A New Awakening: Understanding our Faith’s call to Address Racism
February 2015. Rev. Elizabeth Leung, UCC Minister for Racial Justice, looks at recent killings of unarmed black and brown men and women, our call to address systems of structural racism, and the UCC’s recent Pastoral Letter On Racism.
Following the killings of unarmed black and brown men and women, and of police officers last year, the Collegium wrote a Pastoral Letter On Racism: A New Awakening. It was published in the midst of the 2015 Epiphany season, before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The text expresses our prayer for the Holy Spirit to illuminate and stir our hearts and minds to a new understanding of, and a faithful response in prayer and action, to the ongoing manifestation of racism in our 21st century U.S. communities.
It insists that we cannot conflate and equate tragedies, simplify complex realities, and create more strife by participating in the attempts to make the tragedy of these killings an “us against them” conflict when tragedies strike in multiple directions.
We are called not to allow ourselves to look away from the harsh realities of this historic moment, pretending that racism is not at the core of the injustice.[i] The roots of the issues go far deeper than we would want to admit. It is important to understand our current reality in an appropriate context of U.S. history and its racism legacy, and not dismissing it as “past stuff.”
Living with our History
Our U.S. history is that of the annihilation of the Indigenous peoples of this land, the enslavement of people of African descent, and the exclusion of people of non-European origins. It includes broken treaties, ethnic cleansing and forced removals. It includes decades of state-sanctioned segregation and lynching. It includes a century of racially restrictive immigration.
These are among the realities that shape our present. Although genocide, slavery, mob-initiated lynching and segregation, and discriminatory immigration policies have ended, we cannot ignore their lasting impact on the establishment of social structures, and on cultural attitudes and present behaviors regarding race.
Our denominational history includes a lasting engagement in the struggle for racial justice. Acknowledging and challenging racism is not new for us, as the pastoral letter recalls our spiritual roots and birth as a denomination. Indeed, we are theologically and spiritually compelled to seek the elimination of racism within ourselves, in the church and in society.[ii]
What is new to this historic moment is an understanding among a broader spectrum of society that, the racism we face today, while daunting and seemingly intractable, is not the racism Americans of all races faced decades ago. This current movement of young Americans from diverse communities leading protests and developing new initiatives for creating justice within our communities has shown that the understanding of racism as more than a black/white issue has deepened.
Today, we are keenly aware that racism is more than an individual sin and it involves more than a private injury. Now, we are able to see that racism is also institutional and systemic, which affects us all while impacting different communities differently. We have been re-awakened to the disturbing differences in perception among us about how law enforcement functions in our various communities. Thus the need for white Americans to continue work on understanding how institutional and systemic racism benefits them has been heightened.
Our paths forward together from here might need to be on roads less traveled, or mindsets less practiced, so that we are able to arrive at a truly new place of gaining insight into the depth of systemic racism. Guilt and resentment can only push us so far to undo the wrongs and do the right thing. Hope, courage and continued commitment, on the part of all who want to cultivate an enduring desire for God’s beloved community, will sustain us in an accountable and responsible pursuit of the end of racism in the long run. And then, true healing and reconciliation can happen.
Eradicating racism will happen only as we take action to produce conditions that will allow for the fullness of life for those who have suffered its destructive impact, as we work to reorient institutions that perpetuate racist practices, and as we dismantle systems that coalesce to produce racial injustice. The United Church of Christ in all of its settings can and must engage this kind of action as an act of faith and faithfulness to God.
Our Faith Calls us to Action
The pastoral letter invites us all who are relatives in Christ, to prayerfully consider these actions and others that emerge out of your particular thought and context to engage our communities forward:
- Create local church partnerships that bring churches of different racial, ethnic, class, linguistic and cultural backgrounds together to engage in relationship building, racism awareness learning, advocacy and mission.
- Initiate or continue engagement in Sacred Conversations on Race.
- Form partnerships to launch and promote literary initiatives in communities throughout the nation as a necessary means of empowerment in the struggle against racial injustice.
- Work with other local churches and ecumenical partners to intentionally engage police agencies in constructive dialogue focused on developing appropriate and just policing in communities of color.
- Form intentional partnerships with other secular and religious organizations that share a commitment to working to eliminate racism, such as the YWCA, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the Samuel Proctor Conference and other emerging organizations.
May the Spirit of God embolden us to recognize and eradicate the evolving virus of racism in our social body. May Jesus Christ our Lord strengthen our hearts as we step up to be repairers of the breach. And may God our Creator, in whose image we are created, embrace us all as we move from safe to brave spaces of interracial church relationships, more just communities, and active engagement to put an end to the evil of racism.
[i] “Racism remains a wound at the heart of our nation that cannot be wished away or treated carelessly,” says the 2008 Pastoral Letter that accompanies Sacred Conversations on Race.
[ii] “Racism is a sin and an evil that stands as an affront to the Christian faith” – the 1991 Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism emphasizes this declaration of the Seventeenth General Synod.