Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

The hope of the church in the nasty here and now

Diane Moffett caps a service of lament with a stirring, yet sobering, reflection

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — More than 200 national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and others joined hearts and minds virtually Monday to mourn police violence against people of color and call out white supremacy for what it is — sin.

The 45-minute worship service featured a reflection by the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, who credited three people with organizing the powerful service on short notice: the Rev. Denise Anderson, coordinator for racial and intercultural justice; the Rev. Shanea Leonard, associate for racial and gender justice; and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness.

“We are slow to confront our complicity and investment in white supremacy and dominance,” Anderson said during the prayer of confession. “When the cheeks are turned, they are met with another hand to the face or knee to the throat … Too many of us still waver and are unconvinced that there is a problem … Open our hearts and minds and understanding to your movement on the margins so that when your people speak, they are indeed heard … Let the fires of uprising give way to the fires of your Spirit, where your people hear the good news of your kin-dom, hear it with joy and make haste to take part in it.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Moffett used 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, “We have this treasure in clay jars,” as the text for her meditation, which she delivered with alternating moments of warmth and passion. She quoted the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, who talks about the lingering effects of another deadly virus, COVID-1619, a reference to the year that people who were enslaved were first brought to the New World. As Moffett pointed out, we have not developed a vaccine to protect us from its effects, just like its ominous sibling, COVID-19.

Moffett said were it not for COVID-19, she’d have participated in protests last weekend as thousands of people did in dozens of cities across the country. “I don’t condone violence. It’s not the answer,” she said. “However, with the sin of racism, we are quick to treat the symptom rather than the cause.”

For her, Sunday was a day to lament. Moffett said she sat at her kitchen table and cried, lamenting “the stories I know so well,” stories of faith and perseverance told by her father, brother, husband and former parishioners “who have been harassed and abused by the powers that be.”

“To everything there is a season,” she said, quoting Ecclesiastes, “and so yesterday I took time to lament.”

She thought of her father,  Larry Givens, a ruling elder and a 1983 General Assembly commissioner when the northern and southern churches reunited. “I caught the faith through him and ancestors like him,” Moffett said. “The glory of God radiated in their steps, and I wanted that radiation for myself.” It’s like Billie Holiday once sang, she said: “God bless the child that’s got his own.”

“Dad was not perfect,” she said, ‘but I saw in him a commitment that attracted me.”

Moffett said she didn’t learn what made her father resilient until deep conversations allowed her inside his head. She had the same experience last year hiking uphill for what seemed like a mile to see the inside of a church on Lesbos, a Greek island. “We could feel the depth of faith in that space,” she recalled. “I couldn’t comprehend the true beauty of the church from the outside. I had to get inside to see.”

It’s in the light of Christ that Moffett said she finds “hope to keep moving on.”

“It is the person of Jesus, unjustly tried and murdered by the state, that makes me understand we are not alone,” she said. “It is the knowledge of the cross and the glory of the resurrection, it is the power of the Spirit, the presence of God, the hope of the church — not just in the sweet by and by. It is the hope of the church in the nasty here and now that causes us, you and I, to keep working.”

“People have come to believe that somehow God’s not going to waste this pandemic and this suffering,” she said. “Somehow God will use our broken, battered lives — these clay pots — to usher in a better and brighter day.”

Moffett concluded with quoting a line from Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” adding, “and when it does, all God’s children will be able to say, ‘I can breathe.’ Amen.”

The service concluded with a video on the Janelle Monae “say her/his name” chant now often heard during protests. Before that, worshipers said together a “Litany of the Elders,” with a few pithy quotes included:

  • Ella Baker: “(We cannot rest) until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” She also said, “Give light, and people will find the way.”
  • The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

“As we leave this virtual gathering,” Moffett prayed during her benediction, “recharge us to do what we can to make a difference,” including “working to right wrongs and standing up so other people can walk and breathe and live and know that the gift of God extends to all God’s Creation.”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.