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Philando and Jeronimo

• Greg Boyd

This weekend’s sermon is a response to the recent police/black lives matter conflicts from Baton Rouge, Dallas and here in Saint Paul. We took a break from our current ‘God In Us’ series to talk about this together.

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Many people came to church this weekend with tired hearts over the July 5/6/7 shootings from Baton Rouge, Saint Paul and Dallas respectively. Right now people are increasingly polarized. Our amygdala becomes activated, triggering the fight or flight response, which does not help matters, as this state of mind has been scientifically shown not to be able to process ambiguity, or nuance. So the purpose of today’s message is to gently walk us back from that response, to help us navigate these difficult times of conflict and meet with all of our brothers and sisters in the loving name of Jesus.

The first and most important point to navigating these times of conflict is to remember our true identity in Christ. We are not our opinions, or our past experiences; we are defined first and foremost by Christ.

The second point is to remember that every one of us has a prequel– a back story which makes us what we are today. What were the past experiences that made officer Yanez quick to pull the trigger on that day? What was the prequel that informed the shooter in Dallas? Knowing these things does not excuse their actions. But it does provide context and explanation, which is the first critical step that can lead us to compassion and resolution.

The name of today’s message is “Expose the Powers” because this is the most important context for us to remember when thinking about why people do what they do. Paul in Ephesians 6:12,18 tells us that our battle is not with the flesh, but with the Principalities and Powers. Never has this point seemed more important to remember than right now.

The Principalities and Powers are referred to many times in both the Old and New Testaments. These were high ranking angels who were given authority by God over society, groups and systems. These angels fell and began to use their powers at cross purposes with God. These are the forces that are still at work all around us, which are at the heart of the broken and toxic systems that we all swim in.

Greg illustrates this point by drawing a person surrounded by multiple concentric circles. These circles represent the groups and systems we belong to in the world. In Greg’s drawing, the outermost circle is being human, then working inwards is (for him) being male, being American, being white, belonging to a the Boyd clan, his small group, his family, etc. Each one of these circles has been polluted in some way by the Principalities and Powers, and it affects our experiences all along the way. So we inherit the corruption of these circles and it becomes part of us, like streams and tributaries that feed into and pollute a river that we are swimming in. Some of these corruptions we benefit from (and others suffer), others we suffer from (and others benefit). Their defining feature is that they set us against each other.

This corruption affects us and the cards are stacked against us all in many ways. This is all part of our prequel. Of course we still have free will, but it is within the parameters of these forces that pollute our water.

In mainstream American culture, one of our primary characteristics is that we are highly individualistic. We focus on the individual at the exclusion of the surrounding backstory. This means we see the circumstances of a person’s life and we pin all of the results of their prequels on them. We assume they are in all their circumstances by choice. It means we blame people who are in bad situations or give credit to people for good circumstances. But the world is not this way. We are all equal in God’s eyes but in every other way the world is profoundly unequal. Why is one kid born into a wealthy white family and another born in Haiti? So much is defined by our surrounding circumstances and the corruption therein. Far more than choice, “Luck” is about as far as we can go in explaining it.

So this is the bigger picture that is going on behind the actions of each and every person. The Principalities and Powers and their corrupting influences are pervasive and real, and as Paul says, our job is to always be alert to them. This is a core reason why Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 we are not to judge or blame people. If we are angry, we are to be angry at the various circles of corrupted systems that encompass a person. But the person at the center, every person, is a beloved child of God. Our job is to honor that central fact alone. All judgment and blame is to be left to God.

So how do we fight the Principalities and Powers?

1) Prayer. Time and again we see that prayer makes a difference in the bible. Prayer is a force that fights the core cause of all the external wars between people.

2) Refuse to be co-opted by the powers. Even though there are systemic constraints, you still have your own free will, and we are not on our own in this battle. Jesus always fought against the powers– By how he lived, how he treated women and outcasts and centurions. That is how he revolted against the powers. His spirit is living in us! With him, we are able to swim upstream against the powers that surround us.

3) Finally, stay optimistic and remember our true identity. When our identity is in Christ we do not get swayed as much by the external distinctions such as being American or male, or white/black/Latino, etc. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are all loved. And most importantly we must remember in times like this that no matter what the world looks like, torn as it is by the Powers, we must remember that Our King wins in the end! He brought us truly Good News and the story does have a happy ending.

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Topics: Conflict, Controversial Issues, Reconciliation

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Focus Scripture:

  • Ephesians 6:12, 18

    For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places... Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

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9 thoughts on “Philando and Jeronimo

  1. kevin says:

    Have there been any Women Police Officers involved in the black shootings? If not then maybe we need many many more women trained for this job, yeah?

  2. Melissa Grover says:

    This isn’t a black or white thing, this is ill-training of police. This is the short version of this video. My son Jason and had i NOT by the Grace of God kept his 6 mo old son with me that night, (seconds) he would be dead. My sons door handles were broke, everytime he tried to comply they shot. They evacuated his apartment building, held a gun to his wife, inside their apt, (woke her up) took her cell phone and searched her purse. The video has been tampered with, 3 hours they held him up; there is more. PLEASE don’t make this a black or white, this is very wrong. No one is following our constitution any more no one especially police are following the rules. A private man has the right to move his property from point a to point b; there MUST be harm, injury or loss to another man. This is only about money!


  3. Melissa Grover says:

    The police report has so many false statements it is CRAZY! and for that matter humanly impossible! Jason and my grandson, need prayers and help. There must be a plaintiff and a man cannot be held to any code or statute, all must read our docs of the founding fathers, they still to this day have NOT changed! Law never changes, Legal does!

  4. Melissa Grover says:

    If anyone can offer assistance or would like more information, or would like to see the full video; there were no guns, no drugs, NO weapons. NO REASON to pull him over. They didn’t even check to see if the baby was in the car, they just shot, my son was shot and denied medical attention; He did not have a cell phone and felt the safest place to go was home, which was where this video ended which was 3 blocks away from initial persuit the officer report say he was doing 65-70 how ever, in pursuit report say top speed 43. There is MORE! PLEASE contact me at 763-600-4201

  5. Peter says:

    One message that Greg gave several years ago that has had an influence on the way I think and also is seen in the way Greg interprets situations is, ‘reframing’.

    This message was given in Feb 2013, “Reframing the Sun” (http://whchurch.org/blog/7594/reframing-the-sun).

    This week’s message exemplifies this where Greg points out, the focus has been on ‘flesh and blood’ but this should be reframed to the work of ‘Principalities and Powers’ whereby peoples’ lives are affected and succumb to these influences leading to the resultant tragedies.

    This also leads back to Greg’s previous (week’s) message “Who Is The Spirit?” where, in his encapsulated summary towards the end of the message Greg mentioned that the key point to transformation of our lives was using our mind (imagination), through the Spirit, to have the ‘veil’ lifted and see Jesus. This, in turn, echoes back to Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” that brings us to an important distinction between the mind and the brain. Many of us may be of the impression that the two are one of the same and, in one sense, they are. However, the interrelationship between them, while it is mentioned in the Bible almost in ‘executive summary’ form (like Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”), that when we drill down into these statements, it is the mind that directs the brain and leads to action based on what the mind is empowering.

    Simplistically, the brain is like a computer that the mind programs. If, for example, we see a chocolate or ice cream the eyes and sensors through the brain define what we see….it is then the mind which determines the desire to eat the item (hopefully) weighing up all the factors before that decision is made. If the mind’s answer is ‘yes’ then it empowers the brain to set the necessary processes in action to obtain and consume the item. More and more, scientists are showing the power of the mind to influence and control the brain and body right down to DNA level. Although this information was not available to the writers of the Bible, as I indicated above they could define the outcome (or ‘executive summary’); but now the mental processes supporting what has been said are gradually being more completely understood.

    This whole matter leading back to Greg’s current message is complex but nonetheless underscores the argument and situation that Greg describes/reframes. It also interrelates with the message on the Spirit and the way we are to renew and purify our minds and do amongst other things the description Paul provides in Philippians 4:8,
    “ Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

    As a footnote, there are many books that cover the mind and brain and current understandings however, I found a Christian scientist working in the area of cognitive neuroscience and, of course, neuroplasticity of the brain, Dr Caroline Leaf, and her recent book ‘Switch on your Brain’, to be quite helpful in grasping the complexities of these matters and their relevance to scripture.

    I pray for the comfort of the Spirit for those directly or indirectly affected by the recent (and ongoing) tragedies who may feel at a loss for their actions or those of others, especially where they may not believe they have spiritual origins and hence, are at a loss to explain them.

  6. Boppy Jan says:

    Pastor I see your point as you attempt to explain these circumstances. Unfortunately I think you are skirting around the behavior/ respect syndrome this country faces. If you follow the Bible and live your life accordingly you will find yourself staying away from problems instead of being in the middle of them. There are rules and regulations to live by no matter what makes you the way you are. My bottom line is….Obey Gods rules and society’s laws and you will not find yourself fighting for your life.

    With all due respect I humbly submit to you my Christian point of view .

  7. Dave Pritchard says:


    In one sense that may be true when you ‘turn the other cheek’ or seek to be a ‘peacemaker’ and avoid confrontations, which is a great thing, but in another sense, when you embrace the ‘Kingdom of God’ in your heart it will outwardly manifest as a flashing neon Vegas-like sign to the world and you’ll often have anything but a tranquil sojourn – Ha!

    How one defines “Obeying God’s rules” is an interesting proposition. Christ-like self-sacrificial love will almost always at some level conflict with “societies laws”. So if you’re seeking His will and His Kingdom, then there’s definitely going to be times when you’ll be smack dab in the middle ‘problems’. Think about those who took a pummelling over the centuries for ‘peaceable resistance’; standing up for what they knew in their hearts and minds what was fair and what was right. MLK, Bonhoeffer, Gandhi and many others knew the risks that came with their faith and were willing to ‘break the rules’ if necessary to be true to the higher principle of self-sacrificial love.


  8. Mark Evans says:

    Thanks Peter, (as you recommend) I am going to listen to “Reframing the Sun”, but I am going to listen to it before I listen to this sermon. You mentioned “Switch on Your Brain”, what are the other books that you would recommend that you have not referenced.

  9. Peter says:

    Thank you Mark, for your interest. My comment above, “there are many books that cover the mind and brain and current understandings”, while in one sense is a general observation, it comes from my own recent investigations in this area.

    My recent interest in this topic was largely inspired by a documentary by David Eagleman produced in 2015 titled, “The Brain with David Eagleman” and its companion book, “The Brain – the story of you”….Eagleman being a neuroscientist. In some ways I found these works to be unsettling even as a believer when you start to grasp how the mind and brain works. From this I listened to “The Great Courses” titles, “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy”, “Your Deceptive Mind – A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills” and “Your Best Brain: The Science of Brain Improvement”, not so much from what the titles offered but to broaden my understanding of the brain.

    These publications are essentially non-Christian and while there is nothing wrong with this, I was keen to get some ‘balance’ to this matter from a Christian perspective. It so happened when I was visiting my local Christian book shop that I came across “Switch on your Brain”. For me, this publication does cover a wide area without being overly heavy. While Dr Leaf does write the book with the aim of providing a ‘21 day brain detox plan’, this was of passing interest to me. It doesn’t dominate the book but provides a methodology that she has trialled and used successfully in her practice. It was her descriptions of mind and brain that were my main focus.

    A further book that I have just started reading by a Christian author Peter Clarke is, “All in the Mind? Does neuroscience challenge faith?”. So far this has been quite good (for me), but it is only early times.

    Sitting behind this material from a believer’s viewpoint (or in my case), is perhaps trying to get a new perspective on ‘renewing your mind’ and associated spiritual formation…and to some degree I think I have achieved this. Spiritual formation is covered by a number of authors including the likes of Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Robert Mulholland and Ken Boa’s, “Conformed to His Image” to name a few I have found of value.

    I hope this brief coverage is of some assistance…if not, let us know.

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