On the third Sunday after the Charleston Massacre, on the day after the 4th of July, we read Ezekiel’s call story and the story of Christ returning home, where he is rejected by his own people and can do no deeds of power among them. And this was the first Sunday after Bree Newsome, an African-American woman, shimmied up a flagpole in Charleston, South Carolina, and took down the Confederate flag, quoting the 27th Psalm and the Lord’s prayer on her way down, where James Tyson, a white man, waited to help her get over the fence.
We read from Bree Newsome’s statement, Our Time Has Come (Bree Newsome’s complete statement), asking what God is calling us see and do through her prophetic words and her prophetic act. We emphasize our belief that responding to God’s call to us as individuals and a church is a choice; and we remember that call is ineffective absent community.
First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois, has been praying for you. We are prayerfully asking what we can do, as a white church, as our brothers and sisters in Christ attending historic black churches find themselves again as targets of racial terrorism. We have been asking the Spirit to lead us as we seek to make good on a prayer we say each time we celebrate Holy Communion together: “May our every prayer be an action that brings healing, hope, and reconciliation to a broken and hurting world.” We know our $3,000 check is only a beginning, but we send it to you along with our broken hearts, prayers of lament, and openness to how God in Christ calls us to respond as people of faith.
Our faith has been renewed as we witness your response to this tragedy. We affirm the words recently said by Rev. Nelson Rivers: “You cannot be the thing you hate. You cannot become the evil you seek to eradicate. Forgiveness is not the same as ignoring the facts. We want justice.” We are talking with our children about racism, and asking ourselves how through our passivity we have contributed to a culture that has ignored the burdens borne by our brothers and sisters in African American Churches. We are praying for pastors and congregations who seek to answer the call we share together of seeking justice for all of God’s children.
We are also sending cards made by our children in our VBS program, which we offered during the week of the Charleston Massacre. We are committed to raising children who will take up the standard of love and justice and who will, like David, sling stones to slay the lumbering giant of racism.
We will not forget you nor the churches we know you represent. In Christ, we are joined with you in this struggle, and pray that the Spirit will reveal how we can work together in the Quad Cities to be united with you in Charleston.
Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
First Congregational UCC, Moline, Illinois
I use the word massacre intentionally: The Charleston Massacre. In fact, the word is accurately used for the murder of 10 or more people. Literally and accurately, I use the word inappropriately. However, I view the murder as more than the number of a beating hearts that were ceased that day. And as a person of faith, as I watch Mother Emanuel respond, I believe more than ever in the the power of resurrection, which raises us up not only when we reach the end of our lives, but also when the power of death visits us as it did in Charleston.
I am pleased and proud to say that First Congregational Church (Moline, IL) raised $4,100 to send to the Mother Emanuel AME Church Hope Fund. Money is not all we have to give, but it is privilege and honor to contribute to this fund for hope as we look for other ways to fight against racial terrorism and Christian passivity.
This was again an important Sunday for churches across America. We came to church for the second Sunday with Mother Emanuel heavy on our hearts, and only a few days earlier the Supreme Court made Marriage Equality the law of the land. On a day that combined celebration with mourning, the theme of our texts brought us to the the connection between desperation, grief, and healing.
The media is playing President Obama’s singing of Amazing Grace in his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinkney. But the President’s eulogy offers much more than this song: he calls us to express God’s grace today, in our world; he tells the truth about racism in the United States–about the Confederate Flag, Gun Control, the prison system, poverty–all within the context of faith.
I invite all of my friends: those who have not lost their faith in the church and who seek to express God’s grace with their lives; those who have left the church because it has worshiped its own traditions, because has been too slow to engage the movements for human dignity and justice of our age, because it has loved comfort and feared conflict; and those who see faith as weakness and belief as a sham; I invite all of my friends to watch the entire video of President Obama’s eulogy, or download the full text ( .pdf | .docx ): the President puts into words what I believe and what Christians in my life see as the heart of faith.
This was an important Sunday for churches across America. Four days earlier, Rev. Clementa Pinckney was assassinated and eight parishioners were massacred during a bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The story of David and Goliath provides a way view of how we as people of faith will slay the giant of racial terrorism.
I count as friends many of you who grew up in church but have left it. No matter the reasons you left, no matter whether you “believe,” no matter how you practice your faith as you live your life, raise your children, bury your loved ones, this moment calls for action from us to say to the good people of Mother Emanuel AME that we see that they have been victims of racial terrorism and we love them and support them in this time of grief.