Finding Faith: Tyre Nichols' death and the responsibility of religion

"If we are unwilling to admit that the racism exists in our power structures, people of color will continue to pay a deadly price."

Devlyn Brooks 2021
Devlyn Brooks

A week after Memphis officials released the horrific video of Tyre Nichols ’ deadly beating at the hands of an “elite” police unit, I have not watched it. I’m not prepared to … yet.

The decision has tied me in knots because I have the privilege of deciding whether to watch the video or not. Being a white, middle-aged man with an upper-middle class living, I can choose. But my brothers and sisters of color do not get that same privilege. They live with the reality of the video every single day, whether they’ve seen it or not.

Tucked safely in my cocoon of privilege, I have little reason to worry about our two sons being stopped and beaten to death. I don’t have to live the nightmare of Tyre’s older brother who also hasn’t seen the video because as he told CNN: “As soon as I seen them photos from him in the hospital, I already knew that they treated my brother like an animal. They beat on him like he was nothing.”

Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis said before the video's release that it showed behaviors on the part of police officers "that defy humanity."

Extreme police brutality isn’t new, and it’s not infrequent. … Stating as such doesn’t make anyone anti-cop or weak on crime. It makes them a truth-teller. And until we are willing to admit as much, many more Black, Indigenous and people of color will die horrific deaths at the hands of unchecked authority.

Pastor, where does Tyre’s death intersect with faith? Aren’t you just politicizing the issue? … Yes, I suppose I am.


But the gospel itself is political. Jesus railed against unjust political, societal and financial systems in the first century. He’d do the same about unjust political, societal and financial systems today. Because let’s make no mistake: Tyre’s death is the result of unjust institutional systems. … Systems fraught with racism.

The major religions of the world all agree that every person is part of the larger fabric of humanity. For far too long, Western Christianity has allowed faith to be interwoven with manifest destiny, power and empire building, and people of color have paid the price. To say otherwise is to stick our heads in the sand.

I don’t have the answer as to how to root out the systemic racism that exists in all of our societal institutions. But, I do know that if we are unwilling to admit that the racism exists in our power structures, people of color will continue to pay a deadly price.

I owe it to Tyre and his loved ones to pay witness to the video of his beating. My comfort shouldn’t be the priority. But, as I work up the courage to do so, I hold Tyre and his family in prayer. May the Holy Spirit wrap his loved ones in love. Amen.

Opinion by Devlyn Brooks
Devlyn Brooks is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and serves Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minn. He also works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at for comments and story ideas.
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