About 133 years ago, during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic of 2020, in late May, the people of the United States of America decided they were done with being locked in their homes and locked out of their jobs in compliance with government health measures. They had a higher a calling.
George Floyd, a black man whom none of them knew personally, had been murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis (a small, hypothermic city in the Upper Midwest few Americans would ever venture to visit). The officer had been recorded via a smartphone holding his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until Mr. Floyd – begging for his life, begging for breath, and finally calling for his deceased mother – died.
Americans had no choice but to protest.
And smash strangers in the head with bricks.
And rob the elderly.
And shoot fireworks at the police.
And steal from shoe stores
And drag people from cars to beat them bloody in the street.
And burn businesses and residences to the ground while keeping firefighters dispatched to the fire at bay.
It was “too important” to ignore this latest brazen act of police brutality and “worth the risk” to show local governments that the people were fed up with unchecked, bad behavior from public officials. It was necessary that all Americans be in the street to scream for a righteousness they themselves could never provide. If you couldn’t be in the streets it was mandatory that you showed solidarity with the rampaging mob on your social media page (which was being monitored). American solidarity had shifted from facing down a virus to being united in rage against America. We were all in it together – shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm – in the streets laws of man and of viral transmission be damned.
After only a few hours of riot a revelation began to unfold. Behold! Americans looked on in astonishment as every institution dedicated to either upholding civil order and prosperity or protecting American heritage transformed into an agency of riot support. Mayors and governors provided political rhetoric to justify the mob. Both the mayor of Minneapolis and the governor of Minnesota blamed 17th century British colonists in Virginia for the state of the atrocious education system in Minnesota and the venal and ineffectual state agencies of Minnesota. Minneapolis in particular. The mayor insisted the police surrender a police precinct in order to feed the mob’s appetite. Other cities and governors followed suit.
Corporations who had outsourced their jobs to Asia in search of cheap, controllable labor posted black squares on their social media feeds to show they stood with the under-employed and unemployed black looters. And they had to steal the expensive athletic shoes they couldn’t afford, didn’t they? All of the jobs they might have had were in China and India. It was only property they were stealing and destroying so it wasn’t actual violence one of the social arsonists most delighted by the riots said on television.
The corporations agreed and announced they would do everything in their power to find a black American (or Person of Color if they couldn’t find an actual black) they could promote from middle management to upper middle management. It was high time to show that white collar Black Lives Matter. Oh, and here’s a donation to a fund that would collect money for all the businesses destroyed by the unemployed looters they announced bravely on Twitter.
Universities worked diligently to find and fire any professors or deans who did not agree with the mob’s direction. It encouraged students to finger non-compliant peers.
This is what George Floyd would have wanted. The total dissolution of American society. It’s what his life story was about. At least that’s what the armed white guys from the suburbs dressed in black hoodies and masks said.
One of the quietest wings of American society during the pandemic lockdown was the Christian church. A few pastors defied authorities and asserted their right to worship under the Constitution. Some even asserted the Bible superseded the Constitution but every major denomination (and most of the minor ones) complied with the health directives laid out by city employees.
It was not “too important” or “worth the risk” to hold public worship. More important was to love your neighbor by not worshipping and potentially making your church service a “super spreader” event. Government scientists, while not knowing much about the mysterious, novel virus were sure church events would be hot spots of lethal transmission. As the government began to allow some parts of society to re-open government scientists still struggled with the medical question of how many Christians could safely gather in a church. Some said no more than eight. Others said ten. While still other, more permissive health directors said as many as twelve Christians could gather to worship without bringing about certain destruction upon the neighborhoods in which Christians resided. All agreed Christians should not resume any rituals involving liquids or solids. The science was settled in that regard. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Communion would be a death sentence.
The churches, with few exceptions, took care to obey. The ironclad doctrine of separation of Church and State was only more affirmed by churches obeying mayors, governors, and public officials. In truth, even if church leaders at a denominational or local level had decided to defy the authorities it is likely most Christians would have stayed home out of (understandable) fear of contracting a virus no one seemed to know anything about but only that it was “not like the flu” and very dangerous. Loving your neighbor meant not getting sick.
But what else did loving your neighbor entail? What the George Floyd Reorganization revealed is that Christians really didn’t know many of their neighbors. What are black people mad about, again? Do they really have a different experience with the police than white Americans? What can I do about any of this? Should I be doing something about it? Let me find someone black and maybe they can explain it to me. Do I know any black people?
The real risk aversion Christians discovered they had was the aversion to listening to someone else’s story – especially if that someone else wasn’t in the same economic, educational or social circle. All of the noise black people had been making about basic unfairness – not even racism per se – had been avoided because to listen and wrestle with it would necessarily demand the way some things are done would have to be changed. And change is uncomfortable.
Christians missed in person worship but it became apparent that viewing the worship service and the sermon as a way to dissect one’s inner life in the endless pursuit of self-improvement was probably not all there was to Christianity. Sending children to public school as “missionaries” was still insufficient; especially with schools closed.
The late and fading Republic which began to reveal itself in the Spring of 2020 was rapidly moving away from allowing missionary work in the public sphere. Pastors earlier in the 21st Century fretted about post-Christian America. The scenario that came to pass in George Floyd’s America was a Post-America Christianity – a setting that would not allow comfortable Christians of 2020 to remain what they desired above all: to remain sterile, unbothered, and germ free.