Remembering and memory are an essential part of our human experience. Many of us will have moments in our lives, rhythms of memory – either in family, community or nation – that ground us in where we’ve come from: pivotal moments in our lives that we still need to go to in order to remember.
Doing so pushes us to search deep in our souls at the moments of injustice we remember that lead us to say never again.
Reflecting on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I want to draw us to Psalm 85 and what Lederach calls the meeting place of reconciliation. Reconciliation is that end goal we work towards but that often feels out of reach. Psalm 85 says: ‘Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed’.
This meeting place, this image shows the dance between these four elements that must all coexist to move towards reconciliation. Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace. We heard time and time again in the protest chants over the last year: No justice no peace. And the truth of that holds so true when facing into issues of racial injustice. There cannot be any peace where injustice has not been addressed or truth told. If we want to believe in this image of reconciliation – that we want to all be one in Christ, all made in his image – and move towards reconciliation, then we have to understand and dismantle injustice through truth telling and mercy.
In order to move towards unity and reconciliation, truth must be told, racist systems dismantled and mercy shown towards the pain of the past. In a prayer we have prayed at Tearfund, we have spoken these words: ‘We have left the roots of injustice intact’. We can’t grieve the death of George Floyd and not speak about dismantling the systems that led to his murder, that made it ok for a police office to place his knee on a man’s neck until he was begging for breath – systems that continue to uphold inequality and inequitable access. Or if you’re praying for the peace of Jerusalem right now, you also need to be a part of the struggle for justice, freedom and human rights for Palestine.
Justice and truth lead us to recognise and dismantle oppressive unjust systems. Mercy and peace give the ability to restore and rebuild. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls us to ‘abide in the vine’ and if we want to do that, we must know who we’re abiding in. Jesus embodied this meeting place. Jesus ‘woe’d to you’ to those that had become oppressive; he spoke out truth to religious and political oppression; he sought justice through non-violent action and restoring dignity to the marginalised; he forgave those who caused his murder on the cross, and he prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. Jesus stood up both to his own and to the occupying power and named the failing institutions and systems. He sought to help those around him imagine and create a new way of belonging.
There is so much in the world that requires us – requires the church – to dismantle, to restore, to speak truth on. We must stop pretending that ‘both siding’ equals seeking unity. When injustice is at play, ‘both siding’ always protects the oppressor – because of the power they hold. We must stop pretending that neutrality in these situations is the peaceful response – its not, it’s complicity. Why? Because it is literally killing people. Police brutality, racist attacks in the street, oppressive regimes, occupations and governments, elitist systems of governance and capitalism that marginalise entire people groups (pushing them into poverty), the hypocrisy of nuclear and arms aid and trade (cutting funding to programs in Yemen and Myanmar but still managing to send 3.8 billion worth of nuclear and military arms to the occupying force) vs development aid. All of this is killing people and we cannot stay neutral.
“Stopping violence, calming things down, and reaching a ceasefire must never be the goal of peace activists. The radical / relentless engagement in dismantling all systems of oppression (even in times of alleged “peace”) is the goal.“ Sami Awad
So today, as we remember the murder of George Floyd and all the racially motivated murders, oppression and brutality that he represents; as we hold in our minds the current conflicts and upheaval happening across the world, let us find the righteous anger that Jesus, the vine, modeled. This is an anger that speaks truth and mercy to power; that offers a different way of equity and justice; that dignifies and brings restoration to the oppressed, and that works towards a deep peace that is discontent with just ceasefires but that lays the foundations for wholeness and restoration in living.
If you really want to abide in Jesus of Nazareth, get angry. Turn over some tables. Speak up against the religious institutions and painful theologies that are complicit in the oppression of people. Find ways to non-violently protest the living legacy of racism, colonialism, xenophobia, militarism, occupation, state sanctioned violence, terrorism (of all kinds), islamaphobia, homophobia, anti-semitism and police brutality.
In the pursuit of justice, let’s make space for the voice and truth of the oppressed, the silenced and the marginalised to be heard. And let’s work towards finding mercy in the midst of the cycles of trauma and grief and violence that live and breath in our lands. Only then can we declare true peace. And let us ask that we might together have the courage to live in that tension, that meeting place, where: ‘Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed’.
Mariam Tadros speaks out of her experience working at Tearfund on peace and reconciliation in some of the most conflict-ridden places in the world. She is soon to be Regional Director – Global programmes at International Alert. Her words were first given to Tearfund staff at our weekly global prayer gathering.