by Byron Dulan, Vice President for Regional Affairs at the North Pacific Union Conference
(This article is based on a devotional Elder Dulan gave to the NPUC Staff on June 2020)
The United States, indeed the entire world, were shocked, when video of the murder of George Floyd, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, went viral, on May 25, 2020. Sworn to protect and serve, Officer Derek Chauvin, instead, pinned his prone, handcuffed victim’s face, into the street; and ignored his repeated, desperate cries, warning that he could not breathe. Heedless, Officer Chauvin continued to kneel on the neck of the 46-year-old man, for almost nine minutes — the now infamous, eight minutes and 46 seconds.
By the time medical help arrived, George Floyd, no longer had a pulse. The official police report — which we have since learned, was fabricated by police officials, as an elaborate cover-up on behalf of the four arresting officers — was filled with false accusations and innuendo against George Floyd. This unmitigated case of police brutality has sparked large protests and acts of civil disobedience, across cities, large and small, in America, and around the world.
America surely cannot be surprised today, by the regularity of the killing of Black males, given the history of slavery, Jim Crow era laws, and the recent public slayings of Freddie Gray; Tamir Rice; Laquan McDonald; Michael Brown; Eric Garner; Trayvon Martin; Sean Reed; and now, George Floyd. Who will be next?
But such evil did not originate in America. This evil reflects the “wages of sin”, which has engulfed the earth since the time Adam and Eve favored the word of the serpent, over the Word of God. We are witnessing scenes from the ongoing war between good and evil. The battle between Jesus and Satan, heaven and hell, has entered its final stages. This battle is not centered solely on the lives of individuals; but rather, for control of the powers, and internal operations, of the communal, corporate, political, economic, and spiritual systems of the world.
Paul said: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:5, Andrew’s Study Bible).
Since the murder of George Floyd, there have been numerous peaceful marches and public demonstrations, calling for a variety of civic reforms. Anarchists, however, have followed behind these concerned citizens, for the purposes of stirring trouble and raising bedlam; causing some segments of the the media, to label the peaceful demonstrators, as those who are “Disturbing The Peace”
Our Scripture lesson begins in John 2: 13-15. Jesus’ behavior in this text, may come as a shock to some. So, if you are wondering what Jesus would do, in such a time as this, please observe:
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changer’s money and overturned the tables. He said: “Take these things away.”
In the book, The Desire of Ages, Ellen White describes the cacophonous scene transpiring in the Outer Court of the Temple. The Temple system and it’s services, were predicated upon the ritual blood sacrifice of animals. The people had been rigorously taught, that if there were no sacrifice, there would be no blessing. So, in the Outer Court, you could observe:
- Dealers — selling animals at exorbitant prices to the immigrants, who had traveled from around the world to celebrate the Passover Feast. These “dealers” were required to share their profits with the priests.
- Sales — which, during Passover, were exceedingly large. You may think of it as, “Black Friday”, for religious leaders.
- Noise — sounds included: cattle lowing; sheep bleating; doves cooing; coins clinking; and angry disputations.
- Money Changers — Foreign Coin was forbidden for use within the Temple system, and therefore had to be “changed” into the Sanctuary Coin. This provided ample opportunity for fraud, abuse, and extortion to be perpetrated by the money changers. This also provided an additional revenue stream for the ruling priests.
- Prayers — occurring inside the Temple, were completely drowned out, by the uproarious commotion emanating from the Outer Court.
Inspiration informs us, that the Jews took pride in their piety. They worshipped the Temple as an idol. They rigorously performed ceremonies, but the love of money overruled their scruples. They were unaware of how far they had wandered away from the original purpose of the worship services. (DA 155)
As Jesus entered the Temple Court, his gaze comprehended the entire scene. He saw, the unholy traffic. He saw, the lawless, unfair transactions. He saw, the distress of the poor and the suffering. He saw, the hearts of the priests and rulers, who though boasting piety, were without compassion or sympathy for the poor, the sick, and the dying. Jesus saw, that something had to be done! We are told that even as a child, “Jesus could not witness a wrong act without pain which it was impossible to disguise.” (DA 88).
With indignation, authority, and power, evidenced through his countenance, Jesus stood in the midst of the confusion. The throng became riveted to His face. Confusion quieted. Chaos hushed. Silence grew painful. Awe overwhelmed the throng, as Divinity flashed through humanity, and divine light illuminated His face. He said: “Take these things hence!”. Panic swept the multitude — and they fled. Priests, officers, money-changers, lowing cattle, and their sellers, ran — scattering in every direction — seeking to escape the condemnation of His gaze.
Soon, they were replaced — as the poor, the sick, the down-trodden, and the children — drew near to Jesus. The Savior ministered to them all — healing their diseases and comforting their fears. When the priests and rulers, eventually dared return, they found an atmosphere filled with rejoicing and praise to God. And they were not happy. They hated the power and presence of Jesus. From that day forward, they plotted His murder.
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
Let us pause at this juncture to ask: “How could this happen?” How could religious people, no, religious leaders, consciously plot to murder anyone, much less a prophet, who was doing good in the community.
That very question, belies a misunderstanding of the very nature of evil. Often, when an evil statement or behavior, is enacted by a person, (or persons) in power, it is brushed aside, and dismissed as a personal propensity, or character flaw, within that one individual. But the fact that these behaviors and flaws, continually reoccur in diverse personalities, throughout history, demonstrates that something more sinister, and more deeply rooted, is at work. I am talking about principalities, powers, systems, and structures of evil.
Case in point. The “war on drugs”, has yet to be won. Why is this? Because the powers and systems, supposedly waging the war, are the self-same powers that fuel and protect the flow of drugs into communities. We have drugs in prisons, for example. I would argue, that you can’t have drugs in prisons, unless someone brings them in, or, knowingly, allows them in.
Another case in point. Why has the “war on poverty” not been won? (In fact, this particular war, has long ceased being waged). It is because the self-same powers, supposedly fighting for fair housing and equity, actually own slum housing units, and profit by the billions of dollars, in doing so.
Another case to consider. Why did major corporations receive the lion’s share of monies from the Covid-19 pandemic related, Paycheck Protection Program? You know the reason why! The powers that be! — The Empire Rules!
In his book, City of God, City of Satan, Robert Linthicum posits, that these evil powers continue to plague our cities and our world, due to two things:
The people who provide primary leadership to the systems, are themselves, seduced by the illusion of their own power. They overestimate their own power, because they are convinced that they are in control. They believe they are running the system, and don’t realize that the system is running them. Satan has seduced many elements and systems of our world: corporations; banks; hedge funds; Wall Street; state and federal governments; educational institutions; the criminal justice system (an oxymoron, if ever there was one); sports and entertainment franchises; artificial intelligence technologies; false religions and so-called Christian denominations. These systems flaunt their power in broad daylight; and few people, ever question their moral authority.
The church is largely ignorant of Satan’s strategies to seduce and use systems, organizations, and structures, to perpetuate his purposes. The church primarily sees its own mission as converting individuals; and thereby leaves the field wide open for Satan to exert spiritual influence upon the systems and the laws of the land. The church is fixated on the little boat of personal sins, rather than the rising tide of corporate evil. Racism is viewed as a personal sin; not as a river of privilege that advantages some, and disadvantages others.
RETURN TO THE STORY
Back to our story. We left off with Jesus in the Temple, ministering to the poor. Let’s fast forward, approximately three years later, when Jesus returns to the Temple — just before his crucifixion.
Three years earlier, the Jewish leaders had asked Jesus for a sign, in order to prove that He was called of God. During the ensuing three years, Jesus had healed the lame; provided hearing to the deaf; given sight to the blind; resurrected the dead; fed thousands of hungry people; walked on water; taught peace and justice; and read the hearts, minds, and motives of corrupt spiritual leaders. For all of that, and more, they hated Him — and therefore, plotted to kill Him.
The problem the Jews had with Jesus, was that His gospel of love undermined their carefully laid system of economic, political, and spiritual power; upon which they relied, for health, wealth, power, and continued control of the people. Caiaphas, the High Priest, argued that it was expedient that they murder Jesus, rather than lose their control over the nation.
Jesus’ return to the Jerusalem Temple during that final Passover, was meant to provide the Jewish people, and their leaders, a final opportunity to accept Him as the Messiah, — Savior of the nation and of the world. But His appeal, was not just a personal one. More importantly, it was a corporate appeal. Apart from Jesus, the Promised Messiah, the Jewish economy and religion, were doomed. They, the nation, were operating under an illusion of power. Ellen White says, they were operating under the power of Satan.
They were paying so much attention to what needed to happen inside the church, that they had forgotten the mission for justice, outside the church. They tithed mint, anise, and cumin, but omitted the weightier matters of the law.
Matthew tells us that Jesus went into the Temple and drove out the buyers and sellers and money changers. He said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” Then the blind and lame came to him, and He healed them.
The next day, Jesus was interrogated by those who claimed to be in authority. They demanded to know by what authority He had acted as He had. Jesus responded with three of the most compassionate, yet cutting, appeals for repentance:
The parable of the two sons illustrated to the Jewish hierarchy, that they were the son, who had promised to work in the vineyard, yet failed to do so. As a result, Jesus informed them, the tax collectors, and the harlots, would enter God’s kingdom ahead of them.
The parable of the wicked vine dressers exposed the evil of those who beat and killed the landowners servants (those who had been tasked with receiving the fruit of the harvest). And then, going further, brutally murdered His son, (the heir); rather than relinquish their hold on power. In answer to Jesus’ question, regarding the landowner’s response toward such evil-doers, they sealed their own doom, when they rightfully responded: “He will destroy those miserable wicked men!”
Jesus’ final illustration referred to the stone, that the builders of Solomon’s Temple, rejected. The Builders could not figure out where the stone fit, so they set it aside. Due to its large size, however, it stood in the way of the construction site, forcing them to continually work around it. Therefore, it became a nuisance, and a stumbling block. When the time came, however, to setting the chief cornerstone, which would bear the weight of the entire structure, they realized that it was right before their eyes; and had been there, all along. Jesus, the God of justice and judgement is the Cornerstone. Those who fall on the stone will be broken, but those that the stone falls upon, will be ground to powder.
Jesus’ actions in the Temple, along with His three powerful appeals, convince me, that while God is distressed by individual sins; He is even more distressed, by the unjust collective actions of corporate systems, which have been enticed and seduced by Satan. Sinners may respond to passionate appeals. Systems, by definition, typically, do not. Systems must be opposed. Systems must be subdued. Systems must be protested. Systems must be stood up to. Truth must speak to power.
- Gandhi said: “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
- Ben Franklin said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
- Reinhold Niebuhr said: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
- Frederick Douglas said: “The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- Solomon said: “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”
- Cornel West said: “Justice is what love looks like when spoken in public.”
Micah 6:8 — “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you. But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Could it possibly be, that one main issue undermining the growth of our churches (and denomination), is that we have become so concerned about tithes and offerings, positions and power (while each has their rightful place); yet, have forgotten about “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God,” within our communities?
Christianity, today, is being challenged to “walk the talk”. The religious Right has been strangely silent about injustice happening in our streets. They are loudly vocal concerning the rights of the unborn; but disquietingly silent about the rights, living conditions, and death, of the already born.
Jesus summarized the Great Commandment as love to God and love to our neighbor. Matthew 25 identifies our neighbors as those who are the hungry; the thirsty; the stranger (immigrant); the naked; the sick; and the prisoner. I know that some Christians want to interpret this text in symbolic ways. No! The literal interpretation is the best interpretation. Besides which, this is precisely what Jesus did, while He walked this earth. His example remains the only relevant one; and is to be followed by His disciples.
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said His mission was to the poor; broken-hearted; captives; prison-bound; the economically disadvantaged; and those who mourn. He declared that He would proclaim the day of God’s vengeance to the oppressor.
As my appeal, I imagine Jesus, standing in the Outer Court of our churches today. What does He see? Does He see a lot of busyness or cold efficiency? Are our people more concerned about what the preacher says in his sermon, than they are in translating the words of his sermon into action? Does He see a church preoccupied with internal theological arguments, yet, apathetic regarding the needs of the people in the Outer Court? What would Jesus say to Seventh-day Adventist Churches today, were He to visit? He is, in fact, about to make His final visit. Will He find the joy of those healed; and the joyful praise of the children? Will He see active faith and faithful action?
I know that, because of sin, injustice will hold sway, in any way it can, until Jesus comes. My fear is that the church will become tone deaf, and indifferent to the cries and pleas of those in the Outer Court — and thereby lose its moral authority. My fear is that we will fail to confront the systems of injustice that plague our world, and excuse ourselves by saying that, individually, we had nothing to do with it.
Christ, Himself, was wounded afresh, as He observed the knee of oppressive power, willfully compress the neck of a defenseless man. George Floyd’s death, may have gone unquestioned, were it not for the courageous actions of a seventeen-year-old girl; wielding a cell phone in steadfast witness, against an act of evil.
Jesus, Himself, wept, as He witnessed the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, while out jogging. Evidence of the perpetrators lies, were uncovered, via their own videos.
Christ was broken-hearted, as He watched Amy Cooper refuse to properly leash her dog in Central Park, at a Black man’s request (Christian Cooper; no relation); and then, (because she knew, her “whiteness” gave her the power to do so) deliberately placed his life in jeopardy, by leveraging a false allegation against him in a call to 911. Christ ached, as He watched her succumb to the siren-call of white privilege; allowing the river of American racism, to carry her along, amidst its detritus. Fortuitously, her would be victim, protected himself, by capturing the entire encounter on his cell phone.
Amy Cooper’s actions dredged up the frightful history of Black men in America, being lynched, based on the consequential words of white women. I do not celebrate, nor take pleasure in the social judgements which have befallen her. She lost her job; her dog; and what little reputation she possessed. Sadly, she is simply another human being, seduced by the systems of racism in this country. A system, that, for the moment, more and more people (around the world) have agreed, must be ended.
Jesus is Standing in the Outer Court. He stands watching and knocking, not only on the doors of individual hearts today, but also on the doors of corporate, political, financial and spiritual systems and structures of injustice. We dare not keep our Savior out. We must let His love and His peace come in.