This weekend’s news of the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville once again brought the nation’s conflicts and news cycle into our Sunday. It is always challenging to decide which events to preach about, because the current turmoil brings us a new topic every week. Each week I try to balance the experience of worship, the integrity of the liturgical season, and the fast-breaking reality of events that impact us. I chose to say a few words after the sermon; and you can read my remarks, plus the pastoral prayer; graciously shared by seminarian Lauren Grubaugh. (She was in Charlottesville and wrote an especially powerful prayer.) Today I have begun the process of arranging Anti-Racism training for our congregation this Fall through the Massachusetts UCC Conference. I’m interested in hearing how other preachers and congregations are handling these challenges.
“I need to add a few words about the storm of bigotry and violence in Charlottesville yesterday. When people march with Nazi and Confederate flags, we need leadership that is clear on which side is full of racism, bigotry and hatred.
I know racism can be subtle, and none of us are free from it, but I think we can say Nazi salutes and flags are racist. This was not a problem of bigotry and violence “on many sides.” Lest you think I’m being partisan, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and John McCain all denounced white supremacy, the KKK and neo-Nazis at the heart of the problem. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Utah Senator, said his brother did not die fighting Nazis so they could march freely now on American soil. William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard gets it, and Alt-Right white supremacist groups get it, because they were celebrating victory on Twitter last night because the President of the United States condemned bigotry “on many sides.”
To give a speech with no historical context is irresponsible. So, its left to preachers to like me to do it. When Dylan Roof murdered nine black people in the AME church in Charlestown, SC, much of the nation woke up to the danger of racist extremism. The state of South Carolina banned the Confederate flag, New Orleans has removed six Confederate war memorials, and Charlottesville is being targeted because they too want to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. It should not surprise us that there is a counter-reaction. It is the storm we must navigate, and I was proud to see so many clergy in Charlottesville as part of the anti-racism protest. Rev. Kelly Gallagher was there, Brian McLaren, whose book we read last Fall, was there. Our national UCC leadership, and other denominations were there, keeping the protests peaceful, ministering to the injured and the grieving. How will First Churches navigate this storm?
I think it is time we undertake Anti-Racism training as a congregation. This is not just a process of recognizing our own unconscious racism, but also developing a shared understanding of the problem, a common language about how to talk, how to respond when someone says something racist in our presence.”
A prayer from seminarian Lauren Grubaugh, who was in Charlottesville Saturday, posted on Facebook:
To the God whom we have forgotten;
To the God who is not male and is not white;
To the God who takes no pleasure in violence;
To the God who is Love;
To the God who is tender-hearted and warm embrace;
To the God who is not deaf to Her children’s cries and is moved to tears by their suffering;
To the God whose law is love of neighbor, hospitality for the stranger, care for the weak;
To the God whose touch is healing, whose gaze is compassion; whose way is lovingkindness;
To the God who is Justice;
To the God who tramples fear and hatred under Her feet;
To the God who convicts our hearts, stirs our spirits, transforms our minds;
To the God who revels in the joyful dance of community and invites us to do the same;
To the God whose own child’s lynched body hung limp on a tree,
not by Her own hand,
but because of the fear and hatred of those human beings
who feared the kind of world they were promised would be ushered in
and hated the changes they would have to undergo to get there;
Our memory is so short:
Our failure to remember the sins of our parents,
Our aversion to repentance,
Our refusal to make reparations,
Is killing us.
Our souls are wasting away.
And black, brown, female, queer, trans, Muslim, differently abled bodies
Every day, so many.
O God whom we have forgotten,
We do not even know how to call on your name.
We have not seen you in the faces of our sisters and brothers.
We have not felt you in the pain of our neighbors, strangers, friends and enemies;
O God whom we have forgotten,
Do not let our imaginations be infiltrated by war-mongering forces of violence.
Do not let our spirits be colonized by the depressing fear of our oppressors.
Transform our minds that do not know how to think of you
Existing without these heavy chains we have placed on ourselves
and on each other.