Dear fellow disciples of Jesus Christ,
By now, you may be aware of the tragic and disheartening events unfolding this weekend in Charlottesville, VA. With three confirmed deaths, an arrested and charged suspect, several other injured individuals under medical care, and unsettled communities, the details of this breaking news are still incomplete.
After another mentally-, physically-, and emotionally- challenging week, I came home Saturday late afternoon and was immediately made aware of these happenings, and it was as if several conversations and experiences from this week converged,compelling me to reach out to you.
What is happening in Charlottesville highlights the still very present reality of individual and corporate racism, specifically white supremacy, in our country, and it is a sinful and evil presence that has and continues to impact ALL OF US,whether or not you can articulate how it impacts you or others on any given day.
In exactly two months from today we will gather together as a regional family at the ABC Wisconsin Annual Gathering around the theme of “rootedness.” Here is a glimpse into our American Baptist (ABC) roots:
From a 1989 AMERICAN BAPTIST POLICY STATEMENT ON RACIAL JUSTICE
“We, as American Baptists, believe that all people are made in the image of God and that the right to human dignity, to be respected and treated as a person without regard to race, is foundational to our faith.
“Racism is the belief that one race is innately superior to all other races. It is the devaluing of persons in terms of their intelligence and potential for contributions to a given society because of their race by one or more racial
groups who have an economic, social and political position of power in that society. The organization of formal and informal systemic structures that keep specific racial minority groups disadvantaged and disenfranchised, whether
intentional or unintentional is called institutional racism. Racism, whether individual or corporate, is a sin against God. With grief we find racism to be one of the most pervasive examples of sin in our country.
“Scripture affirms that we, as people of God with new life in Christ, are a people among whom all distinctions are affirmed and respected. However, in our humanity we have been unable to realize fully what we have been called to be by God. While societies may have good intention of building values and operating structures designed to achieve visions of good ends, the reality is that they usually end up serving the few rather than the many. We recognize and affirm efforts underway by some to accept racial and ethnic diversity and call the church to model within society those values and structures that open the doors of opportunity for all people.
“…Racial justice is recognizing our oneness in Christ, confessing that we have not become what God wants us to be, and committing ourselves to pressing on to that mark of high calling by which we can become a liberating symbol to our nation and world of what it means to be the people of God. In so doing, we can challenge our nation to live up to its high purposes. We can challenge all the nations to take seriously the struggle for the freedom and peace of all humankind.
“…Based on the mandate of our Christian faith and our belief that a nation cannot be secured unless it is founded on justice and opportunity for all, we believe that Christians must work for racial justice within their own societies and within the world…”
I ask you to please read the full text available HERE.
An ABC resolution that specifically speaks to the resurgence of the KKK and to White Supremacy can be found HERE.
Alternate Link: http://www.abc-usa.org/policy-statements-and-resolutions/
We must pray – yes. Pray for the families and communities directly impacted by the events of this weekend – both highlighted on the news and those not – that personify race-based hate.
We must also act.
Below are suggestions that come from a 2016 Letter of Action issued by the ABC Taskforce on Race and Race-based Violence, of which I am a member:
- Consider your own personal (and corporate) explicit or complicit sin in matters of racism and race-based violence; appropriately confess privately and publicly pleading for forgiveness from God and others; and pray for freedom from the bondage of racism and a violence-saturated culture and for the individual and corporate empowerment toward the ministry of reconciliation.
- Create a private “peace-space” for people in your congregation/organization to reflect, meditate, and have heart-to-heart conversations.
- Create a public space, such as a prayer wall, for people to offer their heart’s cry.
- Plan a seminar designed to promote cultural and racial understanding.
- Invite local political leaders to share local issues of justice.
- Exchange pulpits with Pastors of another race.
- Sponsor a Racial Justice Sunday in partnership with local activist organizations.
- Select a book around race to study as a congregation.
- Host a Service of Reconciliation with churches of other races and ethnicities.
- Seek and trust God’s Spirit to guide you and your community toward creative and transforming inter-relational and systemic practices….”
This letter of action can be read in its entirety HERE.
My week in review:
On Sunday, August 6, I was blessed by an 11-year-old white girl who eagerly invited me into her world as she walked me around the Green Lake County fair sharing about her animals and her life on the farm (we met after I preached at an open-air worship service at the fair that morning). It was a display of how God’s powerful Spirit connects people from completely different worlds in meaningful ways.
On Monday, the ABC/WI Executive Committee affirmed that we must include as a priority in our strategic plan an intentional effort to equip ourselves for proactive, respectful, and constructive conversations about and across our differences so that we can more faithfully live into our mission and to further equip our local congregations to be bridge-builders in their own communities.
On Tuesday, I had a raw and authentic conversation with a fellow staff member on the difficulties that arise when becoming self-aware of ideologies and behaviors that are grounded in and triggered by race and in having honest conversations with others of different racial identities.
On Wednesday, I responded, with my support, to a statement generated by one of our partner ministries addressed to the Wisconsin State Assembly that speaks against a future vote on the Assembly Bill 48, which suggests a change to the current Wisconsin’s hate crime law enacted in 1988; the proposed change would dilute the original intent of the law to protect victims of crimes incited by human-identity (such as one’s race).
On Thursday, I was inspired as I read of the vision of an American Baptist church to train up cross-culturally-competent leaders who will “be equipped to lead [congregations] toward becoming living examples of the beloved community” within their building, their region, and across the denomination. The pastor is my colleague on the Race Taskforce.
On Friday, I finally watched the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, and internally experienced both disgust and hope as I watched with my daughter – sometimes with explanation and sometimes in silence – why women that look like her were treated so unfairly.
On Saturday, I witnessed members of a united multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-congregation church openly speak of the joys and challenges of their diverse reality and the importance of leaders to model “Christian trust” in their multicultural setting; there was a palpable common disappointment at the reality of distrust across cultures, even among Christians.
This was my week. And in truth, this week was not so different from any other. Navigating not only the waters of racial difference, tension, intolerance, ignorance, violence, and sin but also the waters of repentance, education, correction, reconciliation, justice, and love is inherent in the life of a Jesus-disciple in the 21st century in the United States–and in particular, inherent in our collective roots and current day witness as American Baptists.
So I hope you can understand why I implore us, ABC of Wisconsin, to be about our charge as the church to gather up all the power that is within us through Jesus Christ to tear down the walls of racism that have been built up throughout the history of humankind…
- To name the sin of white supremacy in all its explicitly destructive and hateful forms to the subversive undercurrents in our hearts and institutions.
- To mine our implicit biases and bring them to light so we can deal with them for the sake of the unity of the church and the dignity of all persons.
- To acknowledge the destructive impact of personal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal racism
- on other attacks to human rights and equality
- on access to basic needs such as housing, food, employment, education, and
- to the very nature of beloved community.
“the high calling by which we can become a liberating symbol to our nation
and world of what it means to be the people of God.”
[Reference to the 1989 policy of racial justice provided above.]
We have a wealth of resources within our region and throughout our networks that can help us work at this together as an area of common mission.
The call has been sounded, the actions suggested.
The question on this day is…
How will you respond?
With my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ,
Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri
Regional Executive Minister, ABC of Wisconsin