Category Archives: Current Events

I do not want his death

This is  guest post by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget, associate professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Thank you Margaret for your words and witness and for allowing them to be shared here.

I know this is not popular, but I don’t want them to execute Dylann Roof.

First, it perpetuates the culture of violence and legitimates the utterly illegitimate system of state-sponsored execution. He becomes the monster who proves the rule.

Second, it treats him as though he is some extraordinary exception that can be rooted out, like a noxious weed, rather than a young adult radicalized by white racist Christianist terrorists intent at creating a race war. Cf. Girard: the Scapegoat

Third, it means he never has to grow up, face what he did, and explain it to himself and to us, aloud. He can die a martyr and never once look in the eyes of the children whose parents he killed, the parents whose children he killed, the parishioners whose pastor he killed, or the legislators whose colleague he killed.

No, I do not want his death. I want those who radicalized him — on trial — for murder. I want their ring dismantled. I want the connections between that ring and the larger structures of systemic racism to become so plain that every and any one can read it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty

Good reasons to come to Standing Rock – to do needed physical labor

On November 15, 2016, I had the privilege to go with Native American Presbyterian leaders to the Water Protector camps at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Among the reasons for people to come to Standing Rock is to do needed physical labor.

Darkness descended on the camp as we arrived.
We stood, watching the flames of the fire dance.
woodA man fed more wood, the smoke tickling our noses. 
“We need help in the kitchen.”
The voice came from behind.
I turned and walked across the compound. ”
What can I do?”
“Here’s a knife. Get some gloves in the back.
Help debone this suckling pig.”
That had never appeared on my resume.
But it was the work needed at the moment.
For the next thirty minutes, with Estrella and Quay,
I cut and tore meat from bone.
Meat from bone.
Meat from bone as a dog stared hungrily at my work.
“Healthy food,” Quay cheerfully told all who came and asked what was for supper.
“Ready in 45 minutes,” Brandon told everyone. No matter when they asked.
From around the fire came the sound of drums and song as we cut meat from bone.
Meat from bone.
Meat from bone. Until it was done.
I left the kitchen.
The dog stared.
The drums played.
The fire danced.
The people continued.

15 November 2016
Ft. Yates, North Dakota

Note – the photo, by my friend Buddy Monahan, shows me helping move firewood, another task I did for a time, a task that did not inspire bad poetry in the same way deboning did. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Don’t display your solidarity, express it!

This reflection by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow originally appeared as a guest commentary in the Presbyterian Outlook.

This is not a piece about Standing Rock and the water protectors. This is a reflection to expand the narrative of what happened during the clergy action visit to Standing Rock on November 3, 2016.

For information about Standing Rock and their struggle to protect water, please check Native news sources such as IndianCountryNews.com. I also encourage everyone to read the Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet.

A call to action
Last month, I joined with over 400 other clergy members and responded to a call for clergy to join in a solidarity action with the Oceti Sakowin and their struggle to protect water.

Central to the efforts of the Oceti Sakowin people is a ritual of sacred fire. When I arrived at the camp, Adrianne, the sacred fire keeper, greeted my friends and me and thanked us for being there. He then explained the significance of the sacred fire, that it had been going since April and how we need to understand it.

Adrianne emphasized that it was an important element of ritual to keep the fire pure. This meant that only Fire Keepers (those designated by elders) are permitted to tend the fire. To respect the sacred fire, it was explained to everyone who entered the camp that they should not take photos of the fire or throw anything into the fire (aside from sage and tobacco while offering prayer).

By the end, it was clear to me that the Fire Keeper informed everyone who entered the camp about the power and importance of the sacred fire and honor its role. I was deeply discouraged by how some members of our clergy group were ignorant of these guidelines.

A lesson in solidarity tourism
When we gathered for the clergy action orientation, the coordinator for the event, Father Floberg, told us that the next day would start with a ceremony at the sacred fire. We were informed that white Christians will repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery to native elders. In addition, the organizers of the ceremony got special permission for us to take pictures near the sacred fire for this event because it would be so historic.

With the knowledge that sacred fire was not to be photographed, why was permission requested? Why did this group of clergy feel so entitled as to think their needs to document this event were more important than honoring the intentions of the native people not to photograph near the sacred fire? The fact that this request was offered and accepted is reminder of the colonial mentality of exceptionalism and justification. It was not a request that honored the camp that hosted us.

At the ceremony, all I could see were cameras and people swarming around the sacred fire.  What was supposed to be a sacred event to show our repudiation of a doctrine that oppressed and displaced so many natives turned into what felt like a celebrity staging.

A self-serving narrative
Whose needs were being served through this event of repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery? If it was really for the native people, if we came to honor their tradition, we would not have taken pictures. It was the needs of highlighting the clergy, not the community, and what the clergy were doing for the community that was prioritized.

After the ceremony, the clergy group walked towards the bridge where our prayer vigil was to take place. But we walked alone; not many people from the camp were with us. The giant cross at the front of our procession felt more like a crusade than a solitary action.

I left early to go to the camp. It was clear that majority of the clergy did not connect with those at the camp. Many of the folks back at camp didn’t even know what was going on with this large group of clergy who showed up. Then I heard announced across camp that the clergy were heading to Bismarck to the State Capitol.

At Bismarck, 14 clergy members were arrested, which became the dominant narrative that emerged from the whole action. The story was no longer about the Oceti Sakowin people or the Water Protectors.

Displayed vs. expressed solidarity
My main discomfort with the way the clergy group behaved was that it seemed more important to display their solidarity rather than express solidarity. When someone is concerned about displaying solidarity, they make the effort about themselves. They control the narrative and to ensure their experience is validated. They make the story about themselves and not about the people they are in solidarity with.

Expressing solidarity is to be present in the ways the people you’re standing in solidarity with want you to be present. It requires more listening than talking. It requires getting to know the stories of those who are oppressed. It requires one to not have preconceived notions of what is helpful or effective. It requires one to not have a pre-set agenda of what one wants to get out of the trip for his or her own agenda. Expressing solidarity means letting the needs of the community outweigh the needs of those providing support.

What I observed was solidarity tourism. What I witnessed was exploitive colonialism. From documenting the ceremony at the sacred fire to the clergy rally to getting arrested in Bismarck, the narrative became more about the clergy than those who were protecting water.

Words for future solidarity action
The camp is set up to receive large groups of people (with orientation every day). If you go, go straight to the camp and connect with the Native leaders directly. Go with the mentality of being useful and not with a preconceived notion of what you believe will be a significant contribution. Go with an open heart to express your solidarity rather than to display your solidarity. That may mean you spend four days chopping onion and garlic and not getting arrested. It may mean helping clean up around the camp instead of taking photos. These are expressions of solidarity.

Sung Yeon ChoimorrowSUNG YEON CHOI-MORROW serves in specialized ministry as the deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an organization building a movement through organizing and advocating on issues that impact the lives of Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls in the United States. She is a member of the Chicago Presbytery, worships at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, and lives on the north side of Chicago with her spouse (Joseph Morrow) and their 2-year-old daughter Ella.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events

When incivility becomes the norm

by J. Herbert Nelson, II | Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly

This statement is a response to the violence on America’s streets after the election of Mr. Donald Trump as President–Elect of the United States of America. It was originally posted by the Presbyterian News Service

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson

LOUISVILLE – I read several post-election statements and heard news accounts of violence, riots, and protests while in Central America visiting Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission partners. The news images were shocking to both our partners and me. We struggled to understand the results of the election, particularly given Mr. Trump’s stance on immigration, which was the theme of my visit. However, I was not as startled as my Central American friends. Serving as director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., for six years prior to becoming Stated Clerk prepared me to understand the outcomes we face in electoral politics. Although I have shared parts of this writing before with congregations and audiences, there seemed to always be a sense of skepticism among the hearers. I proclaim the message once again, because the apparent shock for many has left people raising the question, “What happened?”

I wish to affirm in this moment that many in our congregations and communities hold legitimate fear about their safety and the protection of their human rights. We hold close our Muslim, Hispanic, African American, immigrant, and LGBTQ neighbors, and those from other marginalized groups. We hold close the women who give us life and the poor for whom daily bread is not promised. The rash of hateful harassment [1] reported in the wake of the election insists upon the urgency of the call to be one who “… executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:18–20, NRSV).

This writing is not a denial of the results of the election. President-Elect Trump is our newly elected leader. However, it is my hope that the post-election anger, pain, and frustration demonstrated on the streets will lay the foundation for a transformed political system in the years to come. Through coalition building and community organizing, we have an opportunity to create a vision of shared prosperity, safety, dignity, and justice that is truly inclusive and compelling to a broad base.

I insist, though, that no matter how robust the infusion of energy into the struggle for justice, it will never be worth the pain, suffering, and yes, death, which will be wrought by the promised policies of the incoming administration. My integrity as a spiritual leader commands me to face the reality that some of our communities are under grave threat. In my recent travels to El Salvador, I spoke with many who expressed fear for their family members’ safety in the U.S.; that the violence they fled El Salvador to escape would be brought upon them tenfold if they were deported back to their country of origin. People with preexisting conditions are troubled over what a sudden loss of healthcare would do to their wellbeing. Same-gender parents are rushing to finish their adoptions and secure their rights as a family. Survivors of sexual assault are contending with a culture that would elect to our highest office a known abuser. In this dark night, the doors of the Church are open as refuge, resource, and organizing home.

As Christians, we cannot accept a nation that normalizes violence, exclusion, and racism in our political rhetoric and public policy. We know God has called us to co-create a world where a dignified life is available to all, and anything less offers no suitable worship. In the coming months and years, “… From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Lk. 12:48 NRSV). We will be asked to open our church basements to late-night meetings, our sanctuaries to provide Sanctuary to those facing deportation, and to intervene in public harassment.

Just as the doors of the Church are open, so too are the doors to the movement for justice. We invite you to join us in our steadfast commitment to stand with the marginalized and our humble desire to contribute to strategy and vision that will help create the kingdom of God.

Read more.

1 Comment

Filed under Current Events, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Presbyterian advocacy group issues challenge to ‘raise our collective voice’

From the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns calls church to action

Press Release | ACREC

The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to embody what it has confessed, “that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”
– Belhar Confession

People of color in the U.S. are being killed by police in disproportionate numbers because of the color of their skin, their race, and ethnicity. We condemn and lament the continued and routine killing of unarmed people of color particularly African American men and call for full investigations in the police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio.

People of color in the U.S. live under surveillance, the threat of deportation, and constant systemic violence. We are alarmed by the Obama administration’s continuing pattern of deportation and family separation. We are alarmed by the ways in which police and ordinary citizens are deputized, formally and informally, to perpetuate this culture of surveillance and violence. We are alarmed by the persistence of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric and policy proposals abounding in the current presidential campaign.

People of color in the U.S. are being attacked and criminalized for their courageous stands against police violence, greed, environmental injustice, and treaty violations. We condemn the use of militarized private contractors to remove the Native Americans encamped at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers seeking to stop the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens water, earth, and indigenous sacred spaces.

People of color in the U.S. are reminded daily in explicit and implicit ways of the hold white supremacy has over the soul of this nation. White supremacy; as a church we must say it. It is white supremacy that lies at the root of the systemic violence that kills, suffocates the life, limits the mobility, and creates the logic for the policing and detention of people of color in the United States.

Given this reality, ACREC calls the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to leave the comfort of their buildings to put their bodies on the line as co-conspirators in a movement for transformation, to stand for reparative justice instead of cheap reconciliation, to join communities of resistance, declaring that all people are created by God which means uttering without equivocation that Black Lives Matter!

We call the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the efforts of those gathered at Standing Rock to protect the water, the land, and the generations of people whose lives are threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline expansion.

We call the teaching elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to not just lament and pray for change but to challenge the members of their congregation to acknowledge and confess our participation in systems of oppression and to lead them to work for justice in and outside of the church.

We call the ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to exercise their spiritual and ecclesiastical leadership by creating and formulating ways for their congregation to engage in actions – economic and programmatic – that interrupt white supremacy.

ACREC strongly encourages the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and all of its members to join the mobilization of 5,000 prayers and/or actions around the world calling for water rights, clean air, and the restoration of the earth and its peoples by participating in the International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock (October 8-11, 2016).

ACREC also strongly encourages the congregations and mid-councils of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the newly established Freedom Rising Fund created as a result of an action taken by the 222nd General Assembly (2016). This fund will support specific actions, “not just in word, but also in deed, to address and improve the worsening plight of the African American male.” Congregations and mid-councils are asked to direct a portion of the Peace and Global Witness Offering to this fund.

Finally, we urge our church and all of its members, especially those who are white, to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric. May we have the courage.

Buddy Monahan (Chair, ACREC)
Thomas Priest Jr.(Vice Chair, ACREC)

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The Five Things I need from White People Right Now

Derrick Weston states what he needs from me and other white people after the killing of Terence Crutcher, one of too many black people killed by police.

derricklweston

Another day, another unarmed black man dead. Terence Crutcher’s SUV stalled as he was coming back from community college classes. He was studying music appreciation and was very active in his church choir. Seeing his picture reminds me of any number of big dudes I know who can sing their lungs out. From his view in a helicopter, a Tulsa police officer thought he looked like a bad dude. Instead of trying to help the man with the stalled car, two officers made him put his hands up as he approached them for help. As he reached into his SUV, probably to grab some form of identification, which again, should not have been necessary because he was the one in distress, he was tased and then shot. He was unarmed. He was the father of four.

I feel like ranting and raving about how angry and scared this makes me…

View original post 980 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiracism, Current Events

The Until We Meet Again Tour – 14 August 2016

The Until We Meet Again Tour hopped a 1 Train, which some riders claim are hotter than the infernal regions although I have no frame of reference to judge that, and went to Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church to preach.

As with all the congregations visited on the tour, Good Shepherd-Faith holds a special place in my heart. Good Shepherd-Faith was one of the first congregations to invite me to preach in New York. It may have been the first. It definitely was the first congregation where I preached on Easter Sunday.

On this day that came a day after the killings of Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin near the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park neighborhood in Queens; and day after the killing of Sylville K. Smith by a police officer in Milwaukee and the protests that followed, it was a challenge and an honor to preach and search for words of hope in a time of profound grief.

This was the last Sunday I will preach in New York – until we meet again.

IMG_3681 (800x571)IMG_3690 (800x600)

Thanks to Elder Michael Nelson for taking the photo that includes me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Easter, New York, Photo, Worship