Watching the brutal video of George Floyd’s murder, Pastor Charles L. Brown Jr. was enraged like never before, compelling him to first write a sermon and soon after, a self-published book, delving into the spiritual aspect of police brutality with “From Scapegoats to Lambs: How God’s Word Speaks to George Floyd’s Murder.”
“I remember being emotional about some of the others, but this one in particular provoked a combination of emotions that was just unique for me. It forced me to compel God to give me something to help make sense of this. And God gave me that one word, scapegoat, and so I began looking for scapegoat narratives in the Bible. It first started as a sermon, but after I finished the sermon, I ran home and created an outline for the book, and a year later, here we are,” said Brown, pastor at the Family of Faith African Methodist Episcopal Church on St. Thomas. From Baltimore, Brown came to St. Thomas in January of 2017.
Looking at police brutality from a spiritual perspective, Brown tries to explain why it persists and “the strange way God has of using it to expose it and help us to understand it better,” calling it something similar to an addiction.
“When something gets institutionalized, it becomes rationalized as the right thing to do,” he said. “We do it all the time. If we do something we know is wrong long enough, over and over, our brain will find a way to justify it and make it seem like it’s right. In a very elementary sense, that’s what’s happened with police brutality. They believe that the violence they do is in service to the community. They’ve blurred the line to say they aren’t law enforcement; they are the law itself.”
Brown poses that we all use scapegoating throughout many aspects of our culture, though perhaps not to this extreme. Going back to the Bible, Brown found that scapegoating permeates the scriptures. He maintains it is an essential part of the gospel narrative, with people of God experiencing dehumanization, and sometimes participating in it, as well. For Brown, that made him look at the Bible in a whole new light.
“This is eerily similar to what we’re going through today, which I think has bigger implications,” said Brown. “What we’re going through right now, God already knew about it and He’s already given us a manual to kind of help us to understand it. He’s given these authors the calling to write this sacred document that can help enlighten what to do about it and empower us to persist in spite of it.”
A multi-centuries old problem probably doesn’t have an easy solution but there certainly are things we can do, according to Brown. One person, two people or 100 people can’t solve the whole problem, but if we each look in our own individual context, we can recognize an area in which we have a tendency to want to shift blame, and work on not doing that. Collectively, we can make progress.
“All of us can look at some low hanging fruit at our own situations,” said Brown. “I look at myself and say ‘if I’m going to ask police to stop what they’re doing, then I’m going to have to stop scapegoating myself.’ My first instinct need not be how can I blame somebody else. Maybe first I should look at what my role is in this, and how I am contributing or facilitating or enabling this dysfunction. When we start there, we can gain momentum.”