the increasing divide between the whites and the blacks in America, especially after Donald Trump took over the reins of America. The large scale protests that erupted after the cruel killing of Floyd could be an outburst of the pent up feelings of being discriminated and excluded by a large section of American society.
Although black Americans are leading the agitation against the brutal murder of George Floyd, the protests are unquestionably inter-racial, with huge participation of white youth. It has already become the most mammoth display of anger and frustration against the system since the 1960s. The Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. had shaken America in the 1960s, leading to civil and voting rights for black Americans. Protests against the cruel killing of George Floyd are also taking place in many European countries and Canada. The wide spread protests transcending national boundaries are a powerful expression of the rejection of discrimination and exclusion. It is also a cry for protection of Human Rights of all human beings.
More than 70% of the population of America are Christians belonging to different denominations and sects. The Churches in America have a moral responsibility to change the situation by moulding the conscience of their faithful. It is shame for Christianity that it tolerated slavery and slave trade for centuries and compromised with the gross injustices, iniquities and discriminations heaped on the blacks. This is a time for the Churches in America to remind themselves what Archbishop Harry J. Flynn wrote in his pastoral letter 17 years ago. “We cannot be a church that is true to the demands of the Gospel if we do not act justly, if we do not act to root out racism in the structures of our society and our church. And we cannot achieve personal holiness if we do not love tenderly, if we do not love and respect all human beings, regardless of their race, language, or ethnic heritage”. The Churches should not allow President Donald Trump to make use of this inhuman and totally unchristian incident to polarize the American society on the basis of race and win the forthcoming election.
It is also the strength of American society that millions of Americans, both blacks and whites, are protesting against the killing one person because the killing was outlandish display of racial discrimination. 24 Muslims were lynched by cow vigilantes in India during 2010 and 2017 and most of them were innocents. These killings were often planned and executed by religious extremist groups with the tacit support of the administration and religious bias was the motivating force behind these cruel killings. Unfortunately, there was no outburst of anger in the form widespread protests in India. Most of the followers of Jesus and their leaders remained mute when these brutal killings took place.
Even after 73 years of independence and abolition of untouchability by the constitution of India discrimination based on caste continues and the dalits are subjected to gross human rights violations. The Catholic Church in its Dalit Policy (Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India) has acknowledged the practice discrimination against dalits, including untouchability, within the Church. “There is wider acceptance that the practice of untouchability and discrimination against Dalits exist in the Church and there is need to address these issues urgently,” says the 2016 document. Exclusion of women from the governing structures of the Catholic Church is the result of gender discrimination. In many religious houses the lay staff members are asked to participate in prayer and Holy Mass along with the community members, but they are excluded from table fellowship at the time of meals.
The brutal murder of George Floyd in America and the consequent large scale protests is an occasion for introspection for all followers of Jesus whether they are practising any kind of discrimination or exclusion based on race, caste, religion, gender etc. It is also an opportunity for self correction and putting in place in organizations and institutions policies of inclusion and respect for the dignity of all human persons.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 8th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 24)