Pastoral Letter - June 1, 2020

Dear Friends and Members of RPPC,
Last week we witnessed the death of yet another African American person in police custody. His name was George Floyd. His death is an all too familiar story. In the ensuing days, protests have emerged in cities and towns across our country, including Baltimore and Towson.
The details of Mr. Floyd’s death have been hashed over again and again in news and on social media. You do not need me to do so again, but neither can we as people of faith, and in particular as a majority white congregation in the midst of a majority black city, remain silent.
Last fall when there was an incident on Roland Ave. between a white woman and three RPEMS middle school students of color, we pledged to our community not to remain silent when we see or hear racism or its effects, either individually or systemically.
Neither you nor I know what was in the heart and mind of officer Derek Chauvin as he knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes and Mr. Floyd pleaded for relief and eventually became unresponsive. What should be clear to all of us by now is that such an action would most likely not have happened in the first place if Mr. Floyd’s life was regarded with the same value as a white man.
The clear fact is that black and brown men and women are killed by police in our country in disproportionately higher numbers than white men and women. This is less about what is in the hearts and minds of individual people and more about the soul of our nation. It is a systemic injustice that must be addressed with systemic solutions.
That does not mean there is nothing for us to do. Among other actions you may be taking as a citizen, I invite us, as individuals and a congregation, to do three concrete things as people of faith in response to these most recent events.
1.      Do not remain silent! We need to vocally and visually proclaim the injustice we see and declare that black lives matter and are created in the image of God. I invite you to share this letter to friends, family and on social media to show that our congregation has promised to use our voice and privilege to address this issue. Additionally, I invite you to make signs to adorn the church lawn declaring our solidarity with our black and brown brothers and sisters.
2.    I also invite us to a posture of humility. We are immersed in a culture of white privilege and superiority that tells us lies about ourselves and our black and brown siblings. We should not remain silent when it comes to calling out injustice, but we also need to listen and learn from the experiences of those who have been systemically oppressed for generations. Too often our words seek to placate our own feelings of responsibility for perpetuating a racist system. It is not enough to not be racist, we must be anti-racist. Which leads to our next invitation to action…
3.     We need to become allies. This includes work on our end. It’s about more than showing up at rallies. It is about being ready to do anti-racist work. It is about reaching out to communities of color and asking, “Where do you need me? How can I stand with you?”
I also want to share two resources with you. The first is an excellent sermon preached by my friend and colleague, the Rev. Tom Harris, to Govans Presbyterian yesterday. In it he provocatively suggests that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the civil unrest in our nation and that it is our job to catch up to the Spirit. You can view the sermon here. Also, I will be reading the book How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram K. Kendi this summer. If you would like to read it with me and discuss, please let me know.
There is a lot more that could be said and needs to be done. I invite your comments and suggestions in response. I also ask you to please join me in this work, as we seek to follow our Lord who teaches us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
In faith, hope and love,

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