SBC President J.D. Greear addresses a question before a vote during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the BJCC, June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. RNS photo by Butch Dill.

Catholic bishops, Southern Baptists, call for justice in George Floyd death

(RNS) — Leaders from two of the largest faith groups in the United States issued statements lamenting the death of George Floyd and calling for an end to racial inequality. 

"We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes," wrote a group of U.S. Catholic bishops on Friday (May 29) who head committees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion."

Bishops drafting the letter include Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, and Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, as well as numerous others.  

The bishops called for addressing racial inequality and for an end to violent protests. They also offered support for the family of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died while a police officer knelt on his neck. 

"While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged," read the statement.

"We join Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Mr. George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner, " the bishops wrote. "We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy and for the victims of the rioting. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States, particularly in Minnesota, while the legal process moves forward. We also anticipate a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice."

The bishops also addressed the need to acknowledge and address the issue of racism, calling it a "real and present danger." 

"We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice," they wrote. 

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, including SBC President J.D. Greear, heads of the denomination's national entities and seminaries, leaders of state conventions and officers of the SBC also issued a statement on Satuday (May 29) in the wake of Floyd's death. 

"As a convention of churches committed to the equality and dignity of all people, Southern Baptists grieve the death of George Floyd, who was killed May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minn.," the statement reads. 

"While all must grieve, we understand that in the hearts of our fellow citizens of color, incidents like these connect to a long history of unequal justice in our country, going back to the grievous Jim Crow and slavery eras. The images and information we have available to us in this case are horrific and remind us that there is much more work to be done to ensure that there is not even a hint of racial inequity in the distribution of justice in our country. We grieve to see examples of the misuse of force, and call for these issues to be addressed with speed and justice."

The statement also gave thanks for law enforcement officers who "uphold justice with dignity and integrity" but also lamented "when some law enforcement officers misuse their authority and bring unnecessary harm on the people they are called to protect."

Southern Baptist leaders also spoke of the Bible's condemnation of injustice and the need to follow the example of Jesus.

"Therefore, as a matter of Christian obedience and devotion, followers of Jesus Christ cannot remain silent when our brothers and sisters, friends and/or people we seek to win for Christ are mistreated, abused or killed unnecessarily," the statement read.