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Pastor Agu Irukwu: 6 ways Christians should respond to the death of George Floyd

Pentecostal President of Churches Together in England Agu Irukwu shares his view

I have watched events unfold in America with a very heavy heart. The death of George Floyd, as a result of being restrained by three police officers, has sparked the worst riots in decades, as deep seated racial tensions have boiled over.

Anyone with a shred of humanity is appalled at what took place.

I recently watched this New York Times reconstruction. George Floyd's distressed cries of, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe" have haunted me ever since:

Among the emotions I felt was an anger that this kind of thing should be happening anywhere in the world, and especially in America. If I, a Black, British Nigerian living in London, felt so much anger and sadness, I can very well understand how a young man or woman living in an American city can be enraged.

What should our response be here in the United Kingdom?

1. Empathy

My first response is one of empathy. I understand how frustrations can boil over as a result of an incident like this. I know this was the trigger. Similar incidents have taken place over many years where people of colour encounter prejudice in their normal day-to-day lives. I do understand, and I empathise.

2. Prayer

Pray for America.

I believe with every fibre of my being that prayer works. As a Christian, it is one of the most effective things I can do.

Our response to the challenges and the issues of life should be to approach our gracious and merciful God and ask him to intervene.

3. Share a message of love and forgiveness

Jesus Christ has shown us that love and forgiveness are the cornerstones of our faith. This does not in any way trivialise the very real pain, hurt and frustrations that are being experienced by many African Americans who suffer the impact of an ingrained racial bias in the system.

4. Speak out

Our faith enjoins us to stand against injustice, sometimes at great cost.

I am mindful of the silence of the Church in Germany during the Holocaust and the silence of sections of the Church in South Africa during the evil years of apartheid. Evil and injustice thrives when good people do not speak out.

I am a Christian, I have to speak out. It is my problem and it is our problem.

5. Name and address institutional racism in the UK

My fifth response is to speak into our society here. I do so in all humility, understanding the complexity of the issue, and not putting myself forward as one who has any or all of the solutions.

We have inherent inequalities in our own systems. The institutional racism that exists must be named and addressed.

It is fitting that the way is led by the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the right Reverend Justin Welby, a man for whom my wife and I have the greatest respect and admiration, said earlier this year: "When we look at our church we are still deeply, institutionally racist." He went on to give a personal apology. He said, "I am ashamed of our history, and I am ashamed of our failure."

His example of admitting and confronting this institutional racism, is a significant step in pouring balm on the wounds that exist. You can only imagine the effect if more of our institutions and their leaders adopted a similar approach. All of us in leadership positions have a responsibility to contribute to the healing of society.

Our political leaders were elected to serve a country that is now a collection of different ethnic groups. Their words and actions must constantly reflect an awareness of this reality. Any section of our society that is underrepresented, or denied a voice will experience frustrations, which, if left unchecked, will inevitably boil over. This is true of black and ethnic communities, especially the younger generation, where there is a growing and simmering anger at the racial bias that they encounter on a day-to-day basis.

6. Build on the work already being done

I am resolved that I will do all that I can in my various capacities to encourage more representation of black and ethnic minorities in our institutions.

I am determined that we will build on the work that has already been done as we commit ourselves to this cause, speaking directly to the black community.

The time has come to take very seriously the call to serve in the police, in local and central government, in politics, in the education system, and in the judiciary, to name just a few. I also ask that those who run these institutions commit to concrete action to leveling the playing field.

Agu Irukwu is senior pastor at Jesus House, Chair of RCCG UK and the Pentecostal President of Churches Together in England

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