Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mourning Souls Lost to the Violence of White Supremacy

In the past few days, we’ve received devastating news that Nabra Hassanen, a 17 year old on her way back from mosque was beaten to death and left in a pond, that Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four was killed by police after calling them for help, and that our legal system once again failed to deliver justice in the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile. For those (especially people of color) feeling  rage, despair, fear, and in mourning, we are with you.  We say their names so that they might never be forgotten. 

The thread that ties each of these horrific acts of violence together is as old at our nation itself; the dehumanization and devaluation of Black and Brown people. The need to uproot white supremacy in our culture, institutions, and indeed within ourselves has never been more clear. Yet in these difficult political times, the creation of policy that might ease the threats of white supremacy seems increasingly out of reach.  

However, that does not absolve us, as a predominantly white denomination, to act:

Because of our biblical understanding of who God is and what God intends for humanity, the PC(USA) must stand against, speak against, and work against racism. Antiracist effort is not optional for Christians. It is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship, without which we fail to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. (Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Churchwide Antiracism Policy. Approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), PC(USA).)

White supremacy is insidious in that is seeps into our psyche and into our most private thoughts. The assumption it produces is that people of color must have done something bad when they become victims of violence: that Philando shouldn’t have reached for his wallet, that Charleena was a threat even when she was well known to officers and had never before tried to harm them, that Nabra said something to provoke the driver who eventually ended her life. The questions we should be asking are “are we satisfied with a world where a broken tail light can get you killed?” “why didn’t Ms. Lyles have access to the mental health care she needed?” “what kind of world have we created when children coming home from prayer need be vigilant?” 

As we confront white supremacy and the systems it creates, other questions come to mind. Questions that help us name and remember, and assess our own commitments. Questions such as:

What provokes outrage and sorrow?
For whom do we grieve? 
Who will be remembered and how? 
How can our local congregations combat the systemic evils which claim innocent lives?
How can we hold accountable those in power who abuse their authority through neglect and abuse?
What are appropriate ways we can grieve with families in the midst of such tragic circumstances?
What are fitting memorials so that we can work to prevent future horrors?

As the beneficiaries of unearned privileges wrought by white supremacy, it is incumbent on white people to do the work of interrupting racism. We ask white readers of this piece to contribute to our collective memory by memorializing these souls in some way this week; include their names and circumstances in your prayers individually and in your corporate worship services, begin the anti racism study and action group your congregation has been considering, reach out to local organizations who are working to dismantle white supremacy and offer talent and treasure, as individuals and as a congregation make the Dear White Christian ( pledge offered by Auburn Seminary and implement the commitments it suggests.

PC(USA) Resources on Race and Racism:
·      Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community
·      The Facing-Racism Web site provides PC(USA) resources including policies, study guides, information about training opportunities and more
·      The Engaging Belhar Web site provides resources related to the Confession of Belhar

As we follow Jesus in our efforts to challenge white supremacy and establish equity, we commit that:

In our affirmation that God loves difference, we will honor diversity as a good in which God delights. In our conviction that God desires justice, we will learn from others to broaden our understanding of equality. In our humility as sinful people, we will listen openly to diverse voices regarding how racism functions in our society. In our gratitude for God’s grace, we will turn again and again towards the vision of whole community found in the Word of God. In our joyous response to God’s love, we will love one another. (Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Churchwide Antiracism Policy. Approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), PC(USA).)

We hold you in prayer in all your work to dismantle white supremacy and establish equity as you follow Jesus who lived and taught of God’s love.