June 17, 2020
Highland Park Family,
It was five years ago today that the massacre happened at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Lately, we have all been disturbed over the senseless killings in Brunswick, GA, Minneapolis, MN, and so many other places across our country over the last few months. Many of you have contacted me and asked what we can do. I have thought and prayed and talked with people about this. To do nothing, to keep silent, is to give assent to what has happened. In 1867 John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” In the New Testament letter of 1 John we are told that if we see people in need and do nothing, God’s love does not live in us. Jesus pointed out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and in his story of the final judgment (Matthew 25) that the way we treat those who are hurting the most in this world determines how God looks at us.
While I do not know what needs to be done on a governmental level (though I am studying this and urge you to do so), I would like to propose three places where we can do something. They are the internal, the personal, and the church.
First, the internal- we all must recognize that we are sinners and that we can all have unseen tendencies to racism. We have a hard time seeing those faults and sins within ourselves, and a harder time admitting it to others. We must begin to search deep within, and ask others to help us, to acknowledge the sin that is in our lives. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) Sin is always based in ego, and ego is the root of racism. By admitting our sin to ourselves, to others, and to God, we receive forgiveness and help in constantly overcoming it.
Second, the personal- most of us have friends who are like us. They look like us, they think like us, they are in the same economic group as us. That is the basis of most friendship- commonality. To understand others, we must expand our friendship to those who are different from us, not only in race and ethnicity, but economic status, faith, political persuasion, and other ways. And we must truly be friends- that is, we must come to know them, love them, and accept them where they are. (For a great story about true friendship, I highly recommend the book Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.) This kind of friendship does not happen by chance or easily. It must be sought and worked at. By way of confession, I realize that I have had opportunities to do this and have not. I say this not to inflict guilt on me or you, but to say we must all begin to work intentionally to make friends with people who are unlike us. Friendship is the first step to understanding.
And third, the church- we as a church must be intentional in addressing this. To this end, at the next Church Council meeting I am going to propose that we form a new ministry team to lead us in two ways. First, to establish relationships with our sister churches in the Florence area who are predominantly African-American. We need to find ways to be together. And second, to help our church become intentional about reaching the community around us. The church is supposed to be a foretaste of Heaven, and in Revelation we are told that Heaven is filled with people of every age, race, and nation. If this is approved by the Council, Greg Bowlus has agreed to help that ministry team in its planning and actions.
As your pastor, I ask you to join me in doing these things. Margaret Mead said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” It is time, it is past time, for us to begin to change the world right where we are.
Grace and peace,