“We believe … that the church must, therefore, stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever‐flowing stream” – Confession of Belhar, 10.7
To the Leaders, Members, and Friends of John Knox Presbyterian Church:
In the wake of the horrific violence that resulted from a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two weekends ago, our hearts break for the families of those who lost their lives at the event, namely Heather Heyer, who was killed when James Alex Fields allegedly drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters, and two troopers — Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates. May God bring their loved ones comfort and hope in the face of their tragic loss.
Equally tragic is the fact that this was not an isolated event, but the culmination of yet another wave of racial violence from which this nation has suffered since its original sin of institutionalized slavery.
Scripture speaks of one humanity, created by God. It recounts our rebellion and enslavement to sin. It tells of a diverse people reconciled to God through the blood of the cross; a people set free for the work of reconciliation and justice. It heralds a new freedom and future in one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If the story of Babel is the story of a people scattered, then the story of Pentecost is of a diverse people called and gathered. Paul reminds us that Christ, our peace, has broken down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14), putting an end to the hostility of race, ethnicity, gender, and economic class.
Racism is a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice. It is nothing short of sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity, and a denial of the truth that all people are God’s image-bearers and therefore, persons of dignity. Racism, both blatant and subtle, fractures and fragments both church and society while denying the reconciling work of Christ.
When we speak of racism as though it were simply a matter of individual attitudes and behaviors, we underestimate it. Racism infects and affects all of us. It exists as an evil spiritual force in the system of relationships in this nation. It deforms relationships between and within racial groups. It undermines the promise of community and exacerbates prejudice and economic inequality.
When we rebuild walls of hostility and live behind them—blaming others for the problem and looking to them for solutions—we ignore the role we ourselves play in the problem and also in the solution. When we confront racism and move toward fairness and justice in society, all of us benefit.
Although racism affects each one of us differently, we must take responsibility for our participation, acknowledge our complicity, repent of our sin, and pray God will bring us to reconciliation.
As followers of Jesus, we must speak out against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism that prompted the demonstration. But this is neither difficult nor sufficient. The Gospel demands that we commit to working proactively and constructively to create a culture and society where the dignity of each and every individual is treasured, honored, and celebrated.
In the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
The events in Charlottesville are a tragic wake up call for the Church to seriously engage in this continuous struggle that harms us all. The response that I’ve seen from the Church at large has given me hope that we can find an even greater unity in this time.
If you would like to learn more about our responsibility in fighting this evil, the Seattle Presbytery invites you to an Anti-Racist Training Seminar, designed specifically for the Church, on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Members and friends of churches in the Seattle Presbytery are invited, and the cost is underwritten entirely. You may learn more or register here:
Additionally, Pastor Jon is preparing an educational conversation opportunity for the fall that will help broaden our awareness of and conversation around the issue of racial reconciliation and justice for this time.
In this spiritual battle against “the powers and principalities of this present darkness” (Eph. 5:12), may Almighty God bring us together and lead us with wisdom and courage.
With Love and Hope in Christ,
Pastor Chris Pritchett
Pastor Jonathan Saur