The death of George Floyd and the movement for justice it has inspired should motivate white Christians to fight against racism, said Steve Wells, the pastor at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and the only white minister to speak during Floyd’s funeral June 9.
“We have to be honest, we have to be humble and we have to confess,” Wells told Baptist News Global the following day. “And none of those things are easy.”
That was one of the themes Wells presented during Tuesday’s memorial service held in Floyd’s hometown of Houston.
Floyd, who was black, was killed May 25 by a white police officer who held a knee to Floyd’s neck almost nine minutes. Floyd told the officer he couldn’t breathe and called for his deceased mother. The 46 year old was laid to rest beside his mother, Larcenia Floyd, at a cemetery in Pearland, a Houston suburb.
Floyd’s death has sparked global protests and scattered violence and turned the 46-year-old Houston native into an icon for justice.
The Associated Press reported that mourners at Fountain of Praise Church included actor Jamie Foxx, NFL star J.J. Watt and rapper Trae tha Truth.
Speakers included Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who spoke by video. The eulogy was delivered by Al Sharpton.
Wells opened his remarks with a passage from 1 John, emphasizing its warning that anyone who hates his brother but claims to love God is a liar. From it, Wells built the case of racism as a spiritual affliction.
“Racism is the reversal of the revelation of God,” he said in an NBC video clip posted to YouTube. “Racism is not perfect love casting out fear, it is perfect fear casting out love.”
Racism-conquering love emanates from Jesus, who alone provides the courage and healing needed by Floyd’s loved ones and by the country, Wells said.
That solution, he added, is already being modeled by the family.
“So, we came to say today that we grieve with you and that your grief has awakened the conscience of the nation.”
Wells noted that his presence as a white man proves the family has embraced a love that partners with God in redeeming the world.
“Everyone would have understood if you said, ‘We don’t need to hear from any white people today – you’ve been silent long enough, you can be silent one more day,’” Wells said.
“But I have to tell you, you asked the whole community to come together and look what happened,” he said, pointing to the congregation which responded with a standing ovation.
Wells emphasized that the white church has a long way to go on the issue of racism.
“We are better than we used to be, but we are not as good as we ought to be and that is not good enough.”
It means embracing the work of racial justice with practical actions, he said. He advised individuals to write down such actions and post them to their mirrors to be constantly reminded of them.
“Racism did not start in our lifetimes, but racism can end in our lifetime – but only if you ask, and I ask, what am I going to do about it?”
White Christians must be part of the solution, he added.
“There is a real hunger in our country right now for white churches to stand up for the gospel.”
But the church isn’t alone in needing to act, he added.
“It feels like we are in a Kairos moment as a world. We are at this tipping point if we’ll just be receptive to it.”