A couple of years ago I toured the Civil Rights museum in Greensboro, North Carolina where black college students had staged a sit-in at the Woolworth counter in 1960. Hanging in a display cabinet was a black robe, much like the one I wear on Sunday mornings. It belonged to a pastor who was a part of the Civil Rights movement. I looked at it a long time. I’ve never been especially attached to wearing a robe but that day something shifted. In that display case, I felt the responsibility that comes with the three letters at the front of my name (R-E-V). I confronted my obligation to speak out for justice even when it’s difficult.
Last week, my colleague Steven Koski and I submitted an op-ed for our local paper in preparation for a local solidarity #blacklivesmatter march and I thought about that robe a lot. It gave me the courage to speak out even though I knew I would be misunderstood, even though there is never a perfect response, even though the country is bitterly divided into either/or and I am trying to speak a both/and.
Here is our op-ed, signed by nine friends and colleagues and published last Friday by the Bend Bulletin for those who haven’t seen it yet.
My colleagues, Rev. Dr. Sam Adams, Rabbi Johanna Hershenson, Rev. Rob Anderson, Rev. Michael Wilson, Rev. Dr. David Beckett, Rev. Chris Kramer, Rev. Jed Holdorph, Ron Werner and I share the sorrow and pain of the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. Bend, Oregon may be thousands of miles away from Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland, but grief knows no distance. As women and men of faith and citizens of this nation, we want to respond in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who daily experience fear and prejudice because of the color of their skin. We join our voices to the chorus in this country that “black lives matter.”
We commend our local police for the movement they have made to trauma-informed care, diversity and restorative justice. We are grateful that they put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve this community. We are thankful to be in a community that values compassion and is always working to be better for all of its citizens. We are privileged to share the care of this community with our law enforcement. We look forward to seeing the good work continue.
The current debate and protest in our country has made many feel as if they must choose between police or people of color. That is a false dichotomy. The opportunity is to take to heart and turn into action the words of Dr. King, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” We must seek ways to bridge the divide that often exists between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect.
Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland are invitations to look beyond the headlines to painful realities in today’s America. We can no longer accept that fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. preached his dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, black Americans are still too often judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
Those of us who enjoy society’s privilege benefit from a system that favors us and we often hesitate to risk the discomfort of asking difficult questions and hearing challenging truth. We prefer safely guarded answers to the messy beauty of authentic community. We must examine the rationalizations we make about our privilege and the assumption that our society works for those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
We confess that the church has averted our eyes to the mistreatment that people of color and those caught in cycles of poverty experience. We offer our apology and ask forgiveness. We want to stand in solidarity with those whose voices are not heard. We recognize that many of us will never know what it means to be a person of color in this country but we commit to listening.
We will march Saturday, December 13 as a symbol of our solidarity with those who feel their voices are not heard and as an acknowledgement that racial tension in America is still a wound in need of healing.
Bend may be isolated from urban areas, but we know this community can pull together and make a huge amount of difference in this world when we set our minds to it. Whether it is your faith, your hope for a better world, or your love for this nation, we invite you to join us in peacefully marching for justice for all this coming Saturday.