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‘Thank you for changing your Facebook profile or liking a post — but more is needed’

 

In the midst of protests, churches in Pittsburgh Presbytery work to dismantle structural racism

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Ralph Lowe is Pittsburgh Presbytery’s director of Justice Ministries.

LOUISVILLE — Following protests that were disrupted by what one pastor called “a few anarchists from outside the march’s planning group,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations and organizations in Pittsburgh are taking a quieter, prayerful approach headed into this week.

At noon Monday, Pittsburgh clergy plan to march to the City-County building in what the Rev. Dr. Randy Bush, senior pastor at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, said is intended to be “a peaceful witness for justice and grieving the murder of George Floyd.”

On Sunday night, Eastminster Presbyterian Church hosted a prayer vigil for racial justice that gathered more than 500 people “for prayers and exhortations by ecumenical leaders,” according to the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Sorge, general minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery. “Pastor Paul Roberts of Eastminster led the way with an impassioned call for racial justice,” Sorge said. Bush “added his own clarion call to those who gathered, to reach out to those who were not there, urging them to become engaged in the struggle for racial justice.”

East Liberty Presbyterian Church and the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus are planning a silent protest vigil at noon Wednesday outside the church.

the Rev. Dr. Randy Bush

“People of faith, especially those in the white community, need to break their silence by acts of remorse, solidarity and advocacy,” Bush said. “Those who wish to participate are invited to gather outside the church, wearing a mask, bringing a sign, and maintaining safe social distancing as we will be surrounding the church as a visible witness for justice — remembering George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose, Jonny Gammage, and others; remembering that Black Lives Matter; remembering that no one should be suffocated by having the breath of life or the breath of justice snuffed out by another.”

Here’s part of a prayer that Sorge offered: “Comfort the grieving families of your precious children George, Ahmaud, and Breonna, and the many witnesses before them whose blood has been spilled capriciously, unjustly. May the Spirit of the Lord who came upon Jesus to bind up the broken fall upon us anew, empowering and motivating us to proclaim deliverance to captives, good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. This we pray in the name of and for the sake of the One whom you sent to proclaim peace, to break down all the walls of hostility, and to bind together all who call upon Your name. ”

Ruling Elder Ralph Lowe, the presbytery’s Director of Justice Ministries, wrote this in a letter he addressed to “Dear white siblings in Christ”:

“As a father of four African American young men I have constant conversations with them about living while Black,” Lowe wrote. “We talk about how to effectively comply when pulled over or stopped on the street by the police: make sure your hands are always visible, always announce your actions, ‘I’m reaching for my wallet, I’m opening the glove compartment for my insurance.’ This conversation is framed by the false narratives of black men and women whose noncompliance resulted in death. How do we explain the evil (violence) to our children of the George Floyd murder? I choose not to use the word ‘violence’ because violence seems balanced, fair or justified, and what we have seen recently is none of these. I educate my sons to speak the truth always, but it’s heartbreaking to speak the truth when it means looking into my beautiful young teenage boys’ eyes and declaring the reality that the world says their black lives do not matter.

“The arrest of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin does not correct the issue of racism. The issue is systemic and historical; regardless of race we are affected by the realities of this societal injustice. We are all affected by this injustice; we are all responsible to correct it. Thank you for changing your Facebook profile or liking a post — but more is needed. The Holy Spirit calls us to embody justice. The book your read on white guilt is a good start, but the Holy Spirit calls us to action. Praying for these issues is not enough: The Holy Spirit calls us to be ‘doers of the word and not merely hearers …’ (James 1:22a).

“No longer can pastors and congregations sit idly by as the progression of structural, systemic, and institutional racism continues to support the eradication of sisters and brothers of color. The time to act is now!”

Assume racism is everywhere, every day, Lowe wrote. “I know many of you don’t know what to do individually or as congregations. Here are some general and pragmatic things you can start doing now.”

Lowe’s list includes:

  • Lead congregations, friends and family members into relationships with individuals and communities of color. Technology can destroy the barrier of separation by geography.
  • Intentionally seek out the perspectives of people of color through writers, leaders and scholars. Your presbytery may have resources on hand.
  • Help organize a small task force to be in constant prayer over a few days to seek spiritual guidance for what your church can do to fight racism and injustice.
  • Create small groups or committees focusing on racial harmony and awareness.
  • Invite people to write a one-sentence prayer on your Facebook page: “I pray for …”

“The Holy Spirit has given us tools to do these things,” Lowe wrote. “The only faithful way to honor Pentecost is to act. Please don’t waste this gift.”


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