From Nancy Talbot, Synod of the Northeast Stated Clerk and Acting Synod Leader
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12: 4-6a
DEAR FRIENDS WHO SHARE THE JOURNEY,
People are hurting all over our nation. This past week the pain erupted into “righteous indignation.” To have seen the life squeezed out of George Floyd by a White policeman was too much — a video we see played over and over – the last straw so shortly after Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down by two White men and killed in cold blood for jogging while Black, so shortly after Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by police in her own home.
People are hurting all over our nation. And the pain has erupted into outrage. How long, oh God? How long do Black people have to suffer from the coronavirus that embeds itself disproportionately in their communities and kills them in higher numbers? How long do Black mothers have to worry each time their son or daughter goes out that they may not return? How long will Black, Brown and Native parents have to have “the talk” with their sons and daughters without crushing their spirits — to warn them that their life is not valued by many White people; to warn them that they have to be very careful how they move in the world and even then might not be safe? How long, oh God, will White people continue to believe that racism is something that happens to people of color and does not harm themselves in any way?
In my quest for racial justice, I serve on the board of SpiritHouse Project, a nonprofit organization that began documenting state-sanctioned murders of Black people in 2007. By 2015 we had identified between 3,000 and 4,000 Black people from the ages of 1 to 96. They were the sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends of people who were devastated by their losses. Many family members have not recovered from the trauma of these killings. Their stories were often as painful as that of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Katherine Johnson, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, and on and on and on. These latest killings continue a long line of injustices. The pain that has erupted is a cry to us all — “Enough! No More!”
America once again has come face to face with our unresolved, unrelenting, deep seated problem of racism and racial violence. In 1999, the 211th General Assembly approved a document called “Facing Racism: A Vision of a Beloved Community.” It states, “The PC(USA) affirms that racism violates God’s purpose for humanity and is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the PC(USA) recognizes that racism is a sin. The PC(USA) is committed to spiritually confronting the idolatry and ideology of White supremacy and White privilege. The PC(USA) confesses its complicity in the creation and maintenance of racist structures and systems in all parts of our nation’s life, including the church itself.”
How quickly we forget our own history! Had we as a church boldly addressed these confessions of 1999 and taken action, we could be in a very different place today. We would have come to understand much earlier that racism is not just a social and societal problem but one of spiritual malformation. The sin of racism separates us from God, from each other, and from all aspects of creation.
This Sunday we celebrated Pentecost – a coming together of all peoples and languages in a way that all could be understood. In God’s glory, God created all peoples. Had God intended for us all to be the same, we would be. It is in our differences – our races and ethnicities, our cultures and languages, our foods and clothing, our music, dance, art, and poetry – that we have the opportunity to experience God’s love and God’s creation in its wholeness. Even in the face of outrage in the streets, we still heard stories of people coming together – people who never would have met otherwise having conversations with each other; shop keepers providing drinks and food to the protestors – people cleaning up neighborhoods to help restore the community and show that it is only a few that are intent on destruction—people coming to know their neighbors in new ways.
God calls us as a church and as individuals to go deep and heal this spiritual malformation of racism. PC(USA) has once again given us an opportunity to step out and be faithful to God’s call. The invitation to become a Matthew 25 church or mid-council calls on us to actively engage in the world. Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, Executive Director and President of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, tells us that we can come together to dismantle structural racism by applying our faith to advocate and break down the systems, practices, and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias and oppression of people of color. Dismantling structural racism calls us to be relevant in our world today, to stand up and be counted, and to be actors in our own destinies.
Yes, structural racism is deep in all of our systems in our nation including the church. But do not be discouraged. The grace of God is that we are not entrapped in our history. We can begin to change today what we left unchanged yesterday. We can vow to become a Matthew 25 church and see what a difference it makes in other people’s lives and in our own lives. We are all God’s children. God is calling us to be faithful and to love one another as we love ourselves.
Let us embrace this gift of God by making a connection between the faith we profess and how we act in times such as these.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12: 4-6a