Saying the “focus is now on healing” America, Vice President Mike Pence took part in a listening session Friday with faith and community leaders at a Maryland church that highlighted strategies to bring the country together following the death of George Floyd.
“My prayer is that we as a nation have ears to hear -- to listen to one another, and open hearts,” Pence told the leaders. “I’m really here to listen.”
Most of the leaders in the room were black.
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., who is black and serves as the pastor of host Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., said Floyd’s death was “representative of an almost 400-year history and challenges that we've had.” Jackson’s father, he said, was “threatened at gunpoint” by a Florida state trooper more than 60 years ago. The gun discharged, sending a round over the father’s head that temporarily deafened him. Jackson’s family moved out of the South because of the incident.
“So, this administration did not create this problem with this backdrop, but it has the opportunity to heal it,” Jackson said.
Pence referenced the Trump administration’s signing of the criminal reform bill and its champion of expanding educational opportunities – policy positions he said assists the black community.
“This was all in an effort to address what have been the historic inequalities in our African American communities and in many of the communities and families in our inner cities,” he said. “And as we make our way through this time as a nation, our focus now is on healing and how we heal America.”
Jackson compared Floyd’s death to that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s death helped spark another phase in the civil rights movement.
“[Till’s] death was almost prophetic and symbolic of a time and a season that change had to come,” Jackson said. “And at that moment whites and blacks came together to address civil rights issues. … I think we're gonna find momentum [today] to see change in this season of time.”
People of faith, Pence said, can make a key difference in healing America’s divide.
“It is undeniable that in the long struggle for equality in this country, people of faith have played the decisive role,” Pence said. “The entire quest to end slavery emanated from the churches of this country that challenged the conscience of the nation. The civil rights movement ... was driven out of the pews of this nation.
“I couldn’t help but feel that as our nation reels from the tragic death of George Floyd that a place to start the conversation is in a place of worship,” Pence said. “It’s the wellspring of our nation's strength. It's been the wellspring of our national unity.”
Pence said Friday’s listening session was “just one of many conversations that we will have here and across the country in the days ahead.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.