Pick Up the Mantle
August 20, 2017
Jennifer Garrison Brownell
You will see in your bulletin a pastoral letter from the leadership and conference of conference ministers of the United Church of Christ.
In the UCC, we are all the church – we speak to God and one another, we listen for God and one another but we do not generally speak for each other. So this letter is the beginning of a conversation, pay attention to how you respond as you both listen and speak.
As a response to the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and 19 injured, the national leadership of the United Church of Christ issued this Pastoral Letter:
Dear Members, Friends, Clergy, and Leaders of and within the United Church of Christ,
Last weekend, a group of white supremacists came to Charlottesville, Virginia, and incited violence to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Although protest is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy, coming in riot gear proves that they intended to do more than simply protest.
We, the Council of Conference Ministers and Officers of the United Church of Christ, strongly condemn the acts of violent hatred expressed by these white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Their white robes and burning crosses were replaced with polo shirts, khakis, and tiki torches, while their lynching was replaced with a speeding car barreling through a group of peaceful protesters with the intention of harming and killing others, which it did. Their vitriolic hatred is the same.
We confess that the events of Charlottesville are systemic and communal expressions of white privilege and racism that continues to pervade our nation’s spiritual ethos. And if we only condemn the acts of August 12, 2017, without condemning the roots of racism, which perpetuate discrimination in our American schools, justice system, business, and healthcare systems, then we have sinned as well. We must work toward the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth now for the sake of a just world for all.
We do this by committing to follow the ways of Jesus, who stood with the oppressed, spoke out against political and religious powers, and courageously embodied a just world for all as he sought to create it.
Today, we must follow the ways of Jesus in addressing the hatred of white supremacists and racists among us.
Our local UCC churches must be true solidarity partners with those who march in the streets. Our UCC churches are encouraged to move from the sanctuary and walk alongside other clergy and community leaders who seek to resist, agitate, inform, and comfort.
We must resist hatred and violence. We must also agitate ourselves, and our neighbors to acknowledge any racism within or among us.
We must inform ourselves, and our neighbors what our sacred stories reveal to us of a just world for all.
We must lament and grieve with those who are injured or murdered during violent confrontations with those who mean us harm.
And we must comfort those who have been discriminated against with the transformative love of God.
As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors: May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be.
In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth.
We don’t often deal in MUSTS in the UCC – in fact I cant think of any other communications like this in my lifelong association with this denomination.
Why now? Why this? Because it is time, in fact it is too late, for us to speak. On the news this week, I saw a newscaster attempting to turn two African American people on the opposite ends of the political spectrum against each other. As she goaded them, they both begin to cry an instead of attacking each other, they turned to each other with words of comfort and encouragement. I think what Charlottesville revealed more than anything in these strange times is that we have turned to the wrong places – politicians, comedians, pundits – to take the measure of our moral compass
We the church MUST pick up the mantle we have dropped and be the MORAL voice, hands and feet of our nation. We do this by praying and working for unity – not the kind of unity that glosses over differences and acknowledges all opinions as tolerable, even the ones that kill – but with the kind of unity that demands justice for all, that raises up the low and that
We the church MUST pick up the mantle we have dropped and be the MORAL voice, hands and feet of our nation. We do this by praying and working for forgivenss – not an easy forgiveness, but a hard forgivness, one that comes with acknowledgement of wrongs done, and willingness to make reparation for those wrongs.
We the church MUST pick up the mantle we have dropped and be the MORAL voice, hands and feet of our nation. We do this by praying and working in love – not because love is weak and passive, not because we do not take hate seriously, but the opposite – because we take hate too seriously to respond with more hate. Because love is power and strength and hope.
We do this, because we will not become that which we fight, instead we will rise above it.
Dick Gregory – comic and civil rights activist died yesterday. If anyone had a reason to be bitter, it was he – he faced rampant discrimination in his career, his good friends were killed all around him. But listen to the words he gave to us as a gift on this 85th birthday.
“As I approach my 85th revolution around the sun this year, I wonder why has it been so difficult for humankind to be kind. So difficult to be loving and lovable. For my militant brothers and sisters, please don’t misconstrue loving and lovable to be weak or submissive. Love will always be triumphant over hate. I know I will not be here forever, nor do I desire to be. I have seen progress like most cannot appreciate because they were not there to bear witness. I dedicated my life to the movement. By doing so, I never thought I’d still be here. So many of my friends are not here. They were cut down by a system of hatred and evil. If they were here, they’d see the progress that I see. The reality is far from perfect, but profoundly better than what daily reality was for my generation. Young folks if you are wise you would talk less and spend more time listening to the elders who saw evil up front and personal everyday. #howlong I’ve been asking this question for over 40 years! How long before we realize our Universal God given potential? We have made immeasurable progress that cannot be debated. That said, we still have a long way to go. I have no desire to see this all the way through, the dreams I dreamed about 60 years ago have definitively been realized. To the young folks of all ethnicities I say #staywoke not as a catchphrase but as a lifestyle. Most of the things that are killing us are in our minds and our daily routines. The way we think, the “food” we eat and the water we drink or so often don’t drink. While so many go out and protest the small evils, the big evils are ever present and welcomed into our homes. From the top to bottom of my heart I say #staywoke
Love you to life, DIck Gregory”