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by Rev. Char Burch, Transitional Conference Minister
COVID-19 has been described as an invisible enemy – one that affects everyone. As a result, most people have been responsive to social distancing and masks – trying to care for and protect each other. Top people in their fields of science and medicine are working diligently. All of this is commendable as we address the situation. We keep fighting and are hopeful, even as deaths reach 100,000.
Yet we have recently been reminded of another enemy which for some people seems to be invisible but that results in death and the suffering of victims. The horror of racism was so blatant in recent videos, it has been painful to watch. Last week it was Breonna Taylor, a few weeks before it was Ahmaud Arbery, and this week it is George Floyd. All children of God created in God’s image. Another video this week showed us how quickly it was possible for a white woman to escalate and endanger the life of a black man who was merely bird watching and had requested that she leash her dog as required by law.
None of this is new. For generations, racism has infected our soul as a country. Like a virus, we may not actually see it, but we see the results of treating persons of color as less than white persons: we see the results of systems that limit places where people can live, prevent equal access to quality education, refuse to pay a livable wage; we see it in court decisions and in employment decisions.
The reality is that racism needs to be addressed by white people! The only way to combat it is for white people to “take on” racism as the scientists have taken on COVID-19. It is not enough for white people to sit in shock while watching the videos. The fact that we are shocked is a sign of our white privilege and that we have been turning away from the racism that is all around us. As white people, we need to commit to change. What to do? We can begin conversations with others and read the books that are challenging us like White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo or the UCC Curriculum on White Privilege. I also read an article that referred to a list of “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” It is true that many individuals in our churches have been working diligently to fight racism and injustice. It has made a difference! But we all need to work even harder. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Let us not be silent!
For those of you who are persons and churches of color, I cannot imagine the layers of rage, fear, and anger that are present every day. I would urge you to hold those of us within the Southeast Conference accountable in our attempt to be faithful in following the way of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to embrace that we are all created in God’s image?
Such actions in fighting the sin of racism, require that we be both honest and vulnerable. Healing and challenging racism does not come from a vaccine. But it does come from observing the behaviors and systems that transmit it – and then work to change both the systems and the attitudes that create and perpetuate the systems.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, when the breath of God, the Spirit of God, opened the hearts and awareness of the disciples so that the church was changed forever. I urge that in your prayers this Sunday, you will include the need for us to receive the Spirit boldly that will lead us to embrace the call for equality and justice of all people.
May the Holy Spirit bless you with power and courage!