Thomas on race: 'Sacred conversations are never easy'

Written by John H. Thomas
April 3, 2008

Press statement on April 3 at Trinity UCC calling UCC and others to nationwide "sacred conversation" on race:

As General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ of which Trinity United Church of Christ and 5,700 other churches are member congregations, I thank you for joining us today. 

We are here on an historic day, the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's last sermon preached the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.  In that sermon he talked about seeing the Promised Land, a vision of racial justice and of peace that continues to beckon to us today.

Forty years later the painful reality of America's struggle with race endures.  The events of the past few weeks in relation to Trinity Church, have catapulted Trinity – and our nation – into a new awareness of the ongoing impact of race in our society. 

This new awareness has been a painful awakening.  Members of our church, and many others, have been disturbed by what they have seen and heard on television.  Many have felt that the real story of the United Church of Christ and of Trinity hasn't been told.  Members of Trinity Church in particular have had to celebrate Holy Week and Easter under profoundly difficult circumstances.

The United Church of Christ includes people who come from diverse cultural backgrounds and a variety of life experiences.  We encourage open dialogue where thoughtful and prayerful listening to divergent points of view can offer a deeper means for spiritual growth for individuals and communities.  We don't require agreement; our unity is not dependent on uniformity.  But it is important that we converse with each other in compassionate and respectful ways.  Our earliest churches were called "meeting houses," where the great public issues of the day were discussed and debated and where God's will was discerned in a shared attentiveness to Scripture.

Today on this important anniversary, and in light of the soul searching the recent events surrounding Trinity have prompted, I am here with the pastor of Trinity Church, the Rev. Otis Moss, III, and with the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, to say that it is time for a nationwide "sacred conversation" about race in the United States.

On Sunday, May 18, 2008 – the Sunday after Pentecost, which also happens to be called Trinity Sunday in the ecumenical calendar – we are asking our 10,000 UCC pastors across the nation to use their pulpits to address the subject of race.  We believe this is an important first step in beginning the broader conversation that needs to take place in our nation, in our communities and, especially, in our houses of worship.  Over the next six weeks we will be equipping our pastors and lay leaders to help them prepare for May 18 and for the important conversations to follow.   

Sacred conversations are never easy conversations.  This is especially true when honest talk about race confronts us with a painful past and won't let us ignore the troubles of our present day.  That's why sacred conversations require a readiness to see one another as sacred in spite of our differences, and why the sacred places where these conversations take place need to be respected. 

The members of Trinity United Church of Christ are going through a very difficult time right now.  The intersection of politics, religion, and race has heightened our awareness of how easy it is for conversations about race to be anything but sacred.  That's why we are calling for sacred conversations, and for the respect of sacred spaces, to begin right here and right now.

Forty years ago Dr. King challenged us.  He said, in part, "Let us stand with a greater determination.  And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be.  We have an opportunity to make America a better nation."  Today, let us commit ourselves to take up that challenge again.

Thank you.