By Jerome Brimmage
I went to seminary with Jerome Brimmage. Jerome was a year ahead of me but we did have opportunities for conversation and fellowship. I can’t remember the churches in Jerome’s early career but in the more recent years he has served in Mineola Texas and Cypress Texas. He currently is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lufkin, Texas. Yes, we are neighbors these days.
It was the summer leading into my senior year of high school. One of my good friends called and asked me to meet him in the park as he needed to talk. We had gotten to know each other over the previous six years. We had played baseball together, coached a little league team, and gone to school together. He took one of his college days to ride with me to Stephen F. Austin State University. He had no plans to go off to college, but he wanted out of school and he was willing to go with me to see what the future could hold.
It was late at night on that hot summer night. I did not think twice about driving to the park in our small town. My friend and I pulled up in different cars and parked near a picnic table. We got out and sat on the bench and began to talk. To this day, I do not remember the conversation topic. What I do remember is the police officer that pulled up. He got out of his vehicle and began to aggressively interrogate my friend. He asked for his driver’s license; what was his purpose of being in the park so late; and more. I tried to explain that we were simply talking. The police officer did not want to hear from me and never asked me a question.
I was nervous and not sure what to do or how to respond. I was taught to respect police officers and do as asked. When the officer discovered nothing out of the normal gab session was happening, he got in his police cruiser and departed.
I looked at my friend and explained my nervousness. I said something about the way my friend was the one being interrogated. My friend said, “Jerome, this happens all the time in our world. We get stopped and questioned about stuff all the time.”
You see, my friend was Hispanic. He and his family were U.S. citizens of Hispanic background.
My friend says, “this happens all the time.” As if he was profiled. We were teens, and he knew racism and discrimination in ways that I didn’t know then and, frankly, have not experienced in my lifetime.
If (when) I get pulled over, it’s because I was speeding or something, I know I have done. I have not experienced interrogation for any reason or no reason at all.
As the news came out about a police officer putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died, I had a flashback to that hot summer night. How can it be? It has been nearly 40 years, and this seared memory of my friend in the park rises again.
My friend was interrogated and not murdered. Yet, systemic racism is alive. That breaks my heart and I am sure it breaks the heart of God.
As a pastor, at each baptism, I ask the Methodist liturgical questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your own sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Each person at their baptism or confirmation responds: “I do” to these questions.
In the safety of the church, surrounded by the body of Christ that is there to support you, it is easy to say, “I do.” Yet, when the time comes, and we see again or perhaps for the first time the racism, do we recognize it as a spiritual force of wickedness? An evil power of this world?
God gives us the freedom and power to resist this evil, injustice, and oppression. The question is: will we exercise that power?
Please note I do not believe all police officers are racist. I do not believe that all white people are racist.
I do believe systemic racism is real and alive. This is not of God and not why Jesus was sent to redeem the people of this world.
We are all children of God. Paul says it like this:
26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now, if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29
As people who are baptized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, I have the privilege to be made in the image of God. Paul says, “Now if you belong to Christ,… then indeed you are heirs of the promise.” This means we belong to one another.
I will not lose hope! I believe God is still writing the story of faith and hope in this world.
I will repent for my silence when I should have spoken up.
I will ask for forgiveness for no action when action was needed.
I will seek the face of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to help be the light of Christ in a dark and hurting world.
I believe, with God’s help, there are better days ahead.
Come Holy Spirit Come!