Columnist John Sheirer: Signs of hope

  • Images of George Floyd are placed all around the area surrounding Cup Foods where Floyd died on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Published: 7/11/2021 3:00:05 PM

After hearing so many conservatives falsely claim that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization and that critical race theory teaches children to hate America, it’s understandable that a sensible person would be offended by a Facebook post demeaning George Floyd’s death.

So I was deeply disappointed when a conservative Facebook friend (let’s call him Dave) posted a meme featuring this statement: “I wish people recognized the death of Jesus as much as they did George Floyd.” I couldn’t scroll apathetically by without letting Dave know that it’s wrong to belittle Floyd’s death and the social-justice activism his murder inspired.

I tamped down my anger and remembered that I was friends with Dave in college 40 years ago. He was someone with whom I played sports, ate meals, and shared conversations on important subjects. Even though I hated the meme he posted, I didn’t hate Dave himself.

Back in college, Dave and I were both middle-ish of the road politically and religiously. Over the years, he grew more conservative while I grew more liberal. But I hoped he wouldn’t purposely support injustice. So, instead of attacking him, I commented on his post in a way that might appeal to his better instincts: “Pitting compassion for one injustice against compassion for another injustice is injustice.”

Dave replied that he wasn’t comparing the death of one man to another. He was talking about Jesus, God incarnate who came to save us but was crucified. To him, there was no comparison.

Comparing an individual human to Jesus is a tough standard to live up to. I appealed to Dave’s biblical perspective: Romans 3:23 tells us that we all fall short of the glory of God. But Matthew 25:40 quotes Jesus saying, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus taught that mistreatment of anyone is the same as mistreating the divine.

George Floyd was certainly mistreated. No one deserves to be murdered by the state, a fate shared by Jesus and Floyd. Diminishing the compassion people feel for Floyd is clearly injustice. There’s nothing mutually exclusive about having compassion for Floyd (and for anyone who suffers injustice) while still revering God.

Dave replied that his intention wasn’t to belittle Floyd’s death but to call attention to how little people focus on God.

I respectfully disagreed that the meme Dave shared didn’t belittle Floyd’s death. Saying that people should pay less attention to Floyd’s death is literally “belittling.” And I mentioned that focusing on the injustice of Floyd’s death is the opposite of ignoring God. Working for justice is probably the most important way to serve a just God.

Some basic research showed me that the person quoted in Dave’s meme is Vernon Jones, a Trump-supporting former Democrat who is now a Republican candidate for governor in Georgia. The meme that Dave posted ironically shows Jones standing in front of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was Martin Luther King’s church. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Injustice against Floyd is an attack on justice for everyone. I told Dave that I’d follow the examples of MLK and Jesus himself and have compassion for Floyd as I work to foster justice for all.

I’ve had many experiences where conservative Christians call me a “Godless liberal” and tell me that demons can quote the Bible for the devil’s benefit. These are not fun conversations, and I was worried that Dave might follow that path. Instead, he wrote about his heartbreak over Floyd’s death and so many similar tragic events. He reemphasized that he meant no disrespect to Floyd or anyone else who had been victimized. His point was that he found it equally heartbreaking that people were turning away from God.

Then Dave wrote something that surprised me: “I understand your point, but I think we’re looking at God through different lenses.”

The fact that he acknowledged and understood my viewpoint was rare in the discussions I’ve had with people who hold conservative political and religious views. We all bring our own lenses to these discussions, and connection is far better than condemnation.

I thanked Dave and let him know that I now understood that he wasn’t intentionally belittling Floyd’s death — although I still deeply disagreed with the meme he posted. Seeing the issue from his viewpoint broadened my understanding as well — even if we still didn’t agree. I thanked him for a discussion where we could share our views respectfully and both gain greater insight into the issue.

His next comment surprised me even more: “Absolutely! I love you, my brother.”

I replied with words I would have been too self-conscious to say to him all those years ago when we were barely out of our teen years: “I love you, too. Have a great day!”

A conversation when I expected to be condemned but that ended with love is a sign that there might still be hope in our divided world.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His new short story collection, “Stumbling Through Adulthood,” will be available later this summer. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.


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