The trial of Derek Chauvin for his culpability in the death of George Floyd has been unfolding for weeks. I wanted to share some “trial” reflections even as the jury is deliberating, and the verdict is yet to be rendered.
My focus, primarily, has been on the witnesses — people in law enforcement, medical experts and African Americans in those fields and in the broader community. As I have watched and listened, The Wesleyan Church has been a constant companion in my thoughts.
The Wesleyan Church has long embraced the “four-fold mission and vision of the church — evangelizing the lost, discipling believers, equipping the Church, ministering to society … The result will be that hope and holiness will spread throughout the globe producing transformed people, communities and cultures” (“The Wesleyan Discipline,” para. 1900). In times of “trial,” challenges increase or become more obvious, but so does opportunity — perhaps this is especially true of “ministering to society.”
So, I’m thinking of our mission, but also of Wesleyans themselves. Our churches include police officers, people of color and police officers who are people of color. Also included are those in government, medicine, the broader legal system, and we who’ve been summoned as jurors, pastors who love their congregations and communities. The list goes on.
The word “complexity” comes to mind when thinking of Wesleyans in the field of law enforcement. These sisters and brothers deal in a variety of contexts with various individuals and crowds of equally various ages and generations, people with varying levels of mental health and criminal intent. How often are they placed in nearly impossible situations with unrealistic expectations? While racist and violent people exist within law enforcement, I believe there are many more who genuinely want to serve and are willing to take risks to do so.
I’m particularly grateful for what seems to be a growing number who, in seen and unseen ways, act and speak among their colleagues for what is right, and even provide accountability for those who are doing what is wrong, abusive or blatantly criminal. Many seek the discernment to provide an equality of justice for all.
The trauma experienced by Wesleyans who are people of color and how most handle it so graciously, moves me. This current trial has been particularly difficult for African Americans, yet broader individual and systemic realities impact their lives with an exhausting regularity. When I think of those I know personally, I feel a mixture of compassion and admiration, and see in them a love that overcomes fear. I’ve learned so much from my brothers and sisters in Christ of all ethnicities, and my life is enriched by the fruit of the Spirit that overflows from their lives into mine.
So, my reflections include what should overflow out of our relationships.
- how we could bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
- how we could listen more generously (James 1:19). I think of the people and professions I’ve watched so often in this trial and take a personal accounting. When is the last time they gathered around my table? When is the last time they had my undivided attention, allowing them to speak without interruption and without me being distracted by formulating my opinions and my next comments?
- what we could do together, so truth and love are more pervasive in our churches and in “ministering to society.” What does it mean for me and us together to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8)?
A year ago, at the invitation of Iowa-Minnesota District Superintendent Tim Purcell, I was to join in a “prayer tour” of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. We had mapped a number of stops in a variety of contexts, seeking to discern what a transforming presence (lives, churches and communities) would look like in each location, and what we could do to make disciples and plant churches. Those plans were cancelled due to the onset of the COVID pandemic.
We’ve rescheduled the prayer walk for May 19, keenly aware that so much has happened since last year — the death of George Floyd, which so deeply grieved our hearts and, just recently, the death of Duante Wright. What’s happening in the Twin Cities is also happening in so many other locations. People and communities are traumatized, and a grace that is sufficient is so desperately needed.
I reflect on how The Wesleyan Church can walk through these seemingly ever-present and ever-increasing times of trial.
We, as Wesleyans, have the power and the grace through the Holy Spirit to be courageous in ministering to society. Will we, therefore, be numbered among those bringing the hope and holiness of Christ so God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven?
Dr. Wayne Schmidt is General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church.