With George Floyd in mind, Bible co-editors created Breathe Life Bible

After the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer, the co-editors of the new Bible say they felt compelled to do something.

Protesters rally outside Minneapolis' 3rd Precinct on April 19, 2021, as the murder trial against former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd advanced to jury deliberations. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(RNS) — Michele Clark Jenkins and Stephanie Perry Moore have known each other for almost three decades and have worked together on two specialty editions of the Bible. But more than friends and colleagues, they say, they hold each other spiritually accountable.

After the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in 2020 by a white Minneapolis police officer, the duo say they felt compelled to do something new that combined their faith and their desire to advance racial and social justice.

The result is The Breathe Life Bible, the title echoing Floyd’s repeated insistence “I can’t breathe” as he was restrained with the officer’s knee on his neck.

Cover of "The Breathe Life Bible." (Courtesy image)

Cover of The Breathe Life Bible. (Courtesy image)

The tome, set for release Tuesday (Feb. 13), introduces each biblical book with a “Breathe It In” segment and features “#Oxygen” tidbits that point to what they consider promises in the scriptural verses. The Bible includes devotions written by Christian leaders, including the Rev. Bernice A. King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of the Atlanta peacemaking center named for him; NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson; and Thelma T. Daley, president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Each of these contributors expands on different imperatives summed up in the acronym BREATHE: believe, reconcile, exalt, act, trust, hope, elevate.

“You can be a part of groups that are doing things for change,” said Moore, 54, in a joint interview with Clark Jenkins. “You can also have an inward and a personal relationship with God for him to guide you on your own heart and mind on what you should do.”

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Clark Jenkins, 69, wrote 49 “We Speak” segments that give brief first-person introductions to Bible characters and short interpretations of their role.

“It has been taught that the curse of Ham is on Black people and that’s why we were enslaved,” she said in the interview. “And that’s why we are on the lower rung of society and why we’ve been oppressed all these years. And that’s just incorrect. And so we wanted to make sure that when I’m talking about who people are, that we dispel rumors.”

They talked to Religion News Service about their reaction to Floyd’s killing and their hopes for their new Bible.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to co-edit The Breathe Life Bible and why now?

Michele Clark Jenkins, left, and Stephanie Moore. (Courtesy photo)

Michele Clark Jenkins, left, and Stephanie Perry Moore. (Courtesy photo)

Clark Jenkins: The summer that George Floyd was assassinated was a very contemplative time, and so Stephanie and I started talking, and really the question before us was: There’s so much happening, there’s injustice, we’re feeling oppressed. What are we supposed to do as Christians? Are we supposed to go into our prayer closets and not come out? Throw Molotov cocktails through Macy’s window? That’s what caused us to want to do this project, to talk about how we as faithful people are supposed to respond, no matter what’s thrown at us.

Stephanie, you wrote in the acknowledgments that this Bible is “a road map of how we can allow the Father to lift the weight of this world off the oppressed.” How do you think a Bible might do that?

Moore: When you think about faith in action, there’s no other way to walk with the Lord than to have the Bible, every piece of it — your favorite scripture, what your pastor might say from the pulpit in taking a passage from the Word. It’s a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Michele, there are sidebars labeled “Inhale” and “Exhale” and verses that you label “Oxygen.” Are you hoping that this Bible will be a tool for physical as well as spiritual exercises?

MCJ: The stresses of life affect us spiritually, mentally and physically. And so, to that extent, yeah, we want the burdens of your life to be lifted, we want people to have joy. We want people to be able to breathe. We wanted people to have guidance and to feel comfortable with how they were taking action in their life because it was biblically based.

An individual reads "The Breathe Life Bible." (Courtesy photo)

An individual reads The Breathe Life Bible. (Courtesy photo)

The King James Version has long been a favorite translation for African Americans. Is that why you choose to use the New King James Version for this Bible?

SPM: You’re right on. We’ve got about 30 different contributors. We have some women, some men, pastors, presidents of (seminaries), gospel singers, rocket scientist. But when we polled a lot of them, the New King James Version of the Bible was one that was always pretty much on the top.

You contrast this Bible with the Slave Bible, the 19th-century American edition that omitted passages about freedom and God’s delivery of the oppressed. Does your Bible pay special attention to those very passages?

MCJ: Not purposely. Places that we really highlighted were those that really talk about how we demonstrate our faith through our actions. So it focuses on when the Bible talks about fighting injustice and oppression and our responsibility to do that.

George Floyd comes up a number of times in the commentary. Are you seeking to reach those who have been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement or the protests that followed his death?

SPM: Personally, it affected me. And that was one of the reasons why I was called, with Michele, to figure out what we could do. If not us, then who? To be able to work together with folks who were hurting, to be able to change that with other people that are stakeholders and faith leaders. To be able to put together a comprehensive piece that hopefully could be hope in the midst of a lot of pain.

MCJ: This Bible is geared towards anybody, by the way. Although we write it from an African American perspective, it’s not just for African Americans. It’s for anybody who wants to put their faith in action. We know that faith without works is dead. Now that you have faith, the question is, what do you do with your life? How do you live your life? How do you go through your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly? And so this is for anybody who struggles with those questions.

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