By now, you should have received your June copy of The Carriage Stone. My column for that, about hope, is still relevant (and I think always will be, till hope is fulfilled when the reign of God comes “on earth, as it is in heaven”). The events of the last week have compelled me to speak to you again, my beloved congregation.
I doubt there is anyone in our church who doesn’t get that racism is still as strong as ever it was. And it’s no wonder. 401 years ago, the first slave ship arrived, carrying God’s beloved African children to be sold like chattel. Our nation is build on the bodies of black folks. Slaves built the White House. (How’s that for irony?) Racism has rightfully been called “America’s Original Sin”.
Perhaps you, like I, thought that with the election of a Black president, we were a “post racial” society. Sisters and brothers, I see my naiveté. The events of the last 4 years have demonstrated the absolute persistence of white privilege and racism. Until we as white folks can say, with no equivocation, “Black Lives Matter”, we will stay stuck in a cycle of brutality and violence.
There is a biblical story that illustrates this. You may have seen variants of it on social media. 99 sheep are safe in the fold. One is lost. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, goes after it. In this retelling of the story, the 99 sheep say, “What about us? Don’t we matter?” Jesus says, “Of course. But you are not in danger. The one is.” That, saints, is Black Lives Matter, as told by Jesus.
The stated clerk of the PC, USA, Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, said last week, following more than a week of protest that started with the death of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis police on May 25, “no longer can we hide behind not being controversial,” said Nelson, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “We are all caught in this quagmire now.”
“We are waiting for answers from old sources we have depended on for so long,” he said. “How deep is our faith? How deep is our commitment to get into places we aren’t familiar with and proclaim the gospel?” The church, he said, is “called to dismantle structures that put people in poverty and pain,” to not only “share the gospel, but share ourselves.”
So, what can we do, especially we who are white?
First of all, listen. Listen to our Black sisters and brothers, if and when they are willing to talk. Listen to understand, not merely to answer.
If protest marches and vigils are your thing, go. And wear a mask—we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
Educate yourself. The Race and White Privilege book discussion group, on hiatus since the pandemic, will be up on Zoom soon. We’ll be finishing Michelle Obama’s Becoming, then decide what we want to discuss next.
If you are white, read “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.”
Shop at Black-owned businesses. I tried to find a list on line, with no luck. That’s an issue right there.
Investigate organizations which support anti-racism initiatives such as the NAACP, or Black Lives Matter. Find one you can support. Donate.
Pray. Pray that our eyes and hearts may be open to hard truths. For white folks, pray for a spirit of repentance and justice (which, as Dr. Cornell West says, is what love looks like in public).
Last year, the Session of New Hempstead Presbyterian Church unanimously voted to join the Matthew 25 initiative of our denomination. It’s foci are threefold:
- Building congregational vitality
- Dismantlement structural racism
- Eradicating Systemic Poverty
Churches are invited to choose one or more of these foci and get to
work. Since we are a multi-cultural church, option 2 is where we have
been putting energy for a while. I will be at a Zoom conference next
week with representatives from other Matthew 25 churches to get the
latest available resources.
God is waiting for us. Let us respond with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”