A Pastoral Letter on Racial Equity and Justice
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
To Our Family of Faith,
Grace and peace to you all, at a time when we are in deep need of both.
It has been a wrenching season in our national life. More specifically, it has been a season of reckoning. Reckoning with the festering wound of racism and devaluing of black and brown bodies that is embedded in our history. Reckoning with the fear, frustration, and marginalization that people of color live with each day. Reckoning with our feelings of complicity, inadequacy, grief, anger, and longing for God’s justice and peace. Reckoning with the way racism is endemic in our lives and institutions, and the role that we are called to play in dismantling it.
As the church, we find our mission as Christ stakes a claim on our hearts and invites us to respond with the witness of our lives. The resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ compels us to embody God’s love, and to actively oppose every power that would diminish the fullness of life for God’s people. Racism, in the many ways that it manifests itself individually, institutionally, and structurally in our society, is an affront to God’s shalom, a vision for human society marked by peace, harmony, and flourishing for all. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, if one part of the body suffers, all suffer with it (1 Cor. 12). Friends, the body of the human family is suffering.
In this season of upheaval, our collective commitment to the priority of the work of dismantling racism is vital and imperative, which is why we are writing to you today.
As a congregation of predominantly white members who live in a society that understands our skin color as normative, and is structured to advantage us at the expense of others, we are called to a unique repentance. One that requires us to interrogate how we remain “conformed to this world and not yet transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). One that challenges us to examine where
we may be harboring habits and assumptions rooted in our race and culture that are at odds with who we are in our baptisms. One that summons us to a deeper journey of listening to voices long silenced as closely as we can, of looking at ourselves and our world as honestly as we can, of showing up for the work as often as we can, and of taking action in whatever way we can to effect change. Linking arms in hope, let us respond to this call of repentance and embark upon this deeper journey together.
We’ve been asked about the work of social justice and racial equity that the church is already doing. We have regularly hosted the Racial Equity Institute’s training in our building, with numerous members attending, and helped sponsor a community-wide Groundwater training. We’ve intentionally developed book studies that raise our consciousness around white privilege and race; pre-COVID, a racial justice reading group met monthly. In Lent of last year, members of TAPC and Covenant Presbyterian Church broke bread together and discussed the film and book, Best of Enemies. We have gathered for presbytery-wide racial equity discussions. Members who accompany individuals leaving incarceration through our Reconciliation and
21-Day Equity Challenge
Join us and a number of other congregations in taking the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. This challenge is one in which you are invited to take one action each day to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity, for 21 days. The plan includes suggestions for readings, podcasts, videos, observations, and ways to form and deepen community connections. Suggested actions include:
Reentry teams have become involved in local efforts at criminal justice reform. With Covenant Presbyterian and Beth El Synagogue, we learned about the discriminatory laws that shape housing in our city today through Bull City 150. We partner with and support Durham Congregations in Action, Durham CAN, Housing for New Hope, the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, and other ministries that exist to redress and reform disparate racial realities. And then there are all the ways that you, the church’s members, extend our ministry in your individual lives.
We have been challenged and changed by these efforts. Yet we cannot remain satisfied with them when racial disparity persists in nearly every system across the country. We cannot remain satisfied when, nationally, people with black and brown skin are dying to COVID-19 at rates two to four times greater than would be expected given their share of the population. We cannot remain satisfied when, according to 2016 census data, black Americans make up 13% of the population yet are incarcerated at over five times the rate of whites. We cannot remain satisfied when white households have ten times the median wealth of black households. We cannot remain satisfied when George Floyd’s plundered life, captured on film, points to so many other atrocities that go unrecognized. For us, as a people shaped by confession every Sunday, we do not expect change from others and from society without expecting change from ourselves. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” the book of Hebrews tells us. We understand his words to be asking of us more.
Given this, we offer you our grief over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, all created in the image of God. We affirm that black lives matter—to God, to the church, and to us. We lift up our lamentation over the knee of systemic oppression that has kept black and brown communities pinned down in desperation, paving the way for COVID-19 to disproportionately rob their breath. We affirm that there can be no passive antiracists; that we are being called to a new level of intentionality and vigilance. And we confess how we - individually and corporately - have missed the mark by what we have done and left undone, by how we have not listened, risked and sacrificed enough in response to Christ’s call of justice. We ask for your help in doing better. We need your accountability, your wisdom, your creativity, your imagination, your witness, and your prayers to spur us and one another on in this collective pursuit.
Friends, this is a weighty matter, and weighty work is before us. We invite you to lean into the tensions, questions, cries, and challenge of this chapter in the unfolding story of race in our country. And, we invite you to set out on that deeper journey required of each of us if a new day of beloved community is to dawn.
By way of a next step, wherever you find yourself on this journey, we invite you to join us and a number of other congregations in taking the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. We are linking the resource for this work to our website, and will be creating spaces for shared learning, conversation, and spiritual practices around these resources. We will also be presenting opportunities within our community to engage, and defining institutional commitments to help ensure that the pursuit of the kingdom vision of racial equity remains always before us as a church.
We hope you will join in. But please don’t wait to see what’s offered. Share with us how the Spirit is stirring within you and what resources you may have to offer the church as we all seek to discern where the path of faithfulness leads. The book of James testifies, “Faith without works is dead.” So too with statements against racism.
While the work at hand is heavy, we endeavor it in the confidence of our Savior who assures us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The levity of love within our family of faith is ripe with transformative potential—for ourselves, our church, and our city. We thank you for being a part of that love, and look forward to walking this pilgrim journey together.
Rev. Dr. Katie Crowe, Senior Pastor
Rev. Tommy Grimm, Associate Pastor
Rev. Dr. Matt Floding, Parish Associate