Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mourning Souls Lost to the Violence of White Supremacy

In the past few days, we’ve received devastating news that Nabra Hassanen, a 17 year old on her way back from mosque was beaten to death and left in a pond, that Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four was killed by police after calling them for help, and that our legal system once again failed to deliver justice in the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile. For those (especially people of color) feeling  rage, despair, fear, and in mourning, we are with you.  We say their names so that they might never be forgotten. 

The thread that ties each of these horrific acts of violence together is as old at our nation itself; the dehumanization and devaluation of Black and Brown people. The need to uproot white supremacy in our culture, institutions, and indeed within ourselves has never been more clear. Yet in these difficult political times, the creation of policy that might ease the threats of white supremacy seems increasingly out of reach.  

However, that does not absolve us, as a predominantly white denomination, to act:

Because of our biblical understanding of who God is and what God intends for humanity, the PC(USA) must stand against, speak against, and work against racism. Antiracist effort is not optional for Christians. It is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship, without which we fail to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. (Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Churchwide Antiracism Policy. Approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), PC(USA).)

White supremacy is insidious in that is seeps into our psyche and into our most private thoughts. The assumption it produces is that people of color must have done something bad when they become victims of violence: that Philando shouldn’t have reached for his wallet, that Charleena was a threat even when she was well known to officers and had never before tried to harm them, that Nabra said something to provoke the driver who eventually ended her life. The questions we should be asking are “are we satisfied with a world where a broken tail light can get you killed?” “why didn’t Ms. Lyles have access to the mental health care she needed?” “what kind of world have we created when children coming home from prayer need be vigilant?” 

As we confront white supremacy and the systems it creates, other questions come to mind. Questions that help us name and remember, and assess our own commitments. Questions such as:

What provokes outrage and sorrow?
For whom do we grieve? 
Who will be remembered and how? 
How can our local congregations combat the systemic evils which claim innocent lives?
How can we hold accountable those in power who abuse their authority through neglect and abuse?
What are appropriate ways we can grieve with families in the midst of such tragic circumstances?
What are fitting memorials so that we can work to prevent future horrors?

As the beneficiaries of unearned privileges wrought by white supremacy, it is incumbent on white people to do the work of interrupting racism. We ask white readers of this piece to contribute to our collective memory by memorializing these souls in some way this week; include their names and circumstances in your prayers individually and in your corporate worship services, begin the anti racism study and action group your congregation has been considering, reach out to local organizations who are working to dismantle white supremacy and offer talent and treasure, as individuals and as a congregation make the Dear White Christian (http://auburnseminary.org/dear-white-christians/) pledge offered by Auburn Seminary and implement the commitments it suggests.


PC(USA) Resources on Race and Racism:
·      Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/racialjustice/new_2016_antiracism_policy.pdf
·      The Facing-Racism Web site provides PC(USA) resources including policies, study guides, information about training opportunities and more http://facing-racism.pcusa.org/
·      The Engaging Belhar Web site provides resources related to the Confession of Belhar

As we follow Jesus in our efforts to challenge white supremacy and establish equity, we commit that:

In our affirmation that God loves difference, we will honor diversity as a good in which God delights. In our conviction that God desires justice, we will learn from others to broaden our understanding of equality. In our humility as sinful people, we will listen openly to diverse voices regarding how racism functions in our society. In our gratitude for God’s grace, we will turn again and again towards the vision of whole community found in the Word of God. In our joyous response to God’s love, we will love one another. (Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Churchwide Antiracism Policy. Approved by the 222nd General Assembly (2016), PC(USA).)


We hold you in prayer in all your work to dismantle white supremacy and establish equity as you follow Jesus who lived and taught of God’s love.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Launching the Grassroots Advocacy Program: Join Us for a Training Webinar 6.21

In Acts 1:8 Jesus says to His disciples, 
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; 
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, 
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Presbyterians have heard the call from Jesus fully commit to being faithful witnesses to the call from God to transform the world. We are called to be active in social and moral issues as we engage the world in the public square.  Over the years much of our justice work out of this office has focused on direct advocacy with Congressional offices, the White House, and government agencies. This year alone we have met with members of Congress and their staffers on such vital issues as the travel ban, the Johnson Amendment and the federal budget. Over and over again, members of Congress insist that they want to hear directly from their constituents while also building a relationship with representatives of the denomination. While our presence on Capitol Hill is essential, we see the need to build political power with the church to advance a justice agenda and know we cannot do all of that necessary work from Washington D.C. Every member of Congress is elected from their district and their ultimate loyalties lie with their constituents. It is indeed true that all politics is local for politics is originated and determined locally.

It is with great enthusiasm and excitement that we share with you our Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator Program. We created this program to offer a higher level of engagement and leadership development for congregations who want to build power in their communities, states, and amplify the voice of the faith community on the national level. Our vision is that every congregation will have a robust social witness ministry that is deeply involved in local work and has strong relationships with state and national legislators. Over the course of the next year, the Office of Public Witness will connect with Grassroots Advocacy Coordinators to offer team-building workshops, issue briefs and grassroots advocacy and community organizing trainings. OPW staff will also be available to for regular consultation by phone to support Grassroots Advocacy Coordinators with the cohesion of their team and as they prepare for in-state Congressional visits, participate in local campaigns, and engage in congregational education.

If you are interested in becoming a Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch with you shortly!  For an introduction to the program, please join us for a webinar entitled “Grassroots Advocacy and Organizing 101, ” :

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I know there are those among you who have further questions about the relationship between faith and politics. Should Christians and people of faith be politically active? If so, how far should individual Christians go in order to make a difference and not cross lines separating church and state? These are questions which the church has struggled with over the centuries.

Our guide first and foremost is the Bible. Our biblical understanding of the mission of the church, and individual Christians, is shaped and established by what God is doing in the world. Since we are created by a loving God who cares for us, we are to care for the lives of others, as well for all of God’s created order. God is a God of liberation who covenants with faithful humanity. God first made a covenant with Israel through Abraham promising that through him all the families of the world would be blessed. Abraham responded by showing hospitality to the strangers as he fed them and granted them rest. God liberated the people of Israel from oppression: God covenanted with Israel to be their God and they to be God’s people, that they might do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord...The prophets proclaimed the Word of God as a word of justice for the people of Israel and for all nations as Amos 5:24 declares “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. God is incarnate in Christ Jesus who preached his first sermon from Luke 4 as borrowed from the prophet Isaiah (61:1):good news to the poor, proclaimed release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, let the broken victims go free, and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor... “

John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes that the sufficient motivation for doing justice lies in the fact that each human being is made in the image of God: ““The Lord commands all men without exception ‘to do good’ [Hebrews 13:16]. Yet the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps when it teaches that we are not to consider mens’ merit by themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love. Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him.”

A secondary resource is the Constitution of the PC(USA) as it informs our faith. The Book of Order (G-1.0304: The Ministry of Members) reads:
“Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ is a joy and a privilege. It is also a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission (through): proclaiming the good news in word and deed; supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents; responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others; living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life; and working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment,…”
Historically the Book of Order has stated that
“The Church is challenged to be Christ’s faithful evangelist... participating in God’s activity in the world through its life for others by: healing and reconciling and binding up wounds ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless, engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice, giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer, sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world. (G-3.0300)

This is our calling, to work, serve and minister with and unto others. The Office of Public Witness invites you to renew and expand the work of your social witness ministry by building a Grassroots Advocacy Team. More information on the teams and the trainings can be found at our website: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/compassion-peace-justice/washington/advocacy-teams/

We look forward to working more closely with you as we lift our voices to advocate for education, investment in peace and not war, economic and racial justice, and the whole inhabited earth.

In Faith We Share,

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins













Recognizing Race: A Guest Post from Seminary Intern Bridget Wendell

In Second Samuel, after David saw Bathsheba bathing on a roof, and murdered her husband, there is a poignant moment of reckoning between the King and his Prophet.  Nathan comes into David’s court and tells him the story of a poor man who’s lone ewe is stolen by a rich man.  In the moment after David’s anger is “kindled against the man” the prophet turns to him and in a brave assumption of risk, tells David, “You are the man!”  Following Nathan’s profession, David is convicted, and he, the most powerful man in Israel, comes face to face with his own naked sin.  Despite its glaring presence and seemingly obvious nature, David himself was blind to it until Nathan mirrored it back to him in new words.  We all have prophets in our own lives who can be easy to ignore.  When was the last time you were confronted by one of them? In my own life recently, I have felt both the pain and the freedom that comes with the prophetic mirror, especially around the issue of race. 

As someone who grew up in a predominantly white area, it took longer for me than for most people to consider the impact of race on my life.  I began seminary in September of last year and quickly found myself piled under a stack of theology books in the expansive library, with the sudden knowledge that seminary was going to challenge my beliefs about the world and God.  One of these challenging experiences happened for me in late October, in a corner room on the top floor of the building.  Twelve students and our TA were gathered in a loose circle discussing the theological perspectives of Chung Hyun Kyung, a Korean feminist theologian.  The conversation began to heat up as students of different ages, races, economic backgrounds, and life experiences struggled to make themselves heard.  As our discussion unfolded, the professor posed the question: “Can we ever really fully understand another person’s experience?”
I raised my hand. “Yes,” I answered unequivocally.  “Of course we can.”

My response was greeted with entirely justified looks of suspicion from the Black, Korean and Latino students in the classroom.  Another student raised her hand.  “I don’t think that’s true,” she said. 
We went back and forth;  I  posited that if I read enough, thought hard enough, and talked to enough people, then I could fully understand her experience. She continued to push back on me, saying there were some aspects of growing up a person of color in America I could never understand  I left the classroom feeling let down, like somehow there was no hope to end division if we couldn’t all be the same.  I realized later that uniformity was not a prerequisite to relationship, and that my comments had been informed by a set of beliefs that make white, European experiences “normal” and other experiences “abnormal”. I’ve now learned to name that system of beliefs as a system of white supremacy. 

White supremacy is “the beliefs and ideas purporting the natural superiority of lighter-skinned, or “white,” human races over other racial groups.”[1]  The term “white supremacy” has often been associated with extremist racist groups, but it in fact describes the underpinnings of a country founded on the stolen labor of enslaved people. Today, it can take the form of using stereotypes to maintain unjust systems.  It can be white flight or assuming that the “white” idea of success or practice is the right way of doing things.  For me, it looked like assuming my experience was standard, and so believing that I could understand other people’s experiences as a result. 

In that moment in class, I had made the mistake of confusing “head knowledge” with “lived knowledge.” I thought that if I could understand a concept, it would be as though I had experienced it.  In other circumstances, I would have thought this to be illogical.  I know that watching someone lose a loved one, seeing them mourn, and understanding the grieving process is not like experiencing loss for myself.  In the classroom that day, I had incorrectly assumed that the experiences my classmates of other races had been similar to mine, intelligible to me. In reality, the loss they had experienced in their lives was the lived experience of being in a world that systematically tries to tell you that what is right is something that you are not.   

My classmate held up a prophetic mirror to me that has helped me to see my own blindness to the pieces of myself that are influenced by my privilege as a white person and my participation in the systems that hurt others.  Like Nathan the Prophet confronting King David, it has called me to account.  It has led me to consider the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates and look deeply into the mirror so that I can see and sit and struggle with the injustice that surrounds me in order to become less blind to the sin in me.  In the story of King David, the King went on to repent, and mourn for the consequences of his sin.  I believe that this process for me, like the rest of white America, will be a long one, but not one without hope.  It will be a parallel process of liberation.  As Lila Watson, an artist and leading activist for aboriginal rights in Australia, said, “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

I have spent the last weeks thinking about, learning about and trying to understand what it means to embody solidarity, or unity of thought or action among people with a common goal.  I believe that solidarity begins in relationship, extends to caring, listening, and then helping in ways that the oppressed group feels are needed.  As I think back to the seminar at Princeton, I realize that solidarity is not sameness, as I once thought.  Solidarity is recognizing and valuing our differences and using our social location to work towards communal liberation.  Rather than believing one should gain nothing from acts of solidarity, I think that true solidarity benefits all.  I have chosen to share my own story, not because it is original, but because it is not.  I hope that others can see begin to recognize the prophets in their midst who hold up the mirrors to their own experiences. 

As a woman who is preparing for ministry in the church, and I believe that I cannot faithfully proclaim the word of God without addressing white supremacy culture in my own life, and in the communal life of the mainline church.  This means addressing and education congregants on the history of the church and the way that we have excluded people of color.  It also means examining the effects of history on our lives and being humble enough to listen to the Nathans all around it.  We have created a culture of comfort in the mainline church that often times obscures the mirrors God places in our midst to draw us closer to God’s self.  So go out into the world this summer; be uncomfortable, be challenged.  Find the prophets and listen to them, and if you don’t see anyone in your midst who looks or thinks differently than you, reach out to people who will help you bravely confront yourself.  Find out what solidarity means to you and in the process, let’s move the church together.



Bridget Wendell was the Spring 2017 Seminary Intern with the Office of Public Witness.  Bridget is attending Princeton Theological Seminary, and is pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree.  This semester she participated in Wesley Seminary's National Capital Semester for Seminarians program.  Through this program she had the opportunity to meet with advocates and politicians in DC and delve into advocacy work with the OPW.  She felt her call to ministry while participating in a summer long mission program in Pucallpa, Peru.  A desire to do long-term mission work led her to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.  Through participation in various programs, her seminary experience, and her work with the OPW, she is continuing to discern her specific call.  Integral in this process has been her work with local churches.  Throughout last year, she worked as a Youth Minister in a PCUSA church in Glenside, PA and spent the past summer working with a Methodist church in Wilmington, NC.


[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/white-supremacy