In the midst of fighting a global pandemic impacting millions of people worldwide, millions more are flooding the streets in the middle of an unprecedented universal health crisis to fight another. In small towns, in downtown squares, on neighborhood sidewalks and in big cities around the world, a chorus of voices are crying out to proclaim what God says is true.
In response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, we witnessed a community, a nation, and our world come to a tipping point. We witnessed expressions of generational pain, anger, and grief over the incessant violence exacted upon Black bodies.
"I want to become an athlete of influence!"
We witnessed people from all backgrounds rising up to say that Black people don’t deserve to be killed with impunity. That Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Manuel Ellis, Sean Reed,Tony McDade, and so many others had inherent worth: that Black lives matter.
We’ve witnessed the consequences of a nation operating under a dangerous 400-year-old myth that only recognizes the full humanity of one group of people. We’ve seen headlines we never imagined reading in the year 2020 and heard segregationist rhetoric echoed from those sworn to public service.
Leading anti-racist scholar Ibram X. Kendi says that the heartbeat of racism is denial. We are witnessing what centuries of denial and deflection gives birth to and on an international stage, we see what centuries of worshipping the false god of white supremacy produces.
But we are also witnessing a shift happening. Communities are calling for the end of police brutality. Communities are demanding those in power to dismantle a system broken by design, and to instead reimagine a system of public safety that ensures all people can feel protected.
From Birmingham, Alabama to UK’s Bristol Harbour, we are seeing monuments symbolic of oppression and plunder come down. We are seeing people unified in their resistance of structural and institutional injustice.
We’re starting to see eyes opening. We are witnessing an awakening.
Now that our nation’s consciousness has been awakened and so much has been revealed about the global impact of systemic racism, how can athletes and coaches be God’s witnesses in the world?
Be a witness
Athletes, the proclamation of the gospel does not have to exclusively happen in soundbites in press conferences or postgame interviews or kneeling in prayer before or after a game. It can happen by challenging the racist jokes made in your locker room, making a tangible difference in your community, or kneeling in protest to bring attention to what grieves God.
As we’ve seen in recent days, you have the ability to hold powerful institutions and leagues accountable. You have the power to be agents of change who are guided by faith. You have power to create a legacy of challenging injustice and pursuing equity like Jackie Robinson, Maya Moore, Colin Kaepernick, and many more.
Know that proximity alone does not translate to understanding how your Black teammates and other teammates of color experience the world. With humility, hear from the Lord about what ignites you to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly.
Coaches, when it is no longer trendy to issue statements and participate in social media campaigns, be unwavering in your effort to create a caring, courageous, Christ-centered team culture that lets athletes who regularly experience racism and injustice know your commitment to their flourishing is sincere and not a recruiting tactic or damage control strategy. Know that it is critical to articulate your commitments and be held accountable to them.
What this moment requires
Know that this moment in history is part of a battle we continue to wage in the spiritual realm that requires more from us and our dependence on God.
This moment requires more than a conversation over coffee about race and racism. That alone will not break the demonic strongholds that need undoing.
It requires the American church to reckon with its complicity in upholding racist systems and a call to corporate repentance that leads to action. It requires Christians to do away with ignorance, inaction, and innocence concerning racism.
It requires intentionality about righting centuries worth of wrongs, to depend heavily on the power of the Holy Spirit. It requires humility and endurance to keep us from growing weary in well doing in the fight for justice and equity.
This moment requires more than acknowledging racism as a sin problem.
It requires confession of the conflation of godliness and righteousness with patriotism and nationalism. It requires prayer and a plan of execution to use privilege, wealth, and power to help the oppressed and the dispossessed. It requires holding institutions accountable to creating a more equitable society.
This moment requires more than convenient invocations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and more than rushed calls to unity to achieve a false sense of peace or hurried healing.
It requires an embodied faith, one that reflects the hope of Jesus, one that activates and mobilizes us to live out the gospel, one that compels us to be courageous. It requires making the choice to bear the burdens of our neighbors, to also honor the Imago Dei in Black and Brown people in person and in policy.
For all the pain, righteous rage, and grief we’ve seen in the last few weeks, we are also witnessing God giving sight to those who are blind.
God is doing something new in our land. Let this moment energize and activate us to be part of what He’s doing and to be His witnesses in the world.
This is our awakening. May we never slumber again.