Racial Reconciliation

Betsy Shirley 2-27-2017

JP Keenan / Sojourners

IN A SERMON that lasted less than 11 minutes, Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley suggested something no one had said from the pulpit in the long history of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va.

“What if,” asked Adams-Riley in his faint South Carolina drawl, “we begin a conversation here at St. Paul’s about the Confederate symbols here in our worship space?”

He listed examples: “The Davis window there, that identifies Jefferson Davis with St. Paul himself, in his imprisonment. Or the Lee windows there, that identifies Robert E. Lee with Moses,” he said, pointing around the sanctuary. “And there are the plaques on the walls, and two kneelers up by the old high altar. They [the kneelers] each have a little Confederate flag on them.”

The sermon was remarkable in its restraint. It wasn’t a jeremiad against the church that had, up until the 1960s, emblazoned its official stationery with “Cathedral of the Confederacy.” Nor did it mention the words that would ripple through the congregation in the months that followed, words like “racism,” “slavery,” and “reconcile.”

In fact, there weren’t many words at all. Adams-Riley’s preaching style is spare and impressionistic; his tone, much like his personality, gentle and encouraging. He quoted the Wisdom of Solomon: “The generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them.”

“Generating. Building up. Giving life,” repeated Adams-Riley. “Strengthening. Healing. Bringing wholeness. That is what God does. And we, being made in God’s image, find our greatest fulfillment in doing likewise.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 12-01-2016

FAMINE CRACKED the earth, causing children’s bellies to swell. Mouths opened wide, babies’ heads hung limp over their mothers’ arms. For three years no rain fell. Well water became a distant memory for the people of Israel.

David asked God why suffering was overcoming his people. God said: “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

Saul was the previous king who tried to wipe out the Gibeonites during his reign—even though Israel had sworn to spare them. What comes next in 2 Samuel 21:1-14 takes my breath away. David calls the Gibeonites to the court and speaks with them directly. He asks them: “What shall I do for you? How shall I make expiation, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” (verse 3).

America’s 45th president will be held responsible for the decisions made during his administration. But also the physical health of our land and people will reflect the measure to which President-elect Trump faces and corrects his own sins as well as those that past presidents have perpetrated against our citizens and our global neighbors.

David asks the Gibeonites: “What do you say that I should do for you?” Could we imagine our next president calling together a conference of African-American leaders or Native American leaders or Latinx leaders and asking them: “What do you say that we should do for you?” Can you imagine putting that level of power in the hands of the oppressed—power to set the framework for repair?

Image via RNS/Charlie Simokaitis

The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis has elected the first black, female diocesan bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, director of networking in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, was elected on the second ballot, during a diocesan convention held at Christ Church Cathedral Indianapolis on Oct. 28.

8-23-2016

At Washington National Cathedral on Sunday, an interracial group of clergy gathered to discuss the role of the white church in perpetuating racism. And what the church might do to heal the wounds. A tough subject, but dealt with unflinchingly

8-23-2016

Harper’s account of the Gospel in her new book is shalom-based. Drawing deeply from a theme that runs through the Bible but is especially strong in the Hebrew prophets, Harper tells a story of a God who acts in Jesus Christ to bring shalom, or holistic peace and justice, in every part of creation.

8-23-2016

Should Donald Trump’s racist comments, since the inception of his campaign, be morally disqualifying for him to become the president of the United States?

James C. Denison 7-19-2016

Image via REUTERS/Rex Curry/RNS

Brian Williams is an African-American trauma surgeon at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital. He was in charge of Parkland’s emergency room July 7 when seven officers arrived.

He choked back tears as he described to The Washington Post how three officers died at the hospital: “I think about it every day, that I was unable to save those cops when they came here that night.”

Ryan Hammill 7-18-2016

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

New research from Pew suggests that Americans have become less likely to believe that religious institutions can play an important role in confronting social problems.

And while some of the decline in trust in religious congregations likely originates in the “rise of the nones,” or the religiously unaffiliated, that alone does not explain this crisis of confidence. This is not really a story about secularization. After all, between 2008 and 2016, both Protestants and Catholics showed double digit declines in percentage of people who believe houses of worship contribute to social reform. The percentage decline was only slightly higher among the religiously unaffiliated.

Image via Matt Miller / Baptist Press / RNS

In the wake of a string of racially tinged shootings, majority white churches — even those quiet in past years about racial prejudice — have begun to find their voices.

The latest incidents of police shooting black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, combined with the targeting of white police officers in Dallas, have exposed for many congregations a racial divide in America too wide to ignore.

Nicola A. Menzie 7-12-2016

African-Americans often express frustration at white Americans for overlooking their grief at the deaths of young black men shot and killed by police.

On a conference call last week, hours before Micah Xavier Johnson, a black man, opened fire and killed five white police officers, about 500 Christians, black and white, tried to bridge that racial divide.

Steve Mencher 7-11-2016

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

When I was a kid, my culturally Jewish parents distributed a mimeographed sheet in our Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood explaining why it was OK to be an atheist.

They would send me outside on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, in torn jeans and a dirty shirt to play ball on our stoop while our neighbors dressed up and went to synagogue.

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

The nation’s second largest Presbyterian denomination has passed legislation repenting for “past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures” and committing its members to work toward racial reconciliation.

The “overture” (or legislation) was approved overwhelmingly June 23 at the national meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America. The issue had been deferred from the previous year’s meeting, where there was a lengthy debate on similar legislation.

Image via Matt Miller / Baptist Press / RNS

In recent years, Southern Baptists have made racial reconciliation a top priority.

This week, delegates (called “messengers”) to the SBC’s annual meeting in St. Louis overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging Christians to “discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag.”

Ronnie Floyd (left) with Jerry Young (right). Image via Cross Church / Baptist Press / RNS

Southern Baptists turned a sharp focus on racism during their annual meeting, welcoming the president of a historically black denomination in a rare address to their national gathering.

“Those who would like to suggest that racism is not indeed a problem for the church but rather it is a sociological problem, I would argue it is without question a sin problem,” the Rev. Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, told the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention on June 14.

Joe Kay 12-07-2015

I was 6 years old, growing up in Cleveland. It was Christmas Eve. The traditional Slovak dinner was ready on the stove — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother, and I were waiting for my dad to get home so we could eat.

The waiting part was no surprise.

My dad was an alcoholic. During the Korean War, he enlisted and was assigned to a paratrooper unit. He was wounded during a mission. My mom said the experience changed him. He brought some demons home with him.

Jesse James DeConto 11-10-2015

Image via Jennifer Harvey / RNS

A white scholar touring churches across the nation is trying to convince Christians that racial reconciliation is not enough — it’s time to start talking about reparations for descendants of slaves.

And among mostly white, mainline Protestants this controversial — some would say unrealistic — notion is getting a hearing.

What divides the races in America, says Drake University ethicist Jennifer Harvey, is not the failure to embrace differences but the failure of white Americans to repent and repair the sins of the past.

11-09-2015

(PHOTO: THE CHRISTIAN POST/LEONARDO BLAIR)

Lisa Sharon Harper 4-09-2015
Image via gst/shutterstock.com

Image via gst/shutterstock.com

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to all who signed the Open Letter to Franklin Graham in response to Graham’s original Facebook post on March 7. One month later, the open letter’s original team of writers, along with the Sojourners community, has been deeply encouraged by the broad support the letter has garnered. Thousands of faith leaders across the country have signed the letter with more joining in solidarity every day.

We thought you might be encouraged to see this updated list of principal signatories who have joined their voices to the thousands calling for repentance and reconciliation. Stay tuned for more ways to stay engaged in this conversation.

If you haven’t signed the letter yet, it’s not too late. Click here to sign the Open Letter to Franklin Graham.

Antipas Harris 4-01-2015
Photo via California Department of Corrections / RNS

San Quentin death chamber. Photo via California Department of Corrections / RNS

A new report by the Equal Justice Initiative documents in horrific detail the nation’s widespread practice of lynching and points to a link between lynching and a practice that persists today: capital punishment.

In the Jim Crow South, lynching declined as officials turned to executions as an alternative method for killing blacks in disproportionate numbers.

This report challenges us to confront our nation’s legacy of racial violence. Sadly, too many Christians were complicit in this violence, which has prompted Christian denominations to apologize and emphasize racial reconciliation. Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention held a two-day race summit in which it urged pastors to do more to diversify their churches.

These are important steps.

But they only mark time if important actions don’t follow.

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