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Peace Camp teach-in encourages grassroots activism

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship also promotes defund-the-police campaign

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

A protest sign. (Photo by James Eades on Unsplash)

LOUISVILLE — What’s an activist for social and racial justice to do when a global pandemic turns the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly into an online proceeding with a significantly streamlined agenda?

Answer: Encourage Presbyterians to fight for justice at the grassroots level, including in their own communities.

That’s how the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship kicked off its 2020 Peace Camp on Thursday at the first of a series of four teach-ins taking place during the virtual event.

At Thursday’s “Pandemic, Pentecost and Possibility” teach-in, the Rev. abby mohaupt (who prefers to lowercase her name) and other speakers encouraged Presbyterians to add their voices to those urgently crying out for positive change as the country reckons with its history of racism and oppression of minorities.

The Rev. abby mohaupt is a teaching elder in San Francisco Presbytery. (Photo by Danny Bolin)

“We who are white might think we have two years to wait, but we don’t have time to wait,” said mohaupt, a teaching elder in San Francisco Presbytery. “We cannot wait one more minute for racial justice to happen. We can’t wait one more minute for climate justice to happen. We can’t wait any longer for peace to happen. We recognize that all of those are interconnected and when General Assembly meets virtually, we have to find other ways to work for justice.”

Four teach-ins, all related to racism, are planned during the June 18-27 camp, which takes place as weeks of protest continue over the police-involved killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, and other African Americans, such as Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I think that this moment of global uprising against police brutality and white supremacy is such a moment of possibility for us,” Rev. Emily Brewer, the fellowship’s executive director, said during the teach-in. “Out of the grief of the violence, and the anger and rage of the violence, comes immense possibility. … We hope that you’ll dig deeper in your own community.”

The following day, Juneteenth, the fellowship — which is an independent, nationwide community of Presbyterian peace and justice activists — issued a call for concerned people to join a movement that’s pushing for the defunding of police.

“Today, the Movement for Black Lives has launched a weekend of action that includes a demand to Defund Police — a demand we’ve heard echoing across the country in these weeks of uprising,” according to the statement from Brewer. “PPF supports the call to defund the police, and we invite you to join us.”

Elaborating by email, she said, “We encourage churches and individual Presbyterians to be involved in the call to #DefundthePolice and hope to soon announce some additional ways we suggest for congregations to do that.”

All of this is taking place as the General Assembly is set to kick off Friday evening. In the past, members of the fellowship have looked forward to GA as a time to connect with others who have similar passions. But the pandemic has prevented that gathering from taking place in person.

The fellowship’s online camp, which includes a breakfast on Wednesday and various other activities, is an effort to do something creative to give people hope, Timothy Wotring, moderator of the fellowship’s General Assembly Working Group, said in a news release.

“It won’t be the same as a GA, but it will help us celebrate and amplify that Presbyterians care deeply about the peace and justice issues that the GA would have addressed.”

Teach-in speaker Rick Ufford-Chase said Presbyterians are being driven “to a new understanding of what it means to be a church fully engaged.” He’s a former moderator of the General Assembly. (Photo by Brian Frick)

Rick Ufford-Chase, a self-professed GA junkie and longtime member of the fellowship, said the pandemic is “changing everything about what it means to be church together,” and that conversations surrounding the death of Floyd and others “drive us, I hope, to a new understanding of what it means to be a church fully engaged.”

The Rev. Alex Patchin McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, spoke of this time in history as a Pentecost moment.

“Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and so many more should all still be living on this Earth,” he said. “At the news of their murders, the Holy Spirit incited us into action to protest, to raise funds, to call for justice, and to further proclaim that black lives matter. When the Spirit nudges us to speak, we are to speak, even if our voice shakes. Even if we’re afraid we’ll be misunderstood. Even and especially when we aren’t sure we have the right words.”

For more information about Presbyterian Peace Camp or to register, go here.

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