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Pastor speaks on the ‘George Floyd Protests: Temporary Uprising, Movement or Miracle?’

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes also issues ‘The White Manifesto’

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes (Photo courtesy of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy)

LOUISVILLE — On the second night of a lecture series sponsored by Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation last week, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes spoke on the George Floyd protests, asking if they are a “temporary uprising, a movement or a miracle.”

Forbes, pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church and professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, opened his remarks with a poignant question: Are the protests over the murder of  George Floyd  just a flash in the pan uprising, a Black Lives Matter moment, or will it in some way be recorded in history as the time of miracle when a major change occurred in the United States and perhaps around the world?

He then asked the webinar participants, “If you had the power to determine which it would be — flash in the pan, a Black Lives Matter moment or miracle — what would you say? How we answer that question will determine our actions in the weeks and months ahead, even as we began to look towards any election and beyond.”

Forbes then recalled the series of killings and events leading to the nationwide protests. He said, “May 25th in Minneapolis, a man’s life snuffed out at age 46, George Floyd. And before that on March the 13th, a woman, Breonna Taylor, killed at age 26. And before that, February 23rd, a young man, 25 years old, Ahmaud Arbery in Glenn County, Georgia, killed jogging. So what I guess I want to ask is, did the uprising come from these three murders in quick succession? Was that the catalyst? Was that what provoked what turned out to be widespread  protest in over a hundred cities in our nation and in cities around the world?”

“And then we have the video,” he said. “That video captured with such devastating clarity the knee on the neck, colleagues, associates of the police helping to hold down the brother. His gasping for air pleading ‘Don’t kill me’ and calling ‘Mama, mama help me,’ and alas saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Was it COVID-19 as the backdrop for all of this, at least making it so that we are free to pay attention to life and death issues? We may have been inclined to show God that we are sensitive, and we are hoping for help as soon as we can get it because we want to return to normal. What was it? What was it that turned hundreds, thousands of protestors into our streets? Was it outrage, anger, rage, and an overwhelming sense of that’s enough? No justice, no peace.”

Forbes says prior to these 2020 events he continued to question the 2019 celebration of the quadricentennial of the arrival of 20-odd enslaved Africans to the shores of this country. “It was not that the Negroes were odd, but they didn’t even have the exact count on the manifest,” he said.  “Africans were brought to the coast of Virginia to a place called Port Comfort off the coast of Hampton, Virginia, on a ship called the White Lion. They dislodged from the ship as Africans, but then sold to be slaves, chattel property. We were celebrating that.”

Forbes says he had a conversation with God about whether or not this was going to be the time for God to show the he loved Black and brown people just like he loved the Israelites and could stand it no longer. Referring back to Exodus, Forbes said, “And I heard the cries of the people and I sent Moses. Tell Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’ And after the 400 years, God brought them out and they came out and God judged the nation that they had served as slaves. And they came out with great possessions.”

“And I asked God, ‘God, this is our quadricentennial, the quadricentennial of people of color. Are you going to do something dramatic to bring us out of bondage into a new time of freedom and full participation in a democratic society?’”

Forbes explained that he wondered if it was the hand of God beneath that uprising causing people of multiple ethnic traditions to come together, to decide this cannot be the America we are identified with and whatever ideology gave rise to that kind of action. He asked what was it that made people want to disavow it, to pull away from it?  What was it that got people in the streets who may in times past have ignored the claim that Black Lives Matter?

“And here they are, joining together,” Forbes said, “not only in chatting in the streets, but white neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods, all having signs in unison affirming Black Lives Matter. Well, it clearly got my attention.”

Reflecting on George Floyd’s murder, Forbes says his mind flashed back to April 4, 1968, and the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Forbes says as he thought about King and the conspiracies surrounding his death, he wondered about the cause of death for George Floyd.
“Many of you may assume that we know the answer to what killed Dr. King,” he said. “But if you’ve been listening to stories as long as I have about what actually happened, it would not be quite as clear. There is a blurred line between conspiracy and truth.”

Forbes says that while God is the only one who knows for certain who and what killed King, for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we do know there is one thing all of their deaths have in common: white supremacy and racism.  Forbes explained he’s not speaking of the instrumentality that caused the deaths, but rather the ideology that created the climate in which they were killed. “COVID-19 clearly confirms that to be a person of color makes one vulnerable of various means of assault against life and liberty,” he said.

Forbes ended his presentation by reading his own work, “The White Manifesto.“

“It’s strange that a Black brother in the spirit of love should write this manifesto,” he said. “It is a plea as well as a petition.”

The White Manifesto, Plea and Petition

Suggested by a Black Brother in the Spirit of Love

by James A. Forbes, Jr.


We, the white citizens of the United States of America, declare the end of racial

oppression and policies and practices based on the assumptions of white

supremacy and domination over people of color and the subjugation of groups of

people based on race, class, religion and sexual orientation.


We are determined to repair the damage done to oppressed minorities, and to

erase the remnants of bigoted attitudes and economic and social inequities

reflective of our history of brutal dehumanization and ethnic subjugation. In

addition to our effort to close the chapters of our racist past, we will diligently

work to promote the spirit of mutuality and collaborative action to build a society

dedicated to the freedom and justice of all.


We are not unaware of the cost of pursuing the aforementioned objectives, but

we trust the God of the Universe to accept our partnership in these endeavors

and to enable us to find the strength to keep faith with our resolve to do justly,

love mercy and to walk humbly with our God and with our fellow human beings.

Our action is based on a firm conviction that 400 years is far too long to

perpetrate a system of violent hatred and genocidal brutalization of God’s

children of color.


We now solemnly confess that the unpardonable sins that we have committed,

conspired with, or continued to benefit from have been blasphemous, offensive

against the God of Creation.


We sincerely plead with you for mercy and humbly petition divine providence to

restore the humanity we lost in the nefarious, outrageous transgressions of the

racist sins of the centuries.


We pray from the depths of our hearts to be granted a place in the restoration of

humanity, and the building of the beloved community which was envisioned from

the dawn of Creation.

These sentiments are humbly submitted, relying upon the love of God revealed to countless traditions of faith and the saving grace offered to all members of the human race.

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