The Rev. Stanley Chimeysa from Malawi is visiting New York. I had the privilege to take him on visits with some amazing people.
It was a good day.
Saturday 30 June brought Riverside Conversations (the convention center is on the Allegheny) at the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Commissioners, advisory delegates, and others gathered to consider a range of topics. Some conversations looked at issues before the assembly, some at broader topics in the life of the church.
My friend and colleague Irene Pak and I (our mutual friend and colleague Bruce Reyes-Chow took the photo for us) led an introductory conversation on the church’s need to address racism if we wish to live into the wondrous diversity God creates.
We started with prayer and then had participants (somewhere near 50 in number) introduce themselves and share an experience of diversity. A brief reflection on diversity, race (social construct built on the diversity God creates) and racism (people with power granting themselves privilege based on that construct) followed. We acknowledged that the Presbyterian Church has a mixed record on race and racism – as do all churches and institutions. We have helped create racism – we help perpetuate racism – and we help dismantle racism. A litany affirming God’s intention that we live together in diversity and reminding us of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment followed.
The group then heard three remarkable stories of efforts to dismantle racism: the work of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh that began with a focus on slavery in Western Pennsylvania; the New Beginning Initiative toward reconciliation between the Alaska Natives and Presbyterians; and a range of efforts that focus on racism in the criminal justice system.
Participants then used Mutual Invitation to engage in conversations about what they had heard. The event closed with the song “I’m Going to Live So God Can Use Me” as our prayer.
In my closing observations, I noted that working to dismantle racism is a calling for a life-time. It is ongoing work. It is challenging work. It involves us in encountering other systems of oppression, privilege, and domination. It is a journey. But it is a journey God calls us to make. And it is a journey on which we have wonderful traveling companions.
See you along the Trail.
The movement grows – although I am a bit late in commenting.
On 25 April 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty. Governor Dannel P. Malloy made a profound statement as he signed the legislation. It reflects his personal experience which changed his views on the death penalty. He cites the reality that as good as a system of justice is, it is imperfect as well as the “unworkability” of the law that results in appeal after appeal which brings “sordid attention that rips open never-quite-healed wounds.” He closes with the observation that family members of murder victims led the campaign to abolish the death penalty. The statement is worth reading in its entirety:
“This afternoon I signed legislation that will, effective today, replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the highest form of legal punishment in Connecticut. Although it is an historic moment – Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action – it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration.
“Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty. For me, that is certainly the case. But that does not mean – nor should it mean – that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment. I certainly don’t. I know many people whom I deeply respect, including friends and family, that believe the death penalty is just. In fact, the issue knows no boundaries: not political party, not gender, age, race, or any other demographic. It is, at once, one of the most compelling and vexing issues of our time.“My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time. As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter. Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed.“Another factor that led me to today is the ‘unworkability’ of Connecticut’s death penalty law. In the last 52 years, only 2 people have been put to death in Connecticut – and both of them volunteered for it. Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve. It is sordid attention that rips open never-quite-healed wounds. The 11 men currently on death row in Connecticut are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death.“As in past years, the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut has been led by dozens of family members of murder victims, and some of them were present as I signed this legislation today. In the words of one such survivor: ‘Now is the time to start the process of healing, a process that could have been started decades earlier with the finality of a life sentence. We cannot afford to put on hold the lives of these secondary victims. We need to allow them to find a way as early as possible to begin to live again.’ Perhaps that is the most compelling message of all.“As our state moves beyond this divisive debate, I hope we can all redouble our efforts and common work to improve the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system, and to minimize its fallibility.”
But for now, I give thanks for the legislators in Connecticut and for Governor Malloy. May his hope come true.
See you along the Trail.