My plans for this Sunday was to preach a Father’s Day sermon with a few lame golf jokes – given that the US Open is concluding just a mile away from here. But many in our nation are still reeling from the horrific news of a racist hate crime at The historic downtown church AME Church in Charleston, NC known as Mother Emmanuel where nine innocent victims were murdered. The events last Wednesday night changed the focus of my sermon, as it did for many pastors across the country. So today, on this beautiful summer solstice weekend, on this Father’s Day, and at the conclusion of the US Open, I want to address what has happened, some of the emotions we might be feeling, and a few ways we as individuals and as a faith community can help move forward to help bring about the Kingdom of God. I also want to acknowledge that there are many who really don’t want to revisit what happened in that sanctuary – for any number of reasons. But if we don’t address what happened in that AME church in THIS church, we won’t necessarily be able to do the hard work of justice of eradicating systemic racism.
My Facebook page this last week gave me a clear indication that many of my “friends” who include (my fairly liberal and progressive friends & my somewhat conservative family) did not necessarily want to engage in talking about this event, even though many other “friends” were posting links and articles regarding gun violence and racism. Let me walk you through my past week in FB land from my personal account, not the church’s. Keep track of the LIKES because it really is all about the LIKES.
- 6/14: Remembering and celebrating the faithful ministry of Epworth-LeSourd UMC. A packed sanctuary for their final worship service. 44 Likes
- 6/15: Four hours down into my first shift volunteering for US Open. 72 likes
- Amazing colors of the sunset from our house. 39 likes
- Since UCUP is located only a mile away from the US OPEN at Chambers Bay, our reader-board changer must have high expectations of this Sunday’s sermon. 54 likes
- Last day working U.S. Open to get a kickback for the church. It’s been a good ride. 62 likes
- An uplifting worship service with members of Allen AME and representation of the greater Tacoma community in the midst of tragedy and heartbreak. Praising God and singing and testimony. “You can’t stay on your island of do-nothing because you are part of humanity.” Holding the AME community in prayer. 30 likes
- Change of Profile picture: Clergy United to End Racism – 19 likes
- 2 minute Systemic Racism video. This is a quick primer to look at systemic issues that go way back in our collective history. Continuing to educate myself and acknowledge the privilege I carry. 6 likes
People were much more interested in my posts about the sunset, the US Open, our Reader Board, gathering for a vigil with our sister church Allen AME, than they were about educating themselves regarding systemic racism. It tells me the conversation is important, and we need to have it.
So I want to address some of the feelings that fell upon us when we heard that a group of people at church for a prayer meeting were gunned down? We’re so overwhelmed by the daily onslaught of atrocities around the world. Some days it can seem like we should just give up. You process one senseless violent shooting in one place when you find out there has been a mass killing somewhere else. But there’s no time to think about that because there is always the next breaking story of violence. It can lead to despair, anger, indignation, dejection and back and forth and back again until you’re inevitably numb and exhausted and depressed, and maybe that’s part of the reason you don’t want to address it.
Systemic racism has been part of humanity since the beginning of time I imagine. I spent a week in D.C. where I toured through both the Native American Smithsonian Museum and the Holocaust museum. I didn’t spend nearly enough time in either to absorb the full weight of the atrocities committed on US soil and in Germany, and atrocities that are committed against one group of people or another across the planet and throughout time and history.
A balm in the trip was walking down Massachusetts Ave along Embassy row and stopping to give thanks for courageous politicians and poets and prophets, now part of my beloved bronzed & marbled community – Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Kahlil Gibran. Those whose earthly lives are over, but whose messages of peace and loving one’s neighbor continue.
So what are we to do in the midst of senseless violence and atrocities that belong to the category of systemic racism? What can white allies who are willing to do the hard work to confront and eradicate systemic racism? What steps can we take to push back on a system of racial inequality so deeply embedded in our culture? It can feel overwhelming.
I have a five part plan for myself and for our faith community that I have gathered from the wisdom of other people:
Lament Respond in times of grief.
Vigil with Allen AME – a service of praise music and clapping. Praising the nature of God whose name is love. Don’t give up on God because God won’t give up on you. Tragedy does the reverse of the intent of the perpetrator. Momentary action leads to reaction. Let us be active always in standing up for justice and change. You can’t stay in your island of do-nothing because you are part o f humanity.
“sugar time”, inclusive of ALL who gathered, invited pastors up,
Read the names of the victims of racial hatred and violence and invited specific people in the congregation to stand as the names were read.
poignant and heartbreaking to know what a loss just one person in a congregation is, let
alone nine. and in such a violent hateful way.
The AME Church was birthed out of a protest against racial inequity in the 18th century. After being denied access to the prayer space because of his race at a white Methodist Episcopal Church, our founder Richard Allen prayed then arose to prompting the movement that we now know as “the Black Church.” Mother Emmanuel follows in this storied legacy of resistance to racial terrorism. In 1822, the church and one its founders, Denmark Vessey, was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. As the Washington Post notes, the revolt was planned for June 16 — 193 years and one day before the shooting Wednesday night. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South. The church was burned down, yet worship services continued until 1834, when all black churches were outlawed.
Confess and acknowledge ways that we are complicit and carry privilege whether we know it or not. examine our own complacency.
A structural understanding of racism recognizes the system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color. It is a deeply embedded system that has worked and continues to work for the benefit of those with a lighter skin color.
Addressing racism and racial inequality as a white ally is, necessary, and it is difficult and uncomfortable work. It means putting aside personal defenses to recognize the ways we all, consciously and unconsciously, support white supremacy. It means genuinely challenging ourselves to acknowledge our own privilege and how we personally benefit from it. It means taking our own biases and calling ourselves out on them, even though that doesn’t feel good. It means recognizing that we cannot and will not dismantle a system it took hundreds of years to build in a day. But here, at the very least, is a place to start.
Gain courage to Use our privilege, voice, and power to end systemic racism
From a black sister – I need my non-black allies to turn their outrage about police brutality and resident vigilantism into action. I have discussion and analysis fatigue. It is open season on black folk in their own churches, neighborhoods and homes. If you love me and mine, fight for me. My life is already on the line.
Sylvia Chan-Malik, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers: Understand that whiteness is an asset. law professor Cheryl Harris’ 1993 essay “Whiteness As Property,” wrote about how the law has treated and protected whiteness as a right, for example, with redlining in housing, or racial disparities in education. White people should acknowledge that while whiteness does not necessarily grant access to elite spaces, it allows them far more mobility, comfort and safety than those without it.
White Christians, we inherited this mess and this story of power and privilege and racism that shapes our individual lives, our corporate realities, and our congregations. The wider church and the world will be shaped by how we choose to engage or turn away from this kind of death. Particularly those of us with any voice, leadership, influence, and the privilege – it is time to get in the game.
For the sake of finding the right action, we often take no action instead.
Reflect on this question: What about your life demonstrates that you walk in solidarity with others who experience life differently from you because of their skin color, legal status, or sexual orientation? Do racist jokes go unchecked in your presence.
Gather together to continue the conversation, to worship together
Constant learners, be sociologists!
If you’re not sure what to do – start paying attention. Read articles from the Black Community, notice the beauty and pain within the Black Church. Pray, pray more, confess, lament, and learn more. Where will we take our part of the responsibility of educating, advocating, understanding, speaking out, and helping change how race and faith and life and death are seen in the US? Publicly stand for and with and fight this sense of black life not being as valuable, as noticed, as mourned. The more we join the outrage and point to the truth that faith and race always matter and Black Lives Matter, the more we help open up spaces of lament, healing, justice, reconciliation, hope and the potential for life to flourish. This is not a time to leave the black community alone, to let them mourn or be angry or fix it alone.
Dear Mother Emmanuel
You, who authored courageous slave rebellions, who suffered and survived wretched bigotry, burnings and earthquake,
You, you who worshipped underground when black churches were outlawed …
Dear Mother Emanuel, in this day of grievous heartache we wrap you in bands of prayer.
We pour out upon your broken hearts the healing balm of Gilead.
You, whose shepherd has been taken from you,
whose building has become a tomb,
whose children are terrified:
We stand with you. We weep with you.
We rage for you. We keep vigil with you for your beloved dead.
May the God of Moses and Miriam, of Jesus and the Mary’s,
anoint you with healing, furnish you with hope and, one day, some day, mend your torn hearts and wipe the tears from your swollen eyes. God help us. Amen.