A Pastoral Preface:
These are extraordinary and tumultuous times. Our stability has been rocked. Our patience continues to be tried. Our nerves are frayed. And yet, our core is intact! God is! Hope lives!
Today, Pastor Dan shares some information about systemic injustice--and you may feel uncomfortable. Instinctually, we want to turn away from distress, but I beg you to turn toward it. Examine your own location in our culture. Allow yourself to see the painful reality that exists beyond your experience. We are Christ's hands on earth. We are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Prophet Isaiah said, "Seek justice and help the oppressed."
I invite you to not only read Pastor Dan's reflection below, but to spend some time prayerfully considering it-and-where and how it intersects with these words from our Mission Statement: "While respecting our diversity, we courageously advocate for justice and mercy, and intentionally respond to the needs of our community and the world." -Rev. Estelle
June 3, 2020
by Pastor Dan Hollis
My words shouldn’t really interest you right now. I’m not black. I’ve never been the victim of excessive force. My family and my race are not among the countless families and people of color who have suffered the kinds of tragedies, and are struggling against the kinds of oppression, that took the lives of people like George Floyd. I have never had to endure a life under systemic injustice predicated upon prejudice towards who I was born as… who God created me to be. The voices we should be listening to right now, the signals we should be boosting in the midst of this week’s protests, brutality, and even riots, are black voices.
Yet I am a religious leader. One who has a responsibility to the people who listen to him, learn from him, and perhaps even respect him. So I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given in this week’s Oasis to elaborate a little on a topic I alluded to in my sermon on Sunday.
As I see it, viewing one race of humanity as inferior to another is a sin. It’s a sin against the God who created us all in God’s image. Furthermore, acts that embody that viewpoint are not only sins against God, but evils done to our neighbors whom Jesus told us in no uncertain terms to love.
It’s not hard for many of us to agree with the general premise: “racism is bad.” Yet it is still so easy for us to be blind to—or make excuses for—racism and injustice in this world. That blindness is often not deliberate—simply a lack of the experiences or perspectives required to identify these evils—but often it is deliberate, too.
Black voices have been crying out against systemic injustice—not just single, unhinged acts of fringe, “uncivilized” individuals, but systemic injustice—for generations. I speak of black people because George Floyd was black, and these protests we have seen across the country in recent days were inspired in large part due to his unjust death, but people of color of all races have been raising their voices for as long as any of us have been alive. And the system has clearly not been listening, because these deaths keep happening.
The protests that have arisen over the last week have been a source of a great deal of controversy: controversy surrounding their message, their methods, and the response of local police and the United States government.
First, I must say that while I may be a man of peace, I do not believe that I have the right to tell black people how to protest when their calls for justice have fallen on deaf ears for so long. When I try to reconcile my peacemaking nature with the fight against injustice, I keep being met with Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
I watched as athletes were told they were not allowed to kneel during the National Anthem. For years I watched as celebrities were told their opinions didn’t matter. And yesterday I watched video after video of crowds sitting, peacefully, with their empty hands in the air, suddenly being assaulted with teargas, with bullets of rubber, wood, and pepper, and with blows.
Now, there is more to this story. Nothing about this is simple, and everything about this is complicated. There are a thousand sides to every issue, and the details and nuances keep rolling in with every video recorded. On top of everything, this is all happening in the middle of a global pandemic and much-needed quarantine procedures, which doesn’t make anything any simpler. Either way, it is not my place to make any kind of pro- or anti-riot statement in this context, because I am not black. I have not fought this fight or faced these obstacles, and neither have my ancestors.
What I can say, the only thing I am qualified to say, is the message of Jesus in all of this. The same Jesus who stood against oppression in all its forms, individual and systemic. The same Jesus who uplifted the weak and afflicted the oppressor. The same Jesus who was put to death by a government that felt threatened by his message, by his very nature. The same Jesus who told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There is no room for white supremacy in the message of Jesus Christ, and there is no room for systemic injustice in the Kingdom of God.
On Earth, Christ had all the power. Yet he showed us what it looks like when power is not misused. When power is not abused. Christ did not erect systems that stand on the backs of “inferior” people (or kneel on their necks). Humans did that. And we humans need to answer for that. And beyond that, we need to do something about it.
In the words of the prophet Amos, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).
Black people are dying at the hands of individual racism and at the hands of systems, policies, and practices that people of color have been trying to shine a light on for as long as they’ve had a voice. If you are a follower of Christ, I hope you hear the same call that I do. I hope you can hear Christ’s call to be the Good Samaritan on the road, to demand like Moses that our people be let go, and to stand like all our prophets (be they Jesus Christ or Martin Luther King) against those in power who would oppress. Listen to black voices, now more than ever—and if you don’t have any in your life, look them up. Put a stop to racism wherever you hear it, no matter how small, from the Thanksgiving table to the workplace. Vote, donate, and advocate.
If you are white, let people of color show you what they need of you. If you are not white, stay strong, and know that I stand with you. Know that Christ stands with you.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” –Micah 6:8
What follows is a series of links that Rev. Estelle and I feel are important to share with you, our extended church family, this day:
A statement from the National Officers of the United Church of Christ:
A video from Trinity UCC in Chicago on getting home safely:
A reflection on Ahmaud Arbery’s murder by the Minister for Racial Justice for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.
Pastor Dan’s song for the week: “None of Us Are Free,” by Solomon Burke
Together, we can bring Christ's word and work to the world.