Q&A with Pastor Bryan Loritts in the aftermath of George Floyd's death

Our country is hurting right now after the death of George Floyd. We knew it was important to have a conversation and we invited our friend Bryan Loritts — a pastor, speaker and author of many books, including his latest, “The Dad Difference” — to discuss all that has taken place and how we as believers in Jesus can move forward and heal.  

The following is a transcript of that conversation. It is lightly edited for clarity and cohesiveness. You can also listen to the entire conversation below: 

Jason Romano: I think we’ll start with just your reaction. This has been a really heavy week. You even said to me this is different than other weeks, maybe in a long time. I just want to start with your reaction and some of the emotions and feelings and thoughts that have been taking place inside your heart over the last few days.

Bryan Loritts: Yeah, it’s been a really heavy week. It began with an African-American man in Central Park bird-watching, and I guess in that part of the park, dogs are supposed to be on a leash. This woman, who happened to be white, didn’t have her animal on a leash. Conflict ensues and she calls the police and clearly tries to insert race and weaponize it against him. It’s like, “Man, are you kidding me?” And right on the heels of that, I see the horrific video of George Floyd, and I’ve gotta tell you, I just had a deeply visceral reaction to that video. I put that right up there with the Rodney King beating. I think it was eight minutes, 46 seconds. This individual had his knee on George Floyd’s neck while George Floyd is calling for his mother saying, “I can’t breathe,” “My stomach hurts.” And then you’ve got the three other officers who I think are just as guilty. They’re looking away and they’re keeping the growing crowd away from him. It was deeply disturbing and George Floyd has on handcuffs.

Of course, it goes without saying not all cops are this way; not most cops are this way. There’s a few bad apples here. But even in shootings, I can almost understand where the cops are coming from: I’ve got a split second to react, looks like he had a gun or whatever. That’s in a separate category than this. I’ve even listened to white cops say this is completely wrong because this person is subdued. It’s impacted me deeply emotionally. And then as an African-American man, this isn’t just a discussion for me, Jason. This is a lived reality. I have to be conscious when I go on prayer walks in the morning, prayer walks — I’m a large African-American man — not to put a hoodie over my head. I’m constantly trying to set my white brothers and sisters at bay and to carry myself in such a way that I don’t come across as a threat. And that gets exhausting. Now the antenna, which was already high, has just gone higher. Those are just some of the raw emotions I’ve been dealing with. 

Jason: You’re a dad obviously too, and your book, “The Dad Difference” is about being a dad, and you have to have real conversations with your kids. Can you share a little bit about your thoughts on that?

Bryan: I grew up down south in a little town on the outskirts of Atlanta, just south of the city back in the 80s, so I’m the generation right after school integration. There’s still all this residue of stuff we’ve got to deal with. One of the great gifts my dad has given me that I’m trying to pass onto my kids is to instill a sense of ethnic awareness minus the bitterness, cynicism and suspicion. I think that’s the challenge that I have as a Christ-follower and my Christian worldview. On the one hand, I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, and that’s not just part of me. That’s all of me, including my ethnicity.

My blackness is not a fruit of the fall. In Revelation 5, Revelation 7, John says, “I looked up to the heavens and saw people from every nation, tribe and tongue.” How does he see the differences unless he’s seeing differences in ethnicity and color? That’s a reality, so my ethnicity is not a fruit of the fall. But the problem with race is, in America, we ascribe value based on the color of a person’s skin. That’s demonic. That’s not of God. When I teach my boys to drive — I’ve got three teenagers — the first lesson isn’t here’s the gas, here’s the brake. It’s what to do when you get pulled over. You are a young man of color and I need you to make it home safely. So I need your hands clearly visible, no sudden movements. No matter how angry you are, it’s “yes sir,” “no sir.” It’s “Hey, I’m about to go to the glove box and I’m gonna get my license and registration.” I’ve got to make them aware without instilling bitterness. That’s the challenge of being an African-American dad in 2020.

Jason: What do you think are the questions and the discussions we should be having, and maybe I should be having as a middle-aged white dude?

Bryan: The frustrating part that you and I feel, Jason, is this keeps coming up. This is just a bad song that’s been on repeat for 400 years. I’m sensing fatigue, not just among people of color. It’s been great to look out and see genuine advocates who happen to be white, and most notably, a lot of them are coming from the realm of athletics. I think we have to wrestle with what is a healthy Biblical perspective of sin and we have to conclude that sin is not just personal; it’s also systemic and structural.

I think that’s what Paul gets to in Ephesians 6 when he talks about principalities and powers. And this makes sense, right? Because we’re all fallen, whatever we attach ourselves to is going to be fallen as well. So how do we redeem not only souls but also structures? I think the big question is how do we get rid of this? And I think the Bible offers a three-pronged approach because God creates three institutions: family, government and church. I think the Biblical perspective is how can all three of these be used to take down, among other things, racism.

So it begins in the family. Racism is a learned behavior. If you want to eradicate it — dads, moms — you have to see yourself as the tenured professor of your home and you’ve got to teach and disciple your kids into a healthy anthropology that sees and bestows dignity on everybody and refuses to treat people less than or greater than because of the color of their skin. Those kinds of messages begin in the home. Also, it’s government. I think one of the problems that we feel in the black community is many of our white friends, especially our white evangelical friends, are really, really loud on being pro-life. Listen, I’m anti-abortion. Absolutely. I think it’s horrific. But our white evangelic friends come across as more pro-birth than pro-life. I think now is the time to ask the question, am I a la carte-ing my social justice issues? Am I kind of just placing a stake in the ground on one thing when God calls us to holistically pursue justice? And I think we can do that through government. We don’t put our hope in government but that’s what the civil rights movement was about, wasn’t it? We want to leverage government to enact just laws and I think that struggle continues.

And then thirdly I would say the Church. I love the civil rights movement. I’ve got a lot of advantages as a black man because of the civil rights movement and the legislative gains that were made. The problem is government can change laws; it can’t change hearts. That’s where the Church of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of the living God and the promise of the new covenant [comes in], that He’d give us a new heart — He’d rip out our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. That is so important because now we’re not just dealing with behaviors. We’re not just dealing with expressions. We’re dealing with the essence, and the Biblical perspective says I do racist things because I have a bad heart. If I want to really root that out, I can’t just deal with your hands. I’ve got to deal with your heart. That’s where the Church of Jesus Christ is beautiful and that’s why I’m a big fan of the multi-ethnic church. Just imagine the power of white cops worshiping together, sitting in small groups with the George Floyds of the world. Now what’s happening is we’re bringing them together in close proximity, and proximity breeds empathy. It breeds understanding. The bottom line is we just don’t know each other because we’re not in community with each other. 

Jason: One of the books you recommended to me is called “Advocatesby Dhati Lewis. I read it last year, underlined it hundreds of times and felt it was important to bring that book back out this week. I’m re-reading it again. One of the quotes in there is kind of what you just said, but I’ll read his words and then have you react. He said, “Until we see one another as brothers, sisters, co-heirs with Christ, we will continually treat one another with distance.” That’s kind of where you were going, right?

Bryan: That’s exactly right. I think that’s what I’m feeling here for the first time in a beautiful way, Jason, from the white community. I’m really feeling a strong sense of advocacy, that this is wrong and we’re for you and we’re standing with you. I think Dhati addresses it, but one of the things Ibram Kendi, an African-American scholar, talks about is the opposite of not being racist is not being racist. You hear that a lot: I’m not racist, I’m not racist. No, no, no. The opposite of not being racist is anti-racist. It’s not a passive stance. It’s, again, advocacy. What part can I play to really move the ball down the field?

And that’s where I would say, our white brothers and sisters — and this is controversial, not everybody believes this — I don’t think you should be mad about your privilege. I don’t think you should feel bad about it because I don’t think privilege in and of itself is bad. If that’s the case, then Jesus Christ is bad. No one walked the earth more privileged than Him, God in the flesh. The issue is the stewardship of privilege. This is Philippians 2: Jesus Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He humbled Himself. He emptied Himself. So He got on the cross. He leveraged His privilege to our advantage. And that’s the same thing I would say we need from our white brothers and sisters. You’ve been given an extra measure of privilege. Don’t feel bad about it. How are you stewarding that? How are you leveraging that for the good not just of your people group but for the good of all peoples? That’s a major question you need to be wrestling with.  

Jason: You mentioned earlier some of the athletes that have spoken out against this and being with African-American brothers and sisters. As we bring sports a little bit into this, how important is it for many of those athletes who have spoken out to stand up on issues like this and to speak out and to say something?

Bryan: Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge, Jason. I think another thing Dhati says in the book “Advocates” is it’s not really a problem until it becomes your problem. What I want us to understand is this problem of racism — yes, people of color are oppressed by it — but it’s a systemic, society-wide problem. To hear whites, especially white athletes, come out — again, this is Galatians 6: Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. What they’re doing in that moment is saying I couldn’t care less what other people think. This is not just their problem, this is my problem, and I want to step in and help shoulder the burden. Just that simple gesture, Jason, that’s 90% of it. It is deeply, deeply moving for us. I deeply appreciate it.                    

Jason: Where do we go from here I guess is the next question I’m going to ask, Bryan. What are the next steps here because I don’t know about you, you said this is different. For me, I can’t think of a time that we feel like — and I think the right word is “feel like” — we’ve been more divided as a country, more divided even some ways in the body of Christ than we are right now. I might be off on that, but where do we go from here?

Bryan: I want to be careful with this analogy. I wouldn’t rush to solutions and short-circuit lament. We are still very much in the lament phase and if you don’t sit in that long enough, you can almost come across dismissive and that can almost lead to a cheap reconciliation. It’s sort of like — here’s the analogy — when my wife comes to me burdened by something, disturbed by something, it’s the age-old thing. They’ve made YouTube videos off of it. She’s not actually wanting me to fix it. She’s wanting me to just sit there, actively listen, and to be with her in the midst of the pain, the dilemma, the problem. Job’s friends were at their best, Jason, that first week when they sat in the ashes with him for seven days.

I would say the first thing is if you can — before anyone would ask for a list of books to read, things to do — sit with a person of color from your job, from your church, from your neighborhood, from your kid’s sports team, and just say, “Hey, I would just love to ask you some questions. I want to hear your heart on this.” If there’s a sense of unawareness, I would own all of that and that would bless us immensely. I think listening — active listening — is the first thing.

And then just find something that you can do to move the ball down the field. A lot of behind-the-scenes talk we’re having in the African-American community is we’re looking at a date in July where we wouldn’t patronize any businesses that weren’t minority-owned. It’s our way to say we actually want to support our community in a way that’s helpful and healthy. I don’t know if that’s a set thing but I’ve heard a lot of talk about that. That’s actually a beautiful thing that people can do. I know churches who do this. I know a church in Memphis, they do a thing — I don’t like the name — it’s called Bust a Move Monday, and every Monday they encourage their membership to support African-American businesses. These are small things you can do. I know people who say, “My fight is going to be, I’m going to adopt cross-ethnically.” I know a lot of people who’ve done that. There are a million things you can do, but if this question is only getting asked on the heels of another George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery, we’re not going to push the ball down the field. We’ve got to play offense and not just defense. How can we just continue to do our part to advance the cause?

Jason: We didn’t really talk about protesting and the importance of that. Obviously, that’s led to a lot of unfortunate violence and looting and things like that, some destruction that’s just terrible to watch. There’s a place for that [protesting] too, right? I would assume it’s important to protest because it’s basically speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, right?   

Bryan: It very much so is. There’s a place for it and there’s a way to do it. I think what’s maddening about the protests and the riots is more times than not, they end up decimating their own communities. Last night (May 29), the mayor of Atlanta just made a passionate plea to not do that and I completely, completely agree. I mean, our nation was founded on protests, was it not? The Boston Tea Party. We just kind of go down the line. What I don’t like, and I know this is a bit controversial Jason, but what we as people of color hear is not too long ago, there was a group of whites in Michigan. They were armed, they protested, and some government officials tweeted out they’re pretty nice guys. Juxtapose that with now people of color are protesting and we get called thugs. That kind of language is just not helpful. So yes, we need to protest, and we need to do it in a way that is constructive and peaceful. 

Jason: I don’t really have a last question, Bryan. I’m thinking maybe it’s important for us to pray. Would you pray for us? I think we’ve done this three times in like 600 episodes, closing this interview — this conversation — in prayer, maybe for our country. For those listening, would you mind closing in prayer?

Bryan: Absolutely. 

Father,

It’s inside of a deep well of pain that we come to You. And we do pray, Lord God, for the family of George Floyd, the family of Ahmaud Arbery and all those, Lord God, who have lost their lives. Lord Jesus, we ask for an end to this. Yes, we ask that You would return. We know there’s coming a day when You will make all things right. But until then, in the meantime, in between time, God, You’ve called us as followers of You to not just speak to the soul but to also give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. To stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. To step in and speak against oppression. This is the example that Jesus left us, Lord God. And so Father, would You just prick our hearts? Show us, Lord God, what that looks like in our own lives individually, how we can engage in the fight. I pray for people of color Lord God, that yes, may we grieve, may we lament, may we express righteous indignation. May we do so as those who have hope. And our hope and confidence is in You, that You will one day wipe the tears from our eyes and right all the wrongs. My white brothers and sisters, Lord God, may they stand with us in advocacy. May they use the privilege they have received in redemptive ways so that our world is better, just like Jesus, You did, when You got on the cross and died for us.

It’s in His name we pray, Amen.

You can watch the entire conversation with Jason and Bryan on our YouTube page and listen on our podcast. 

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