What can white, privileged Christians do to dismantle racism and injustice in America?
How do we live out our Baptismal Promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
How do we move from tears of mourning and outrage at injustice and abuse of power to the hard work of transforming our culture and staying in for the long haul of overcoming the legacy of racism and oppression that began with slavery and continues to plague our country?
One of the recent signs that stays in my memory was displayed by peaceful demonstrators standing in front of St. John’s Church Lafayette Square. White Silence Is Violence – Black Lives Matter. I truly believe that the time has come for us to act – not carelessly or as a kneejerk reaction, but with thoughtful strategy and perseverance.
If people at St. Elisabeth’s are really serious about wanting to work together to dismantle racism and create a more just society, we have the power to do it. We have an opportunity to build on what we’ve begun and to take seriously our mission of radiating God’s Love in ways that are transforming and continuing. But addressing the questions above has to be a long-term commitment – not a dip. Just as our LGBTQ Focus Group has been so diligent in keeping that ministry in the forefront, tackling racism and white privilege with take a committed group of people and strong leadership. It will mean listening, learning, and loving each other as we struggle together. It will mean reaching out to others and working together. It will mean wrestling with hard questions and being willing to share different perspectives with respect. It will mean being willing to change and to act. There are a lot of resources to help us, and those who have participated in the Kaleidoscope training can help us.
Just over a year ago, a group of eight pilgrims from St. Elisabeth’s journeyed to Alabama to visit sites on the Civil Rights Trail and to experience the powerful National Memorial for Peace & Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. We represented three different generations, different life experiences and different cultures. As we traveled together, looking, listening, and reflecting on a brutal aspect of this country’s history, we kept asking “How is God calling us to respond?”
Witnessing the vicious and inhumane treatment of human beings displayed in art, sculpture and stories was unforgettable and painful. We were haunted by the reminder of how much the hatred, fear and racism in our own time reflect past wounds and violence. But we also saw marvelous reminders of the courageous individuals who risked their lives to speak out to power and to create openings for change. In every town we visited, Black churches are marked as the centers from which these brave people moved forth in peace and with determination to create a better world for generations to come. Communities of Christians who cared for each other and had the Gospel Stories of Jesus engrained in their hearts felt compelled to live out those stories and radiate God’s eternal love.
Historic Black Churches became the centers for strategizing and mobilizing the non-violent Civil Rights Movement. Their communities prayed together, sang together, and included those from other faith traditions and even no faith tradition. Together they boycotted Montgomery busses, offered sanctuary to Freedom Riders fleeing violent mobs, provided food for the hungry and endured water cannons, tear gas and beatings as they peacefully marched for voting rights, precious rights that are being challenged even today.
Today, it is time for predominately white people of faith to take up the call to act. Undoing racism and its negative impact on our whole nation is a responsibility of white Americans. White Privilege is something we take for granted and too often we fail to understand that with even the best intentions we contribute to the continuation of systems that leave African Americans and other people of color “in the back of the bus.” Covid-19 has emphasized the inequalities of health care, housing and access to jobs that can be managed from home among Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans who have become ill and died at disproportionately higher rates than the white population. As followers of Jesus, we are called to love and serve the most vulnerable members of society – not just for a moment or with a transient thought and a prayer, but for a lifetime; not just in ways that continue the status quo, but in ways that make up for past wrongs and offer new paths to equity and opportunity. The good news is that others are ready to start moving forward and we can join this movement by listening, learning, strategizing, and acting together. The other good news is that the more abundant the opportunities are for the most vulnerable to achieve healthy lives, the kind of education we expect for our children and access to strong, safe communities, the more robust and safe our whole society will be.
The eight St. Elisabeth’s pilgrims did not journey alone. We knew that we were part of the larger faith community of St. Elisabeth’s. Together we had prepared for this pilgrimage. We had read and discussed the books, Just Mercy and The Cross and The Lynching Tree. We had shared other resources, including books and experiences for families with children. Some who could not make the trip to Alabama made pilgrimages to sites in the Chicago area that tell the story of racism and oppression in our country. We shared daily reflections and pictures and received your encouraging comments. We felt your presence across the miles as each of you traveled with us in spirit. It was always our expectation that together we would build on this experience after the pilgrimage. We hadn’t counted on being diverted by the need to focus on a change in clergy leadership, a time of transition for St. Elisabeth’s, and then the onset of a worldwide pandemic. No one took up the lead to keep moving forward.
But the events of today seem to be a clear call to act. Outrage against violence and racism is a natural response, but momentary outrage is not enough. We need transformational systemic change to build a culture of peace and justice in which every human being is valued and respected.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now…This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”
If you are ready to answer the call to strategize and mobilize for a long journey, please let us know. The vestry will be focusing on this challenge at our June meeting and your input will be important. Your leadership is needed.