“The riot was a spontaneous overflow of pent-up aggressions.”
That quote is not from a news report regarding the protests resulting from George Floyd’s tragic and senseless death in Minneapolis.
It is not from a reaction to the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia.
It is not a report of events after the death of Philando Castile (2016), Trayvon Martin (2012) or Oscar Grant (2009).
The quote is from the Report of the Chicago Riot Study Committee in 1968. Triggered by the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., riots broke out in a number of neighborhoods in Chicago, including the neighborhood where I spent a lot of time in the homes of my grandparents, aunts and uncles.
During that time, when I was still a grade-schooler, I hoped and prayed that prejudice and violence connected with racism would come to an end. “Why wouldn’t it?”, I thought to myself. “Can’t people see that we’re all fellow human beings, created by God and of equal value and worth? Wouldn’t the Civil Rights Movement grow and mature into a new normal of acceptance and respect?”
That was more than half a century ago.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said about the unrest in Minneapolis, “Their voices went unheard, and now generations of pain is manifesting itself in front of the world.”
Generations of pain. Jesus called His generation “evil,” “twisted,” “crooked” and “sinful.”
That assessment is still true today—for each of us. We see evidence every day—in every detail of the confusing and awful George Floyd incident and in the whispers of judgment and condemnation that emanate from our own hearts and lips. Even though we confess that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we tend to minimize our own fallenness. That’s why we point fingers at others and try to diminish our culpability in contributing to the chaos and division in the world, in our communities, in our churches and in our relationships.
Is there an answer to the “generations of pain” that continue the cascade of prejudice, violence, sadness, hurt, injustice and confusion? Yes, but the answer does not flow from our own hearts and it will not take effect because of our efforts or outrage. The answer comes from outside ourselves.
First, God is the One who transforms generations. The psalmist declared, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). For Jesus’ generation and for every corrupt generation before and after—including ours—God sent His Son to put the power of death to death, “so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The Large Catechism says that though “the world is evil and this life is full of misery,” God teaches us “that no one should harm another for any evil deed, no matter how much he deserves it,” and that “God wishes to remove the root and source of this bitterness toward our neighbor” (The Fifth Commandment, LC paragraphs 183-187). God’s desire to remove bitterness toward our neighbor culminated in the bitterness Jesus suffered on the cross and washed away through His death and resurrection. In Him we are new creations. Only God’s grace can cleanse human hearts.
Second, each of us, as redeemed and new creations in Christ Jesus, are given new hearts that are sent on a new pathway articulated in Philippians 2:15-16. Because of the new attitude we receive in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11), we are sent to live as “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Ours and every generation needs each of us to shine like stars as we live out the Word of life for a world gripped by the forces of death. Jesus is waiting to return for a reason. At His ascension He made it clear that each of us has been appointed as His witnesses in our localities and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
As hearts break and riots break out, only a Christ-transformed generation will break the cycle of pain. Let us be serious and diligent about this sacred mission.
By Rev. Michael Newman
President, LCMS Texas District