Friday 5 June 2020

Reflection from His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos on the brutal murder of George Floyd

Coptic Orthodox Church UK
Media and Communications Office

Coptic Orthodox Church (Europe)
                                Media and Communications Office

Reflection from His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos,
Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London on the brutal murder of George Floyd

5 June 2020

As the world struggles against the silent and invisible Covid-19 virus, the vile disease of racism rears its ugly head once again with the senseless and brutal murder of George Floyd. While we recognise the deadliness of a pandemic and are living that reality today, for far too long the threat and damage of prejudice and racism have often been ignored. The outcry against this brutal murder speaks not only to the loss of one man’s life in Minnesota, but is in response to a much greater and more prevalent undercurrent that many have been unwilling to admit or indeed speak up about.

In speaking over the past week to friends from some of Britain’s Afro-Caribbean communities, I have heard more about what it means to be targeted as a member of those communities and why this crime has opened so many wounds; some from the past and some ongoing. Those who are speaking out are at times demonised for jumping on a proverbial ‘bandwagon’, and those who are not, are seen as not caring or even adding to a far too rife and dangerous trend of silence in the face of injustice. The reality is however, that in cases of injustice, we must all do what we can to advocate. This advocacy here in the United Kingdom must be carried out with the knowledge and understanding of the complexity and diversity within Britain’s Afro-Caribbean communities, and there is no room for generalisations or stereotypes when discussing issues of race and colour.

In looking at the occurrences of the last week, and considering what we can practically do, I was led to reflect on this verse from the book of Micah 6:8 where we read “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
To “do justly” is to ensure that the same rights, privileges and responsibilities apply to every individual, irrespective of ethnicity, colour, gender, or any other distinguishing factor, just as the irrefutable and unnegotiable justice of God is extended to us all, no matter who we are. While these words are of course simple to say, it will take policy makers, religious leaders, community leaders, and indeed each and every one of us, to safeguard these core tenets of our humanity.

To “love mercy” is in direct contrast to the brutality we have witnessed in the murder of George Floyd. There is nothing merciful about seeing a young man, black or otherwise, lying on the ground with a knee on his neck pleading for his life, until he quite literally breathes his last, exclaiming “I can’t breathe”. A man who, in his vulnerability calls for his mother who has preceded him, was dehumanised, and humiliated. What makes this crime even more deplorable is that the perpetrators were those entrusted with, and who had taken an oath to protect, that very man, and everyone else in that and every community.

To “walk humbly with the Lord” is to journey with Him and see the world and others as He sees it and them, dealing with and responding to the pain of injustice as He does. When we walk humbly alongside those who hurt, whatever their situation, it must be about them and not us. It is about their pain, their experience, their perception and their reality, and not what we deem it to be. It is about understanding and responding to that pain and frustration, especially when it has been so long-lasting and, at times, systemic.

The onus is on us, if we value justice, to take responsibility for our societies, our communities, our workplaces, our Churches, our religious places, and our own families; to courageously weed out any injustice, prejudice or malice that may exist there, and even from the depth of our own hearts.

In looking at this whole situation, it is very easy to ‘other’. It is not useful to anyone to express pity from a distance, but rather, we must put ourselves in the place of that person and express a desire and commitment to journey with him or her in solidarity. Even in othering the perpetrator, thinking that they alone must do better, we may neglect to look into our own hearts, consciences and actions to judge how guilty we ourselves may be of that same crime, albeit in a different form.

At this time of pain, we pray repose for the soul of George Floyd, comfort for his family, friends and community who mourn him, and healing for our sisters and brothers in the Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean communities in the United States of America and here in our own Nation. We also pray God’s peace and blessing at this time over so many struggles in our world, that we may, in standing alongside one another, be able to be each other’s safety, strength and protection, never needing to hear those haunting words again, “I can’t breathe”, neither literally nor metaphorically.