Recently I’ve used this space to share how I’ve asked my city leaders to do just that: lead. And I’ve shared ways they responded. (I’m not saying they made those public statements because I asked them to. But I’d like to think I at least help nudge them toward doing so.)
So what about me? What have I said about all this? Or am I only willing to ask others to make declarations? I’m not a civic leader, but I am a pastor. So I wrote to our congregation this week. It’s obviously not perfect and I’m still a very privileged guy (able-bodied, cisgender, straight, white, Christian, male) striving to be a good listener, striving to be an ally, striving to be antiracist. Here’s what I wrote:
If anyone knows that this is true, it must be we who claim the name “Christian.” For it is we Christians who say that Jesus the Christ, whom we love and serve, is the Word of God.
Our scriptures tell us that the very universe began with a bang when God spoke. All that is started with a few words.
Our tradition puts a speech, a proclamation, a sermon — puts words — as the climax of our worship gatherings.
Our experience of life together in community often revolves around words shared: “We are praying for you.” “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “Lord, hear our prayer.” “Love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves in all we do and say.”
(Of course there are times when we misuse our words. When we speak without thinking. When we use our words to harm others. When silence is the best or only response. Even in these times, however, words matter.)
Here’s an example I’ve seen all over Facebook this week. The meme offers two similar sentences. The first: “It’s terrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.”
The second: “It’s terrible property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.”
See the difference? Better yet: see and hear and feel the difference? Words matter. What and whom we prioritize in our speech and in our actions matters.
Because words matter, an even better version of those sentences would remove “innocent.” We’re not going down the racist rabbit hole of “well, was he enough of an angel to not deserve this?” Stop that and say it plain: Killing black men (and women) has to stop.
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
How many of us have said, “Yes!” to this membership question in baptism or confirmation? How are we doing with that? I mean “we” in all our identities — as individuals, as families, as a congregation, as a denomination, as a nation, as a global community?
As the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis said, “We can only heal from this nightmare by fighting through the white supremacy that has brought us here.”
In this moment, as evil and injustice and oppression reveal themselves, we strive to find both the right words say and the right actions to take in response to rampant racism. I definitely don’t know all the right words to say or all the right actions to take to bring those words into life. But I know this:
- Racism is incompatible with Christian teaching. Racism is incompatible with following Jesus.
- I am seeking the racist attitudes that reside in me so that I may eradicate them.
- I am striving to be antiracist.
- I condemn the racist murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others before them.
- I condemn the racism built into our systems — often intentionally built into our systems — of housing, education, policing, healthcare, employment. Systems from which I have benefited greatly.
- I invite you to join me on this journey. Because I need you and our community needs you.
Words matter. So say it with me in full-throated, Spirit-anointed truth: Black Lives Matter.