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Please… I Can’t Breathe

• Greg Boyd

This has been a troublesome week, with the gruesome murder of George Floyd and the unrest that this has caused both in Minnesota, and around the country. Greg offers a Kingdom perspective on the situation and challenges the church to wake up and see the changes that we need. After his sermon he was joined on stage for a discussion with several people of color from Woodland Hills.

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In this sermon, Greg reflects on what has happened this week in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, specifically the murder of George Floyd as he was being arrested. The is an inexcusable act that we must look at and see for what it is, even if we don’t want to. Greg connects what happened to George Floyd to the experiences of generations of African Americans.

This killing is based in the original sin of America, what Greg names as white superiority. Early immigrants to North America built this nation on the assumption that white men are superior to all others. Therefore, the system was developed by white people for white people, and therefore power has always belonged to white people who play by white rules. As a white man, Greg is seeking to challenge those rules.

Most white people cannot hear the constant screams of the African-American community. The words of George Floyd, “I cannot breathe,” have been repeated over and over. Yet the white perspective prevents white people from hearing these words, and to see the suffering that our white system inflicts on people of color. Why would white people see it when they constitute the dominant culture?

What happened to George Floyd is a paradigmatic pinnacle of what has occurred throughout the history of America. This is not merely a problem for the African-American community. We all must stare this problem in the face.

However, the white church tends to Christianize the system we have inherited. Many claim that the church cannot be unjust or racist because they assert that our nation was founded as one “under God.” The white church then ends up playing along with the system that was created by white people for white people.

Continued silence is complicity. If, over the centuries, the Church had been living out the “one new humanity” as we are called to (Ephesians 2), and working for the healing of racial divides, then perhaps George Floyd would not have been killed. We must accept our responsibility in this. And going forward, as a Church we must speak out and act for the sake of the African-American community. God has called his Church to live out the Kingdom in the here and now.

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Kingdom of God, Reconciliation

Sermon Series: Race Conciliation


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40 thoughts on “Please… I Can’t Breathe

    Maggi says: Sunday May 31, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you everyone who participated in this sermon. I am listening and learning.

    Reply
    Scott Bishop (Seeker in Seattle) says: Sunday May 31, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you pastor Greg for your courage to speak to all of us in the white community and to the church in order to move our hearts to take action on the issue of racism. Successfully resolving this issue once and for all is critical to the health and well being of all the peoples of this country. Thank you for helping us who are non-POC to address our ignorance about how deeply rooted and entrenched the evil and darkness of systemic racism is still within the institutions of power in our nation. Much love and respect to you and those members of Woodland Hills fellowship who cared enough to share their hearts, experiences and perspectives: Shawna Boren, Cedric Baker, Osheta Moore and Delon Smith (forgive me for spelling anyone’s name incorrectly). I appreciate you leading by example in using your voice and position within the white community to speak up and out in love to support our brothers and sisters and neighbors affected by this sin. And I intend to do the same.

    Reply
    jim says: Sunday May 31, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you Greg and the panel afterwards. Super informative and helpful.

    Reply
    Devon says: Sunday May 31, 2020 at 9:43 pm

    Greg… What happened to the Myth of Redemptive Violence?

    Reply
    Deb says: Monday June 1, 2020 at 12:09 am

    Thank you all for this. Sharing this with my fellow white people. We have a lot of work to do. Praying for MSP. Praying for change. For ears to hear.

    Reply
    Jason says: Monday June 1, 2020 at 9:52 am

    I’ve been a WHC podishioner for close to 15 years and never prouder than today. Thanks Greg and staff/congregation for your honest and vulnerable truth telling, lament and repentance. As a white pastor in a predominantly white church in Canada (where white supremacy and racism sadly continues to be a reality), this message and conversation helped me process my emotions this week and my/our need to further repentance and work towards racial reconciliation and justice. Grace and peace to you all and thanks for your witness.

    Reply
    Kirk says: Monday June 1, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    I cannot view the sermon as it is listed “Video Unavailable. Video Restricted”.
    Can you help?

    Reply
      Emily Morrison says: Monday June 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Kirk, Sorry you’re having trouble! I’ve re-checked the settings on YouTube and verified it is public and unrestricted. Can you tell me what browser you are using? Also have you tired opening it directly in YouTube instead of the embedded video on our site?

      Reply
    Molly says: Monday June 1, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you Woodland Hills Church. I haven’t done enough. I haven’t said enough. I hear this, I see this, I will respond.

    Reply
    Tonia says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 2:32 am

    Thank you. My heart has been breaking. Confused, not even knowing who to talk or listen to. I am a white woman. And I can’t possibly know what black or brown people experience daily, let alone – during a week like this. I am grateful for Greg’s message. And deeply grateful for such openhearted and raw discussion from the people on stage. I wept through the entire video. All of you gave an incredible gift, and now, I have a little more direction.

    My education of racism is my responsibility — this point was well made. Nothing can fully teach me how to live in another person’s skin, but I can try to understand. Thank you for challenging me to do so.

    For those who are interested — I just discovered free online, previously recorded lectures/courses on Black Studies from Yale University – available for anyone, anytime. https://oyc.yale.edu/NODE/46

    Of course this is only a beginning. But I want to (and pray to) be part of a desperately needed change. Thank you for having the courage to speak, be vulnerable, to be real, to challenge and confront.

    Reply
    Don Alexander says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Google is arguably not a good option to ‘educate’ oneself since search results will vary depending on the user’s web activity. That’s why conversations like this are so important. So, thanks to all who shared – and thanks to you Greg for your courage and genuine shepherd’s heart. You are missed in Basel.

    Reply
    Heidi Goble says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    So incredibly thankful for this beautiful message and discussion. I have so much to learn. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know/see/acknowledge, etc. Thank you for opening my eyes and teaching me that having a voice is a a gift and I have a responsibility to use it. I will be sharing this message/discussion with my friends and family. Thank you so very much for this.

    Reply
    Jean says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Many times have I been moved by Greg’s preaching. Never more than this last Sunday – along with the panel in their clarity. My view of life has changed. We are all family and to love my family, I must act.

    Reply
    Lorie says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you Pastor Greg. You are genuine and I appreciate your words.

    I’m a white lady and have been living in La La Land…

    Reply
    Pam says: Tuesday June 2, 2020 at 10:04 pm

    How can one possibly know what you don’t know unless someone is willing to take the risk to show you? Thank you to Pastor Greg and the panel members for taking that risk! I am willing to do the work necessary and use my white privilege voice to help facilitate PERMANENT change.

    Reply
    James Moriarty says: Wednesday June 3, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    Greg, You are a theological hero of mine. I think you’re the best teaching Pastor in the US. To write some of the books you’ve written and taken the theological stand you’ve taken takes “Huevos Rancheros”, as we say in California. I have great admiration and respect for you. I looked forward to listening to this message and hoped you would have applied yourself to these current events with the same rigor and attention to detail as you do with your broad theological studies. You’re listening to and propagating a false narrative and you’re clearly listening to the wrong black people. Read Thomas Sowell or Shelby Steele or listen to Candace Owens or Ben Carson. These Black Americans are telling the truth.

    Reply
      WANDA WRIGHT says: Wednesday June 3, 2020 at 6:56 pm

      NO NO NO YOU are listens to the wrong black people BEN CARSON ASELL OUT TO THE DEVIL, the reach you name see this is what wrong with white people you think I should sat back fold my hand and o he was wrong and police was . NO NO NO I am tried of the whole thing happen over over again. I am 65 years old I BEEN THRER DONE THAT. It time that you so cal christaIN WHITE STOP PLAYING CHURCH DO the do unto other as you would have them do unto you. I F YOU are so call CHRISTAIN IWANT TO BE TREAT RIGHT I AM TRIED BEEN LESS THAN A DOG I WANT GO DO AND BE TRY THE ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE . THAT ALL WANT TO BE TOTAL FREE FREE NOT KNOW OOO MY WE WILL SEE. JUST THE SAME RIGHT ALL WHITE POEPLE HAVE. YES I AM VERY VERY ANGRY AND MAD AND TRIED. OS THE SOME THING HAPPING OVER OVER AGAIN.

      Reply
      Len says: Wednesday June 10, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      Funny how you would trust Pastor Boyd for all things broadly “theological,” yet when it comes down to the “practical” of hearing to the stories/history of our black brothers and sisters IN CHRIST and the issues that they still face, the Pastor is listening to the “wrong black people.” Is it even possible that the “right black people” might be the ones that tell the story as you would like it to hear it? The story that doesn’t make you uncomfortable?

      Reply
        James Moriarty says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 1:54 pm

        Hi Len, I am much more persuaded by black men and women who, despite their sometimes horrific stories, decided against a victim identity that can trap anyone who is victimized regardless of race or gender or religion. I find those testimonies completely harmonious with the Gospel and more persuasive than folks who want to blame someone else or be duped into a false sense of white guilt.
        I’m not black but I’m not unfamiliar with abuse. I was raped and abused as a boy repeatedly for 5 years, then bullied and intimidated for another 5 years after that. When I understood my identity in Christ, well, that changed me. It’s easier to blame other people for stuff than it is to hunker down and take responsibility for your own life. The links I listed above are from some really great men. But don’t just listen to me or them… this is what none other than Malcolm X had to say,

        “The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that have perpetuated problems that Negros have. If the Negro wasn’t taken, tricked or deceived by the white liberal, then Negros would get together and solve our own problems. I only cite these things to show you that in America, the history of the white liberal has been nothing but a series of trickery designed to make Negros think that the white liberal was going to solve our problems. Our problems will never be solved by the white man.”
        If he’s too radical then how about this one from the greatest black activist of all time, Frederick Douglass.

        Douglass said, “What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! Let him alone. If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, Your interference is doing him positive injury”.

        Reply
          Maggi says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 2:16 pm

          Systemic racism has not let the black people alone. We, white people as a whole, block their access to the same privileges all white looking people have. Only white people can change this.

          Reply
            James Moriarty says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 3:30 pm

            The prophets are pretty clear Maggi, I’m responsible for my sins, not my ancestor’s sins. We may have to deal with the consequences of their sins but NOT the guilt. If you or I sin, we’re the guilty ones. So, with all due respect Maggi, if you are blocking black people’s access to anything, stop it. I’m not now, nor have I ever blocked any black person from access to anything. I refuse to wear false guilt based on some other person’s behavior.

          Len says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 3:43 pm

          James, I am sorry for what you had to go through, and give praise to God that you have found peace and healing. I, too, am an admirer of Douglass’ writing. I think that the first part of his quote that you chose, perfectly summarizes what many of our brothers and sisters are saying: A large part of the game is still significantly rigged.

          “What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.”

          Justice is still missing. Inequality still persists. People try to bring up Floyd’s past, as if he somehow deserved this. His past is irrelevant. Had Floyd been white, and the officers been black, there would have been an immediate response from the White House and the MPD, and we wouldn’t be talking about it.

          I am of Asian descent, son of immigrants. We are, supposedly, the “model minority.” We are often touted as an example to the black community of “how it can/should be done.” But most Asians know that we have only been *allowed* to progress to the degree that the keepers of the game have been comfortable.

          I have never been given “The Talk” that is given to young Black men regarding how to act towards police, and the reality that they can do everything correctly, and still risk losing their lives.

          It is this idea that, “If they would only play by the rules, everything would have been fine,” that people are protesting: The lack of both justice and equality in treatment persists.

          Yes, victim identity is real, and we should all take personal responsibility. Neither of two truths mean that Pastor Greg is listening to the “wrong black people.” He’s listening to people of color in his congregation, with whom he has personal connections. How are they the wrong black people? Should he quote Douglass at them.

          Were they alive today, I think both Douglass and Malcolm X would be appalled that this is still a situation in 2020. Certainly MLK would be.

          To quote MLK: “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” While some of our black brothers and sisters now have boots, they are still walking amongst a society that will still question how they obtained those boots.

          I don’t think that you should feel white guilt, but if you can’t even acknowledge that the current game is still rigged, you may feel some plain old regular guilt in the future.

          Perhaps we should not debate the appropriate victim response, and focus on why someone was made a victim in the first place.

          Reply
    Sara says: Thursday June 4, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    We hear the news about Georg Floyd all over the world now, and demonstrations are held here in Sweden to support “black lives matters” in this moment. Many eyes are being opened. I pray for real change.
    Although we live in a different context here in Sweden we too are affected and moved by what is happening.
    Thank you Greg for your message. I follow a lot of the teaching at Woodland Hills. It changes way of thinking and helps to open eyes and hearts. I will share the link with more people. I intend to speak out as a white woman.

    Reply
    Robin says: Sunday June 7, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Very much appreciated this video..but you lost me at including Michael Brown..I feel it your going to comment be fully informed. Michael was unfortunately killed but it was his actions. Fighting the cop for the gun, numerous witnesses and DNA proved this and many police officers were killed because of the false narrative put out there about him being murdered. So please check your info before commenting on this..
    Thank you!

    Reply
    Christopher says: Friday June 12, 2020 at 10:20 am

    As the father of a biracial son who isn’t white-passing, I was so grateful to listen to the sermon until I heard Osheta say, “I don’t want to be your educator… we are not here to teach you.”
    I know Osheta was hurting, as it is the same pain I have every time my son gets into a car and have to remind him of the challenges of driving while black, or staying with him while he shops or countless other worries I take on with him. However, her response in this sermon wounded me deeply as it is the same response I received every time I asked a member of the black community to tell me the best way wash my son’s skin, to help me choose a lotion for his skin, to recommend a barber to cut his hair the first time, to choose a product for his hair, or to recommend a church where black, brown, and white can worship together. It is the same response my son received from the black community at school, they did not want to hang out with him because he wasn’t black enough.
    Thankfully, God brought to us friends from Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Brazil, Guatemala, and Ecuador. Who helped us when the black community didn’t want to be an educator let alone a friend. Also thankfully, the other Brown kids at school did want to hang out with my son. He experienced more love and worship on a soccer team with first generation immigrants then he did at any Church we tried let alone the black community.
    I have really enjoyed Osheta’s sermons in the past, but I would like to ask her to throw the spaghetti back in the pot as the idea of not being an educator. As my experience and the experience of many other parents of brown kids can attest black isolation is a systemic black community issue. If white folks educate themselves, they remain on the outside of the community and if the goal is reconciliation being outside is counterproductive.

    Reply
      Maggi says: Saturday June 13, 2020 at 5:39 pm

      I am not understanding why you think it is Osheta’s job to be the spokesperson for black people?

      I would be hurt if I had a close friend that was black and I had been educating myself but was confused by something and wanted her personal perspective and she refused.

      Here are two resources I found in just a few minutes, there are many many more and support groups for parents of biracial kids. You could make some friends there.

      https://www.biracialbookworms.com/raising-multiracial-children-a-parents-guide/

      https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mixed-like-us-5-ways-to-s_b_8696442

      Reply
        Christopher says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 7:45 pm

        Maggie, I didn’t ask Osheta to a spokesperson. I asked her to think through her statement of not being an educator. If we can’t bring our brothers and sisters in and share the pain we endanger ourselves. My point was that her answer was a systemic answer itself and one that is shared by far to many. Also your google answer is about twenty years too late. I and my son survive through the love of others not even from this country when google wasn’t an option.

        Reply
          Maggi says: Sunday June 14, 2020 at 9:14 pm

          I am sorry you felt unsupported in raising your son under tough circumstances. I misunderstood your statement and thought that you were expecting black people to educate you just because they are black. I stand by my statement that, today, there is a lot of learning to be had without expecting people to be our personal tutors.

          Reply

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