A Pastoral Letter on George Floyd, Minneapolis, and us…

Categories: News

White silence is violence.  Black Lives Matter.  (United Church of Christ)

Dear people of Storrs Congregational,

I feel compelled to offer a reflection of some kind in response to the murder of George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis earlier this week. After all, as the banner above puts it, “white silence is violence”: one of the many reasons that the scourge of systemic racism continues to plague us is that not enough of us who are white have gotten upset enough about it to actually affect real change.

I’ll confess that I’ve also hesitated and struggled with this, unsure of how to respond. After all, this is (unfortunately) by no means the first time in my approaching-10-years among you that the violence perpetrated against black and brown bodies in our country has been so visibly brought to our attention. It was just shy of 5 years ago — in the period following after the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Grey and Sandra Bland — that I wrote an extensive pastoral letter to you about the Black Lives Matter movement and the Christian and human necessity of making that assertion in the face of all that speaks otherwise in our society (click here to see the archived version of that letter). What can I say that hasn’t already been said, whether at that time or in the various moments I’ve spoken from the pulpit or in the variety of others’ voices you hear in the media and online? And yet, as this month’s killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have so painfully and horrifyingly demonstrated, what has already been said and done has not been enough.

Clearly what has been said already is not enough when police come out blazing with tear gas and rubber bullets and riot gear against this week’s protesters while heavily-armed white militia men can storm a state capitol building and yell in the face of police without a single restraining action taken against them. Clearly what has been said already is not enough when so many people all too easily cluck their tongues and point fingers of judgment about destruction of property when the best those same people can manage to do in the face of the murders of black and brown bodies is sit in stunned silence.

Our national officers of the United Church of Christ have offered this statement of witness:

A man was lynched by police in Minneapolis this week.

George Floyd was lynched on the streets of Minneapolis, Minn., with the knee of an officer who needed no noose. As comrades looked on, reminiscent of the public lynchings of the past, George Floyd pleaded for breath for over 5 minutes as the callous, vigilante actions of four officers hooded in blue ignored his plea.

The unrestrained white rage that stalked Colin Kaepernick “taking a knee” on AstroTurf to protest violence against black bodies escapes this country’s watchful gaze as an authorized officer “takes a knee” on the throat of a black man pinned to the asphalt.Is this how white supremacy prays?

A man was lynched by vigilantes in Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23 this year.

Ahmaud Arbery’s life was choked from his body by bullets plowed through his chest, fired from the gun of white vigilantes self-deputized to guard white fragility from the threat of a black man free enough to run where he chooses, as comrades looked on.

No charges were filed initially and we might never have known, except such violence is never fully satiated without public display. The taping of their triumph sealed their fate. Is this how white supremacy celebrates?

A woman was lynched by police in Louisville, Ky., on March 13 this year.

Breonna Taylor’s sleep was interrupted by death as officers broke into her home unannounced and riddled her body with 8 bullets in search of a black man who did not live there and was already caged. Breonna was an EMT, risking her life daily for the well-being of others. Her profession placed her at high risk for COVID-19. Her black body placed her at higher risk for the death she endured. Breonna’s work was essential. Her life was not.

White supremacy is not simply an ideology, it is an evil. It is not simply born of ignorance but also of intention.

This religion of white supremacy is so deeply seeded in the blood-drenched soil of our country that white people will do anything to protect its fragile roots.

Black bodies are lynched by police in America so that white supremacy can breathe, white fragility can rage, and white entitlement can pretend not to see.

A black man was almost lynched in Central Park this week.

Amy Cooper intended to steal his breath. She knew the gravity of a white woman’s plea to be saved from the throes of a Black man in America. Her words were deliberately weaponized with fragility. White women’s tears are their own eyewitness. She knew exactly what she was doing, so much so that she warned the victim she was armed with whiteness and would weaponize it if he did not submit to her demands.

This is what “Stand Your Ground” looks like for those who believe they actually own the ground.

Murder by law enforcement is the insidious mutation of vigilante lynchings. Both public executions are violations of the 4th and 14th amendments — violations too often upheld by the highest court in this land. But state-sanctioned murder carries the endorsement of our judicial system for America to be at war with itself. The authority to savagely murder black people and mutilate their bodies in public displays suggests the desire to stop a power beyond one’s ability to kill. How many bullets does it take to stop a black body? How long must a choke hold last to make the weak feel powerful when confronted with a resilience that cannot be comprehended?

Too often images flood our screens of whiteness raging out of control. Picnics and postcards with lynched bodies on display have been replaced by live-streams and private videos with the murdered on display. We can no longer suffer the luxury of looking away. We must speak truth with power for the salvation of us all.

Black people were lynched in America yesterday, and all the yesterdays before.

Lynched by vigilantes who Stand Their Ground.
Lynched by religious zealots that have white-washed God.
Lynched by the silence of white liberals.
Lynched by those sworn to serve and protect.

And yet.
As we enter this season of Pentecost we are reminded that the breath of God still blows where she wills, the fire of God’s righteousness still burns within those who believe, the power of God still emboldens us to tear down every stronghold, and the Will of God still reigns supreme.

In the strength of that power, we must be compelled to:
Speak up.
Stand up.
Show up.
In Minneapolis, in Brunswick, in Louisville, in New York, in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in Baltimore, in Chicago, and in every city across the land. Somehow we must garner the strength to call out this evil. We must bolster the courage to face this head on and call it by name. Only when we choose to face the evil can we cast it from our collective being. This is the work of the entire church.

We are called to uproot white supremacy in all of its forms. Whiteness must no longer be our god.

Justice was lynched in America yesterday.

But thanks be to God, Justice refuses to die.

— The National Officers of the United Church of Christ

(click here to share National Officers’ Statement)

There is much more that could be said, and much more that must be done, church!

If you are a white person and find yourself still not “getting it” (or even if you think you do), the best 14 minutes of your day today might be listening to the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the UCC, as he reflects on the biblical image of the lion and the lamb lying down together in the context of this week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csScUBJ0NiQ

If you are a white person and find yourself still not “getting it” (or even if you think you do), then start doing some of your own work, perhaps by reading one of the books recommended in this article: “Stop Asking People of Color To Explain Racism – Pick Up One Of These Books Instead”. Additional resources can be found in the SCC Library, as well as on the “Combating Racism” section of our SCC online Bookshop.

If you are a white person wondering about things you might actually do (in addition to, not instead of, to doing your own work on antiracism), then delve into this article: “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”.

And if you are a person of color, I see you… I’m sorry… and please continue to hold the rest of us accountable.

Yours in the journey,
Pastor Matt

2 Responses to "A Pastoral Letter on George Floyd, Minneapolis, and us…"

  1. Pamela Roberts Posted on May 29, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you. I am outraged and need to “do” something. Your ideas were helpful. Now it is up to me to ACT. I loved your last line. “and if you are a person of color, I see you…I’m sorry…and please continue to hold the rest of us accountable.” I am reaching out to those I worked with or taught, those I’ve met in volunteer work and a little scarier is to those I don’t know who like my long term collegue and friend said, those black parents who have conversations with their family members about the situation that threaten their lives and pary that there family members will be save. These times call for actions. Thank you for challenging yourself and sharing that challenge with me.

  2. Kenneth Hanson Posted on May 30, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    The letter by the national officers of the United Church of Christ eloquently expresses our collective anguish. Yes, Black Lives Matter. Yes, we know that anguish is not enough. I fear, however, that the lynching issue cannot be separated from the economics of labor. I, as a sheltered member of the middle class, stand removed from the pressures that define the lives of many black, Hispanic and Asian workers. They survive on a minimum wage and are always on the edge of disaster. This is a consequence of the logic that drives our economy. To this we have to add the effect of the Covid-19 virus. The government-endorsed pressures to sustain work in meat packing factories under conditions that promote virus exposure are surly a declaration that these lives do not matter. The Workhouse System created by The British Poor Laws was scarcely more charitable. Political thought is necessary.

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