With gratitude to colleagues Rev. Kadia Edwards, Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee, and Rev. Dr. Marilyn Turner-Triplett who shaped this piece for the better with their wise insights, and for all my ABHMS colleagues who shape my ministry and the world God so loves for the better.
“I just can’t get over that the horrendous moment of George Floyd’s murder started over a $20 bill.” –Austin Channing Brown, 6/3/2020 on Twitter, author of “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”
In my work with pastors seeking to live more intentionally and faithfully with their finances, I acknowledge the daily tension of living between God’s economy and the world’s economy. The values in these realms can feel in conflict--antithetical even.
The world presents a rational list of “smart money steps” to the good life:
- pay down any non-mortgage debt by living on a budget, spending below your means
- establish an emergency savings fund
- “pay yourself first” by putting money aside for your long-term goals.
When Jesus was asked how to achieve the good—eternal—life, his response, in part, was this: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)
What’s a faithful disciple to do?
While discerning and living answers to this question is a lifelong process, I have always understood that faithful financial practice requires that we stop kneeling down to money. I’ve been slower to recognize that my black neighbor is far too often under that money-worshipping knee.
It will be tempting for many white people to limit culpability for George Floyd’s tragic murder to the officers who killed him. As a white person living in a middle-class world, while I pray and push for prosecutorial justice I need to also acknowledge that a dangerous mix of racism and capitalism, what author Ibram X. Kendi calls “conjoined twins,” set the stage. With Austin Channing Brown, I need to never get over that $20 bill and the life that it cost.
I live in an affluent suburb of Hartford, CT where residents regularly signal in conscious and unconscious ways on social media that their primary value is the protection of their children, their pets, and their property. I suspect our town’s 911 logs would reveal a persistent pattern of homeowners calling to report a suspicious vehicle, unknown black person, or unidentified movement on their front door’s Ring camera with no consideration of a potentially fatal outcome. As I watched the now-infamous video of Amy Cooper calling 911 from Central Park, falsely claiming her life was being threatened by an African-American man, Christian Cooper (no relation), an avid birdwatcher whose skin color was weaponized in her words and tone, I thought, “I know her. She lives here.”
It’s easier to write about “her” and “them” than it is about “me,” so in recent days I’ve asked myself what I would do if I found my home….my property….threatened. Would I have the wisdom to respond as the owners of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis who said as flames swept through their neighborhood, “Let my building burn, Justice, needs to be served.” (5/29/2020 on Facebook) When later interviewed by the New York Times, owner Ruhel Islam amplified and further clarified his message: “We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human.” (https://nyti.ms/2TQyW9i)
White supremacy, the notion that so-called white people are superior and thus justified in dominating all others, always values property above black people because it is rooted in a history of valuing black people as property. White supremacy is on its knees in worship of mammon, and it’s time we who are white stand up, speak up and recognize we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God and those whom God created and called “very good.” Black lives matter to God and they matter to me. Do my words, actions, and choices always reflect this?
There are wiser voices than mine who have written and will write in the coming days about reparations for the enslavement of African people and the forced labor that built much of this country on craftily and brazenly stolen land—about present-day economic injustice and how the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating black, brown, and Native communities while leaving many suburban white communities in a far better position from which to recover. A few links at the close provide added data, context, and insight.
From my own position as a white person seeking to resist the repetition of history and striving to live ever more fully in God’s realm, I need to personally name and put down my idols—security, safety, comfort, and the presumption that “my money” exists to ensure these. I need to let my trembling fingers turn the pages of scripture and read what Jesus has to say in Mark 8:35-36: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
At multiple critical junctures, white supremacy killed George Floyd, and it’s keeping too many of us from drawing God’s kingdom to earth and dwelling together fully. I’ve read that the owners of Cup Foods in Minneapolis who placed that fateful 911 call have committed going forward to not calling police for non-violent offenses. What steps can you and I take together to actively value black lives above money, to affirm what has true, sacred worth? Let me suggest we start with a symbol, a ritual of repentance and release--give $20, $200, or $2,000 to a black-led community organization, and join me in praying for forgiveness for every time we have valued the money over the man, the property over the person.
God, I repent of the ways I have wrongly assigned value and worth, and I lament the fatal consequences of this mindset across history and time. Challenge my impulses. Guide my steps. Lead me from the false posture of security to the full posture of servanthood. Let my life—all of it—be yours, and help me live so that others may live fully, whole, and free. Amen.
Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins—brief article
Racism and Economics—9 minute audio
Ta Ne’hisi Coates: The Case for Reparations—including 1 hour, 30 minute audio version of article
Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, financial educator
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash