Pastoral Letter in Response to Charlottesville 08-18-17

August 18, 2017

Beloved Ones,

This has been a hard week. The events of Charlottesville, the vandalism of the Holocaust Memorial in Boston for the second time this summer, the terrorist attacks in Spain, the responses of our political leadership: these have taken a toll on many of us in one way or another. My heart is heavy. I grieve the ways that racism and bigotry still affect our country and our communities. I grieve that people filled with such hatred and violence call themselves “Christian,” while those of us who strive to follow Christ scramble to respond with love and compassion.

Knowing how to talk with adults about racism is hard enough; figuring out how to speak to my son about these things felt impossible. And yet I knew it must be done. We each must “put all of our fear and all of our courage together and take on the mantle of responsibility,” as the co-director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network said earlier this week.

And so, putting my fear and courage together, yesterday I went for a long walk with Isaac. At eight years old, he is inquisitive and capable of thoughtful discussion. We’ve talked a bit about racism in the past; we were fortunate to be able to afford a high-quality preschool that valued diversity among students and staff. From an early age, Isaac learned to talk about how we are all different in many ways and all special and loved for being exactly who we are. So as Isaac and I walked the neighborhood yesterday, I began with was for him an easy entry-point: we know that there are some people who think they’re better than others simply because their skin is white.

He was with me that far, but then I realized I needed to back up even further. So we talked about the Civil War, and we talked about slavery, and we talked about how glad we are that the South lost that horrible war.

We talked about how there are statues and flags all throughout the South that celebrate the Southern leaders of that war, even though the South lost and even though most people today would never say that slavery is OK. We talked about the movement to remove those statues and stop flying those flags, and why that’s important. We talked about what it must feel like to be a person of color and have to walk past statues that celebrate the people who wanted to keep you enslaved. We talked about what it means to be human and free. We talked about God’s love for all of God’s children.

And then we talked about the fact that there are people who still believe that the South should have won. There are people who still hate other people if they are not Christian. “But we’re Christian, right?” Isaac asked. And so we talked about what it means to us to be Christian: that Jesus taught us that God loves everyone and that we are supposed to love everyone, and that we will work to end hatred whenever and wherever we can. We talked about how there are people who read the same Bible we do but take a very different message from it, and I talked honestly about my confusion as to how anyone can read Jesus’ words and hear hatred in them.

And I gave him names for these people. Fear of a name leads to fear of the thing itself. We cannot be afraid to be very clear about who these people are, and we cannot let them hide behind the smokescreens of words like “heritage” and “free speech.”

KKK. Neo-Nazis. White Supremacists.

We talked about Charlottesville. About a statue of Robert E. Lee. About Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists and burning torches and hateful chants and violence. About a car driven into a crowd of people and the death of a young woman and injury of nineteen others.

Yes. I talked about those things with my eight year old son.

Why? Why would I do that? Simply this: because mothers of children of color have to have these hard conversations about the real dangers of living in their skin in this country every single day. To protect my son’s innocence, to try to shield him from the reality of racism and hate in this country, would be to exercise my White Privilege in a way I am no longer willing to do. The mothers of children of color have borne the burden of talking about these horrible realities alone for far too long.

Those men carrying torches and shouting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” were white men. My son is a white boy. It is my job to make sure he learns love, not hate. And so we had a hard conversation. I was clumsy, I was unsure of myself, I prayed throughout that God will help me speak awful truths to my sweet, sensitive son. And it broke my heart.

And yes, it scared him. When I said that there would be more demonstrations in Boston this weekend, and that I was thinking about going to be a part of the counter-protest to declare that we don’t want hate in our community, he started to cry. He was afraid I’d be hurt. And so we talked some more. I told him I was afraid too, but that we also have to find ways to stand up to this kind of hate. And then I promised him that I would not go to the counter-demonstrations this weekend, and that we will find another way to stand up for love and against hate. We snuggled for a while, taking comfort in each other’s love. After a few minutes, he went off to play, as children do, and I went to cook dinner while trying to continue making sense of the insensible.

Beloved, I have no clarity to offer to you. I have only my own broken-heartedness, my own anger, my own fear, my own prayers, my own hopes. I can offer you only my own inadequate, muddled attempts to bring a little more of God’s light into the world in spite of the darkness I feel gathered around us.

I cannot tell you how to respond to this week’s events. Each of us must prayerfully discern how God is calling us to be present in these moments. For those of you who might wish to take action in response to Charlottesville, there is information below about some things that are happening in our area.

As you prayerfully consider whether you might be called to take part in any of them, I offer to you these words from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

What Can You Do?
Do not attend a hate rally. As much as you might like to physically show your opposition to hate, confrontations serve only the perpetrators. They also burden law enforcement with protecting hatemongers from otherwise law-abiding citizens. If an event featuring a hate group, avowed separatist or extremist is coming to your college campus, hold a unity rally on a different part of campus. Invite campus clubs, sororities, fraternities and athletic organizations to support your efforts.

Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity. Many communities facing a hate group rally have held alternative events at the same hour, some distance away, emphasizing strength in community and diversity. They have included forums, parades, and unity fairs featuring speakers, food, music, exhibits, and entertainment. These events give people a safe outlet for the frustration and anger they want to vent. As a woman at a Spokane, Washington, human rights rally put it, “Being passive is something I don’t want to do. I need to make some kind of commitment to human rights.”

The full article may be found here.

 

Following my conversation with Isaac, prayerful discernment, and the advice of the SPLC, I will not be attending the counter-protest in Boston tomorrow. As there is not a unity rally happening elsewhere nearby tomorrow, my family and I will plan to attend the prayer vigil on Sunday in Lexington. I invite you to join us as you feel called. (Information below.)

That said, some of you may feel the need to be present at a counter-protest this weekend. If you are planning on going into Boston tomorrow, please be aware that the organizers of “Fight Supremacy!” (the main counter-protest) have not made an explicit commitment to nonviolence. If you go, please go with someone, not alone. Please research carefully what you are allowed to bring with you, and what will be prohibited. Please be safe.

If you choose not to go to Boston on Saturday, please pray for those gathered. Please pray for God’s provision, wisdom, collaboration, and mutual support. Please pray for justice, nonviolence, and peace. Cover our city and our Commonwealth in prayer.
If you would like to pray in our own sanctuary,
the doors will be open from noon until 2pm (the hours of the Boston rally and counter-protests).

As ever, Beloved, I am here if you need me. You are all in my prayers as we make our way through these difficult days. It will be good to see you this coming Wednesday (8/23) at 6 pm in the Memorial Garden for our final summer worship gathering: a time of prayer, song, and the breaking of bread.

In Christ’s Love,
Rev. Heather

A List of This Weekend’s Events
(from the Mass. Council of Churches, current as of Fri. Aug 18, 8am)

Friday August 18

Moral Revival Massachusetts: Prayer Walk around Boston Common, 7 pm. We call you to come to the Boston Common at Friday at 7 pm to pray that the Common be sacred and peaceful ground on Saturday morning. We will walk the perimeter of the Common and then stand at the center to offer our deepest hopes that this be a moment of spiritual evolution in our country.

Saturday Aug. 18 Counter-Protest Opportunity:

There are multiple counter-protests scheduled in many parts of the city.  “Fight Supremacy! Boston Counter-Protest and Resistance Rally” will depart from Madison Park Vocational School, 75 Malcolm X Blvd, Roxbury on Saturday at 10am and march to Boston Common. Organized by Black Lives Matter Network, Violence In Boston, Black Lives Matter Boston, Black Lives Matter Cambridge & The Movement for Black Lives.

Saturday Aug. 18 Prayer Opportunities:

8am- 9am, Old South Church, Boston “Grounded in Faith, Moving into Action.” We will gather in worship with General Minister and President of the UCC John Dorhauer offering a homily. The Willie Sordillo ensemble will offer us wonderful and inspiring music.  We will pray deeply and at length.  We will offer an up-to-date and in depth briefing of the different rallies and marches that are going on.  We will be sent forth together so that we are with a group.  This event will end in plenty of time to travel to any of the rallies that are going on.

10am-3pm, Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston Vigil for Peace:
the Cathedral will be open on Saturday from 10-3 for an on-going Vigil for Peace, with a midday Eucharist at noon in the nave. Sproat Hall will also be open throughout this period for hospitality and peaceful conversations.

Sunday, August 20 Prayer Vigil:

6-6:30 pm, Lexington: Standing Together Against Racism and Violence: The Lexington Clergy Association invites the Lexington community for a prayer vigil to “celebrate our solidarity against racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism” on the stairs of Hancock Church, opposite the Lexington Green. (Sunday, Aug. 20, 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Hancock United Church of Christ, 1912 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington)

Here are some articles and reflections that may help you in your discernment, or which may speak to you in your grief:

A Message From the Moral Movement MA

A Sermon by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

A Sermon by W. A. “Chip” Hurd

A Reflection by MACUCC Associate Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries Kelly Gallagher, who was in Charlottesville

A Joint Statement from Boston Area Religious Leaders

The Anti-Defamation League of New England have a helpful blog post about who is behind the “Free Speech” rally on the Boston Common this weekend

Syllabus for learning about White Supremacy in Charlottesville (and beyond), compiled by the Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation

For further learning, here’s another great place to start

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