The world watched, aghast at the sight of a police officer in Minneapolis holding his knee on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes. Floyd lay handcuffed and prone on the pavement outside a neighborhood grocery store, struggling to breathe as Derek Chauvin and two other officers held him down. Bystanders repeatedly begged Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck so he could breathe. Chauvin nonchalantly refused, and Floyd died.
“This makes me sick to my stomach,” Franklin Graham wrote May 27 on Facebook. “What took place Monday on a Minneapolis street, by the Minneapolis Police Department, should deeply concern each and every American. It’s inexcusable. To watch a police officer kill an unarmed black man—with no concern on his face, his hand in his pocket, indifferent to the bystanders begging for something to be done to help the man—is so disturbing. He and the other officers on the scene refused to listen and refused to respond. I hope they have deep regret and remorse for their actions. Police are not the judge and jury. These officers will have to stand before God and the authorities on this earth for what they have done.”
The killing, coming in the wake of other killings of black men and women at the hands of white police officers in various cities, sparked protests around the world as people of all races called for change. Crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team responded, first in Minneapolis and then in Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina.
“It’s a devastating situation, not just in Minneapolis but across the country,” said Josh Holland, assistant director of the Rapid Response Team. “We had a group of about a dozen chaplains in Minneapolis to stand with the community and let everyone know we grieve with the nation over the murder of George Floyd. Our mission has been on the streets, whether it’s the memorial site or in different gatherings or rallies, to stand with the community and let people know there’s a God in Heaven who loves them—to let people know the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.”
Around the world, some demonstrations became violent as protesters—some reportedly incited by extremists on one end or the other of the political spectrum—damaged vehicles and looted and burned businesses. Christian leaders joined Floyd’s own family members in calling for an end to the violence.
“Why would you burn down your house when you are supposed to be protesting the death of a man that many do not even know, and his family is saying ‘we want nonviolence; we don’t want this violence’?” asked evangelist Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., on Fox News. “You march, you pray, you make your concerns known, and then you follow that and vote in a moral way that is not going to kill anybody or hurt anybody,” she said.
Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team prayed with dozens at protest sites. Kevin Williams, emergency response logistics manager for the RRT, spent days on the streets in both Minneapolis and Charlotte.
“Even in the midst of this darkest time, Jesus Christ is the answer,” Williams said. He recalled an encounter with one man in Minneapolis, at the intersection where Floyd was killed. “This person was very hostile, very angry, very upset, and quite frankly didn’t even want our ministry there, due to politics and misunderstanding who we are and what we do,” Williams said. “I chose to be quiet and listen. As he spoke louder, I lowered my tone. As he continued to vent, the Holy Spirit assured me that this is what he needed in the time of his crisis. Many of the things he was saying were an issue of his soul. His brokenness was coming out, and this platform gave him an opportunity to unload. So I listened, and I could hear effects of trauma in his life. And when an opportunity was given, I shared the Gospel.”
Many people on the streets expressed gratefulness to the chaplains for being there. And the experience was life-changing in some ways for the chaplains themselves.
“It has been a blessing as a white man to be able to stand there and show support and to let people know that we stand together and there needs to be change,” Holland said. “I had a lot of great conversations with people who needed to vent, who needed to talk, and many wanted prayer. We saw many conversations turn to a spiritual direction, and we’ve seen many people give their lives to Christ.”
Christians need to view the protests with the heart and mind of Christ, Williams said, not just in terms of the justice that our society needs but also in terms of people’s need for Christ.
“We could definitely use more Christians willing, not to go out and argue with people, but to pray in our cities. To prayer-walk these streets. To cover the gates of the city, to cry out to God.
“Who else could deliver you a harvest field to your city like that, other than God? Let’s think about the harvest field that is there, with the Body of Christ’s mandate to go into all the world. What would it look like if God’s children were in place in these ways—praying, covering the gates, on the street when they come, not to face off with them, but just to be there and be prepared for the open door?”
Photo: Todd Sumlin/©2020 BGEA