June 04, 2020
Dear Calvary, my beloved church family,
How difficult it is to be apart during times where the ache in our souls is like a gravitational pull to be together. Through your social media posts, emails, calls, and cards, I have heard your pain, your questions, and your prayers as you express emotions of outrage, sadness, and grief over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. I, like you, have been moved to see so many people in the streets day after day unrelenting in their calls for justice, and it has been a hopeful sign in some cities to see police officers kneeling and joining arms with organizing leaders. I have lamented with friends of color about the outside groups that have coopted peaceful protests with looting and violence. I join you in feeling a complex range of emotions. But emotions are not the headline here; injustice is. While our grief and lament and passion and worry is warranted, action is what is needed.
I’m sure that over the last week, you have read many letters, statements, and social media posts from organizations, businesses, former presidents, and friends. This letter is not meant to be a statement, for I cannot write a singular statement for the diverse community we love and call Calvary - which includes people of many skin colors and convictions; it is rather meant to be a letter from my heart and from my deepest ethical convictions which are grounded in the liberating gospel message of Jesus and my continual, on-going journey of faith formation and education.
There is so much I do not know; there is so much I do not understand. There’s so much history I have not lived through; there are so many perspectives I have not yet taken the time to listen to and learn from. There are so many voices I have selectively muted throughout my life and so many times my privilege has protected me while harming others - without my permission. But that’s the thing about privilege. It doesn’t need my permission; it just exists within me and around me - because of my skin color, birthplace, upbringing, education, profession, age, and marriage to a white man. We can all look over the course of our lives and see how we got to where we are today - what blessings we’ve experienced, what struggles we’ve faced. Acknowledging privilege is not about being ashamed of who we are and where we’ve come from; it’s about acknowledging that our journey is not lived in isolation; we are all interconnected. And our interconnectedness as humans has been grossly imbalanced for centuries. And we who are white have waited far too long to do anything about it. We’ve chosen comfort for a few over justice for all.
While the excruciating 8-minute-long murder of George Floyd was the spark to ignite the current protests across our country and world, we know that the embers for these cries for justice have existed for centuries. Those of us with white skin might seem surprised and distraught when we see these fires raging, but people of color are not surprised for these are the flames they walk through each and every day. These fires did not start burning with the murder of George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. They started before our country was even founded, as we laid the groundwork to create a “free country” where we said that all people had the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while at the same time defining all people with exceptions and exclusions - indigenous peoples whom we massacred and colonized and enslaved Africans who we bought, sold, and lynched. And these fires continue to burn under leadership that divides instead of unites, leadership that silences the cries of a country with violent rhetoric and displays of force.
Black Lives Matter. Throughout the Scripture, the Bible speaks to matters of justice and human dignity. We are taught as Christians that all human beings bear the divine image. The Bible condemns injustice and the misuse of authority and force. God’s people are called to love our neighbors, care for their needs, and work for the well-being of all.
Calvary, because we are a diverse community, I want to speak directly to our members and friends who are people of color: You are a beloved child of God. You are created in the beautiful image of God. I am here, as are all your pastors, to listen to your pain, to hear your stories, to acknowledge your experience, should you wish us to be the ones you share those with. We grieve and lament with you, while acknowledging that we will never understand your suffering. Our community stands with you and alongside you, and we know that dismantling the systems of injustice built upon the lie of white supremacy is our work to do. We built these systems at your expense. We must dismantle them, for your liberation and for our own liberation as well. In working for change, I will listen to your experiences and your requests because identifying what is broken in the system must be a collaborative effort or we will once again perpetuate systems based on limited perspective and the privilege of those in power. I know I will fail at this, and when I do, I will acknowledge it and begin again. I’ve learned that it’s not about apologizing, it’s about change.
And to our white/Euro-American Calvary members and friends: You are a beloved child of God. You are created in the beautiful image of God. I am here, as are all of your pastors, to listen to your pain, to hear your stories, to acknowledge your experience, should you wish us to be the ones you share those with. In addition, you must know that as we all have different emotions and beliefs and responses to racial injustice in our country, our emotions, beliefs, and responses are, by and large, protected and not threatened. We can disagree and continue a conversation. What we cannot do is bring people who have died back to life. What we cannot do is give years of a person’s life back who has been incarcerated unjustly. What we cannot do is go back in time and create a different educational experience for those who were overlooked by our system. What we cannot do is go back and reverse a diagnosis that wasn’t caught because of unequal access to healthcare. In short, what we cannot do is be silent. White supremacy and white privilege are woven into the fabric of this nation in ways that continue to claim the lives of people of color and perpetuate inequities in education, healthcare, pay, housing, and endless other institutions and aspects of life. The inaction of white Christians makes us complicit in violence against black and brown lives. ALL people are image-bearers of Christ, and until all people are treated and valued as such, we cannot rest nor be at peace.
At Calvary, our vision is to be Open to All, Closed to None. And with such a vision, we would all probably say to ourselves, “I’m not racist.” But if we say that we are missing the point. The protests we are seeing in the streets right now are not about people’s hearts, beliefs, or good intentions; it’s about the reality of the lived experience of the BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) community. It’s about the systems that give life to some while taking it from others, systems that are structured in a way that do not give equal opportunity to all. The insidious nature of racism is that it stems from the lie that white people are superior to people of color, and whether it’s slavery or Jim Crow or gerrymandering or police brutality or unequal access to healthcare or unequal funding for schools, these unjust systems make up the air we breathe. If you are breathing freely, you don’t even notice the air you’re breathing. If you are choking to death, it’s obvious that something in the air isn’t right. And here’s the thing, no matter our illusions, if the air we’re breathing is not life-giving for some, it is not life-giving for anyone. And it will slowly deprive all of us of the freedoms we value. For when we cannot see and value all people as beloved, image-bearers of the divine, we cannot truly see ourselves as such either, and we will continue to harm one another and divide.
So what is the good news for all of us? The good news is that our faith speaks to all that we are experiencing and feeling, and it speaks quite clearly. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to keep rolling it. From the prophet Micah,
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This is work our faith calls us to do and we ALL can do it; there is something for everyone in the work of racial justice. Don’t worry about what you have or haven’t done thus far. Start now from wherever you are.
Immediate Action & Advocacy:
- Drop off supplies to the grocery carts in the coatroom at Calvary: bottled water, granola bars, first aid kits, and umbrellas. These will be taken to First Baptist Denver to hand out to protestors. All supplies that are not used, will be donated to shelters FBC Denver has been supporting during COVID-19. Questions? Contact Michelle Mendoza.
- Head downtown (with a mask, sanitizer, and wise social distancing) to stand in solidarity, to support, to listen. The protests are happening most days and as the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado advises, “we support organic, authentic participation that amplifies the voices of people of color; think of it more like ‘keeping watch’ rather than ‘meeting up.’” Read this document for helpful information on what to do and not do at a protest.
- Join the virtual event Poor People’s Campaign Event on June 20 for an Online Moral March on Washington
- Join SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.
- Sign petitions or make calls:
- Justice for George Floyd
- Justice for Breonna Taylor
- Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
- Advocate for black-owned businesses
- Great starting place: List of Educational Resources for People at All Stages of the Journey in Anti-Racism Work
- Comprehensive List of Anti-Racism Resources (books, podcasts, articles, videos, movies, etc.)
- If you want to be part of a ZOOM group this summer that reads and discusses books/articles/podcasts related to the work of anti-racism and understanding white privilege, email Pastor Morgan (email@example.com) and we will divide people into learning groups
- One of my best teachers about this work has been Pastor Morgan; I know she would be willing to have a conversation of any of you, about anything related to this. She also knows when her voice is not the one to listen to and she’ll point you to the right voices.
- Engage in our partnership with New Hope Baptist Church. We are working on opportunities for deeper conversation and engagement this summer. Email Pastor Anne to engage with these opportunities (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Calvary Men: Join the men of New Hope in signing a letter petitioning for a hate crimes bill in Georgia. Email Pastor Anne if you would like more information (email@example.com).
- Engage in the partnership that Calvary and New Hope have with Stedman Elementary. Email Becky Whitaker for forthcoming information on virtual reading opportunities this summer.
Note: Remember that relationships take time and multiple conversations. Show up. And keep showing up. Initiate the effort. Yes, you may say the wrong thing or offend or hurt someone without intending to. We learn by doing and trying. In my experiencing in any relationship, silence for fear of saying the wrong thing is more hurtful than saying the wrong thing and acknowledging it and apologizing when you do and learning from there. More than anything, listen.
Research these organizations and pick one that you can get behind. While one-time gifts are welcome, if you are able, give regularly, even if it is just $5 or $10 a month, as it will be a reminder to you of your ongoing effort and commitment.
- Soul2Soul Sisters: a fiercely faith-based, Black womxn-led, racial justice organization focused on Black healing and Black liberation
- SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) - is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.
- Black Lives Matter 5280 - mission is to eliminate racism and fight for racial justice
- Campaign Zero: support our police and our citizens by ending police brutality in America
- Black Vision Collective: Black Visions Collective (BLVC) believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems.
- Color of Change: We design campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward. Until justice is real.
- BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity): a national training intermediary focused on transforming the practice of Black organizers in the U.S. to increase their alignment, impact and sustainability to win progressive change.
- Or click here for more a comprehensive list of black-led liberation organizing efforts
- Be a patron of black-owned businesses in and around Denver
Note: Calvary will be using our mission/advocacy response funds to give to Soul2Soul Sisters and SURJ. Just as protesting in the streets is a powerful public witness, giving of your finances can be too; share your donation on social media and invite others to join you in giving. Damon and I have personally donated to several of these organizations this week, and we hope you will too.
- And yes, let us pray. God hears our pleas and our petitions, our laments and our praises, our confessions and our promises. Let us lift all that we are feeling and experiencing to God in prayer as we pray for healing, justice, and restoration.
- Let us pray for our leaders - nationally and locally - who are making important decisions and who can change policies and procedures. May they have wisdom and compassion. Let us pray for law enforcement, for all officers who protect our citizens and who experience trauma regularly.
- Let us pray for people of color, and let us say out loud in our prayers the names of black Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement. (photo of names below this letter)
Calvary, I know that some of you have been deeply impacted by the events of recent weeks. This is not new pain, and that’s part of what makes it hurt so badly…that we who are not people of color stand with you in times of immediate crisis, and then fade away, failing to do the long and hard work of educating ourselves and working for systemic change. It’s my prayer that we will all be more intentional in our relationships with one another, and that we will also be more intentional with our sisters and brothers at New Hope Baptist and all of our friends and colleagues of color, praying for them as the effects of trauma and injustice continue. I’m praying for our commitment one another. Let us not disappear or fade away. Let us be present. Let us listen. Let us act. Let us pray. Let us BE the Church Christ is calling us to be. As you’ve heard it said, whatever we are not changing, we are choosing.
As the refrain of the hymn God of Grace and God of Glory says, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour…”
Graphic caption: The rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans. This is a non-comprehensive list of deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner's death in July 2014.