My journey of becoming aware of racial injustice began in college (and let me be clear – for white people, it absolutely is a journey, one that I wish I could say started at a much younger age). I took African American history courses and was stunned at all that I had not learned. I spent a summer witnessing poverty in Washington, DC while working for a short-term missions organization. I took sociology courses, which opened my eyes to the systemic ways people of color have been and continue to be oppressed in this country.
I took all of that knowledge out into the world with me but didn’t do much with it. Then I returned to school, to seminary, and it was there that I learned how pervasive a theme justice is throughout the Bible. From Abraham and Sarah’s treatment of Hagar to the Israelites crying out from Egypt to Jesus favoring the poor and lowly to the words of Revelation, I walked away from seminary with a master’s degree and a conviction that the institutional church I had grown up in was not being faithful enough to the call of Jesus. To paraphrase Austin Channing Brown, if we truly believe that God made all people equally in the image of the divine, the state of racial injustice in our country would be intolerable. Too many of us don’t feel this urgency and too many of us who sense it don’t know what to do about it. That includes me.
So now I find myself in a position of leadership in a privileged, mostly white church, with the opportunity to help others learn about racial injustice. I want to help people understand what they are seeing on the news and understand that the injustices people are protesting are not just a social or cultural problem – they are a theological problem. As a church and as individuals who affiliate ourselves with the name of Christ, these problems need to be intolerable to us, because we know they were intolerable to Jesus.
No one individual holds responsibility for all that racially white people have done to oppress people of color. Seeing it that way actually goes against the Biblical narrative, which calls us to understand ourselves as part of a community. So where do we, the First Pres community, go from here? We can choose to be a community that is committed to continuing to learn and listen. We can choose to be a community that turns again and again to humility, lamentation, apology, and prayer. We can choose to be a community that seeks new ways to more effectively be allies to the people of color in our borough and our county and our state, advocating for justice and God’s love to be part of their lived experiences.
I hope to be a leader in that kind of community. I hope our conversations lead to growth and action that no one leader can envision alone. I hope that our church’s presence in the community will truly embody the words I wrote on a protest sign earlier this summer: “We see you. We hear you. We stand with you. Black Lives Matter.”