Responses to Charlottesville

Dear friends in Christ and in crisis,
     This morning while commuting to the Trost Center, I was listening to an NPR interview with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was emphatically imploring our elected leaders to categorically reject hate language and to name bigotry as indisputably unacceptable.
At that very moment, I glanced to the north side of highway 60 and saw a front porch I have passed by more than 150 times. There, waving alongside Old Glory was a brand new Confederate flag. Surely this was a reaction to the weekend rallies in Charlottesville. While I respect the freedom we all have to express our views, this unnerved and disturbed me.
     When I was a teenager I remember learning about skinheads, holocaust deniers like David Duke, and bizarre night gatherings of the Ku Klux Klan. I assumed these were isolated demonstrations of a warped White Anglo Saxon Protestant nationalism that would logically give way to a more pluralistic, mature and inclusive national pride. I was wrong. Over the past few years, the racial tensions in Ferguson and Baltimore, in Madison and Sherman Park, tell me otherwise. Even the horrific mass shooting during a Charleston AME Church Bible Study hasn’t stemmed the hateful rhetoric or ceased the insane violence. The zeal of “Make America Great Again” appeals to many who want to turn back racial progress and double down on white privilege.
     What I find most frightening about the counter chant to Black Lives Matter (“white lives matter” or the more innocuous “all lives matter”) is that therein lies a subtle invitation to normalize an ideology of white supremacy. The events of Charlottesville this past weekend represent a growing intolerance, fueled ostensibly by fear and frustration, but also fueled by those who stir up conspiracy theories and bogus news. We have seen this zeal before, albeit too late, and it has not served our world well.
     I recommend to you a tiny, new book called “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder. Already a New York Times Best Seller, these Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century invite us to pay close attention to the times at hand, indeed to be vigilant and reactive in the same way Jesus scrutinized the powers and principalities of his time.
     What can we do?
     We can come together in solidarity with all who embrace the beautiful diversity of our nation and the moral imperatives shared by every genuine sacred pathway. We can prophetically proclaim, and lovingly demonstrate, full acceptance and affirmation of all God’s people. We can tenderly take up some tough conversations with family members who are inclined toward more exclusive and prejudicial ideologies.   We can reject jokes that marginalize people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, and immigrants who have come to our shores or crossed our borders.
     Many of you – clergy and lay people alike – addressed the events of Charlottesville yesterday in worship and in your daily conversations. Thank you for your courage and commitment to the liberating and inclusive message of Jesus’ love.   There are more rallies planned in the coming days, so I urge you to pray for peace and to encourage non-violent ways to boldly stand up against such hateful demonstrations.
     Ironically, a month ago I placed on my calendar – for today – the task of inviting our 220 UCC congregations into a two year time of spiritual preparation as we look toward hosting General Synod in June of 2019.   Since we are hosting in Milwaukee, a city of remarkable renaissance yet also a city of dramatic racial divide, our intention is to invite congregations to engage in meaningful conversations about race. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every congregation could find some way (small group, sermon series, confirmation, book study) to dialogue about this topic using whatever materials seem most accessible to your people?
     We have compiled several resource guides, notable books, upcoming events and some terrific African-American cultural opportunities to help engage us in this important conversation. This list of resources is available on our website (www.wcucc.org), and if you have additional ideas we would be grateful to have you share them (frigert@wcucc.org).
     My prayers are with you, congregations and colleagues throughout the Wisconsin Conference. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of God, because you know that in God your labor is never in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
May God’s Spirit strengthen us for the task at hand and the days to come.
August blessings,
Franz Rigert,

 

A Statement from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary President Michael Jinkins
in Response to the Charlottesville Violence

August 14, 2017

When I heard the news of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, shock doesn’t begin to communicate what I felt reading the reports. Horror. Sadness. Disgust. And profound disappointment make a start.

Please let me be clear from the beginning of my comments.

What I am about to say is theological in character; therefore it must also be political in nature although it is not partisan. I join my voice with Republicans and Democrats and Independents who lament where our nation finds itself today. But what I must say will be more direct than some of the statements made by some of our political leaders, whatever their parties; and it will be explicitly from the perspective of our Christian faith. For this I make no apologies.

Reading the published comments of President Donald Trump, I knew as a Christian, as a Presbyterian minister, and as the president of one of our denomination’s great seminaries, I had to respond unequivocally. To do less would be to shirk the responsibilities of this calling.

President Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday the following:
“We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST.”

I recognize that this statement was a nod toward “inclusivity,” as one report put it. But with all due respect to the Office of the President, I must disagree.

We are not Americans first. We’re human beings first.

I am also a Christian, and my faith teaches me something very important that I cannot afford to forget: God didn’t go to all the trouble of becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to make us Americans or even Christians. God plays for much higher stakes than nationalism or religious affiliation.

God sent Christ to make us human. To use explicitly Christian language, God calls us to be human in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Whenever we violate that fundamental calling, the calling to be human, we decide that we have given over to other powers, other loyalties, and other gods in our culture and the world the authority to name us and determine our character and destiny. This is idolatry.

We really need to get clear about this.

Jesus of Nazareth, a Palestinian Jew who never ceased to be ethnically and religiously a Jew, was crucified by powers not unlike those being unleashed in our cities today. Let us not pretend otherwise; to be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christ. To hate others because of their race, ethnicity, country of origin or religion, is to violate the love of God.

This world is beloved of God, every morsel of it. And if there is anything we know from reading the Bible and observing God’s creation, God loves variety.

God loves variety because God is love. And the God who is love created and blessed every pigmentation and ethnicity of humanity, and doesn’t stand in the door of any church, synagogue, temple or mosque barring the way of anyone who worships.

If we believe for one moment that privileging the voices of hatred is necessary in order to maintain balance in our society, we are kidding ourselves. And if we imagine that the chants of white supremacists, “Jews will not replace us,” and “Take America Back,” and their complaints like, “I’m tired of seeing white people pushed around” are simply the statements of people of goodwill disagreeing about policies, we are guilty of the worst kind of self-deception.

The U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech does not put shackles upon our consciences. Not to take sides against hatred is not just to be on the wrong side of history (though it is that too); it is to reject our calling as a people of God.

We are human beings, first and last, by creation and calling.

Michael Jinkins, President
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Poem for the New Year

New Year Poem
by May Sarton

Listen Online

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

We are dying away from things.
It is a necessity—we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.

Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.

We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.

There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
Faintly ridiculous
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)

Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.
“New Year Poem” by May Sarton from Collected Poems. © Norton, 1993.Poem