Pastoral Message on Minneapolis – May 29, 2020
Rev. Josh Evans
Over the past few days and weeks, we have been confronted yet again by the ugly reality of racism in this country. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are only the latest in a long litany of black and brown lives cut short by acts of violence and terror. Those of us who are white do not have to live with the daily realities and impacts of racism that our siblings of color do, but events like these seem to at least shake us from complacency. So, while I have your attention, I want to offer some words as a public faith leader.
Like many of you, I woke up Friday morning to the news that CNN journalist Omar Jimenez had been arrested, live on TV, while reporting on the ground in Minneapolis, along with his entire camera crew, simply for exercising their first amendment rights and reporting on the violence and the protests that have happened in that city in these last days. By all accounts, Jimenez and his crew were fully cooperating with police orders, even offering to move wherever they were directed. It’s all right there on film. And yet they were still arrested – no explanation given. If this can happen to a fully and visibly credentialed journalist and TV news crew, it can happen to anyone. And indeed we know that it does.
As a faith leader, I denounce the evil of racism, and I confess my own complicity in it. I stand in solidarity with my siblings of color. And to you I say: I see you. Your lives are holy. Your lives matter.
Those of us who are white ELCA Lutherans are among the least distanced from complicity in systems of racism. On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a white man himself and raised in an ELCA congregation, walked through the doors of the historically black Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. After attending Bible study that night with some of the church’s members, Roof then opened fire, and he murdered nine innocent, beloved children of God. This is our problem to confront, dear church.
The ELCA’s 1995 Social Statement “Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” denounces racism as sin. My own ordination vows as a called and ordained minister of Word and Sacrament call on me to “speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” All of us, as the priesthood of all believers, in our baptismal covenant, we are all called to “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”
And so, all of that in mind, you might wonder: So what can we do in the face of so much seemingly insurmountable evil? I want to offer four things:
- First, we can pray. People of faith can always pray. Pray for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Pray for the families of countless black and brown persons that have been murdered by police. Pray for the protesters on the ground in cities across the country right now who are angry enough to risk their lives and their safety in a time of pandemic in order to publicly denounce the injustice of what’s happening in our country. Pray for public officials and law enforcement officers that they might recognize their own complicity in these systems and instead strive to dismantle them and to work for justice for all people.
- Second, we can donate. If you have the means, please donate to the work and the care of protesters and activists on the ground in Minneapolis. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis is one ELCA congregation that has been offering much needed support and supplies in the thick of the events unfolding in their neighborhood. Holy Trinity is working hard to ensure that every penny they receive will help those who find their way into their care, and they’re also sharing generously with their justice partners.
- Third, do your homework. And this one is for white people. “White Homework” is a curriculum recommended recently by a pastoral colleague of mine, Rev. Lenny Duncan. Learning about the history and present realities of racism in the United States is crucial if we are to work to dismantle it. I am personally committing myself to engage this curriculum over the next few days.
- Fourth, and lastly, if you are a member or a pastor or a deacon in an ELCA congregation, there are resources now available through our denomination to commemorate the Emanuel 9 martyrs on June 17. This is more than just an opportunity to remember the nine specific martyrs killed in Charleston in 2015. This is also an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to repenting of the sins of racism and white supremacy which continue to plague this church body. Members, please encourage your pastors and deacons and leaders to publicly mark this commemoration, now an official part of our church calendar. Pastors, deacons, church leaders, listen to your members. Collaborate with other congregations or community organizations, or look for the service of prayer currently being prepared by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and other church leaders.
Friends, these are heavy days. And the church is called to act boldly.
This Pentecost weekend, as we hear the story of the Holy Spirit descending as tongues of fire on the disciples, we pray: O God, fan the flames of your Spirit, ignite our hearts, fuel our witness, and move us to action for the sake of justice and the way of God’s kingdom, as we pray every week, on earth as it is in heaven.
May Christ’s peace be with you, and may the Spirit’s flame burn hot within you.