Tag Archives: justice

To remember, to motivate

God of justice,
God of love,
God of grace,
we thank you for the life of
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We remember her service to our country,
her compassionate, caring heart,
her fierce devotion to fairness,
her persistence in pushing for equity,
her brilliant dissents,
her commitment to pursuing justice for
women, the LGBTQ community, and people pushed to the margins.
We marvel at the incredible courage and grace
she publicly displayed in the face of illness.
We are grateful that she
“used whatever talent she had
to do her work to the very best of her ability”
and that she helped
“to repair tears in her society,
to make things a little bettert
hrough the use of whatever ability she has.”
We give thanks for the life of
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
May her memory be a blessing.
Amen.

Note: the words in quotations are quotes from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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I saw Roberto Clemente play … and live

As Major League Baseball celebrated Roberto Clemente Day on Septmber 9, I was moved by the posts honoring this amazing man. Viewing photos, watching videos, sharing posts, memories flooded over me.

A friend shared a post by a baseball fan lamenting never seeing Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ great right fielder from 1955 until his untimely death in 1972 play. “If there’s one athlete, past or present, that I wish I could have seen play, it would be Roberto Clemente.”

I understand the sentiment. Because I saw Clemente play. And I am forever grateful. 

At Forbes Field and at Three Rivers Stadium, I had the privilege to see Roberto Clemente play. On numerous occasions, I saw him play with the skill and grace and passion that few brought to the game. Slashing hits. Unmatched arm. He covered right field like a blanket. He ran the bases with abandon. 

But as great a player as he was, Roberto Clemente was an even greater human being. He cared for children, offering clinics in Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh. He advocated for civil rights. He demanded that he be treated justly as he challenged the systemic racism that permeated baseball and society.

Interviewed after he led the Pirates to victory in the 1971 World Series, Roberto Clemente spoke first to his parents – in Spanish. There was not a dry eye in my house. I suspect there was not a dry eye in many places. Tears fell in puddles when Clemente died on a humanitarian mission to aid the people of Nicaragua.

Yes. I saw Roberto Clemente play. More importantly, I saw Roberto Clemente live. And I am better for it. 

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A prayer for the Movement

A prayer for the Movement

The bad news, the sad news
kept coming through the day, O God.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian died in the morning.
Congressman John Lewis died in the evening.
Their deaths call to mind the death of
the Rev. Joseph Lowery but a few months ago
and the death of Emma Sanders last week.
Each worked for justice.
Each joined the struggle for civil rights, for human rights.
Each provided leadership to that effort.
We thank you for their lives,
their faith,
their courage,
their love,
their witness, and
their work.
We give thanks that they rest with you in peace and that they will rise in power.
Comfort their families and friends and all who grieve.
May their memories shine brightly
in our hearts, minds, and souls.
As we remember them,
may we also remember
the folk whose names are known to but a few,
but are written in your Book of Life.
The members of the Movement
for freedom,
for equity,
for justice.
As we remember,
may we be strengthened
to be outraged at injustice
wherever, however, it occurs
that we might take our place and do our part
in that Movement,
whenever, whatever that may be.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Note: the image of “folk whose names are known but to a few, but are written in your Book of Life” was first given to me by the Rev. Dr. Otis Turner.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, Prayer

What does God require?

What does God require of me? Of us? Of the white church?
To do justice
to disrupt white supremacy culture
to dismantle structural racism
to build equitable systems
To love kindness
to see and honor God’s image in all people and every person
to practice radical hospitality
to build community that crosses social and cultural boundaries
To walk humbly with God
to listen and learn
to repent the sin of racism
to turn around and do better, by God’s grace

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Empty

John 20:1-10
Easter Sunday
April 12, 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

Christ is risen.

We gather at the end of a Holy Week different from any other on an Easter Sunday different from any other.

Every year has unique features. Christians have observed Holy Week and Easter in periods of persecution, during armed conflict and war, and while plague ravaged the land.

Still Easter 2020; Easter in the age of COVID-19 differs widely and wildly from any Easter we and most followers of Jesus have celebrated.

No egg hunts. No visits with family. No trips to restaurants. No crowded gatherings around a table straining under the weight of a feast. No new clothes or bonnets for many of us.

IMG-0618We gather in separate places today. Our church building stands empty for the moment. It does so not out of fear. As such buildings do across our country and around the world, that temporarily empty building on the corner of 149th and 15th offers a profound witness to our faith. It proclaims that we are a people of life even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It represents an incredible act of revolutionary love, amazing grace, and spiritual solidarity. Thanks be to God.

Dr. William Brown of Columbia Theological Seminary points out that this year’s Easter celebration with a temporarily empty building may be among the most biblical Easters we have experienced.[i] The Easter proclamation of resurrection begins with the discovery of the empty tomb.

After the crucifixion, early on the first day of the week, in the darkness, John’s Gospel tells us that Mary Madgalene went to the tomb. Heart broken, soul sick, spirit sore, she made a lonely, courageous journey.

She went to see where they had placed her teacher, her friend. She went to pay her respects even after her death. She went because nothing else made sense.

At the tomb, she found the stone rolled aside. What more indignity can there be, she must have wondered? She went to get others. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” return to the tomb with her. Entering they find emptiness. No body of Jesus; only the cloths from his burial.

Each Gospel tells a slightly different version of the encounter with the empty tomb. They all share two common features. Women first. Women went to the tomb first. Women become the first to tell the good news. While the number varies from gospel to gospel, it is always small. Large numbers of followers did not cram together as close as they could on that day of resurrection. It began with a tomb emptied of death and women.

We know not how the resurrection of Jesus happened. No one witnessed God raising Jesus.

The resurrection of the followers of Jesus proved something more of a process. It did not happen in an instant. As the Rev. Denise Anderson notes, the “women who were first at the tomb to find it empty were rocked to their core. But even when they shared the news, the ones with whom they shared it weren’t instantly changed for hearing it. They hardly even believed it.”[ii]

The Rev. Anderson goes on: for the first followers of Jesus on that day of resurrection, “there was still grief. There was still despair. There was still anxiety. There was still waiting. Wondering. Worrying.”[iii] But. God had raised Jesus. God’s work had been accomplished. Christ was risen. Christ is risen.

Perhaps more starkly than have other Easters, this day reminds us that we live in the tension of believing in resurrection even as we feel keenly the impact of suffering and death. Much of what gave us balance and equilibrium in life has been smashed off kilter. We grieve. Uncertainty grips us. We find ourselves in a similar position to the women and the first followers of Jesus.

And  yet, we have the witness not only of Mary and the other women who went to the tomb. We have the witness of women through the ages … and some men, too. People who lived as Jesus calls us to live; people who loved who as Jesus called us to love. People who though stricken with grief and filled with fear, lived and loved. And in the living and in the loving, they encountered the risen Christ. As we live and as we love following Jesus, we too have encountered the risen Christ. We encounter the risen Christ now. We will encounter the risen Christ in the future.

Grief and doubt and fear do not deny the resurrection. They cannot.

Grief and doubt and fear do not indicate the absence of hope and faith and love; they are fellow travelers. They go together, as the Rev. Ben Perry notes.[iv]

Christ is risen, and we mourn for those who have died and we ache for those who are ill and we endure heartbreak for those who are abused, neglected, and forgotten.

Christ is risen, and COVID-19 grips our city and God’s world.

Christ is risen, and we can love one another.

Christ is risen, and there is work to do to ensure that all people in our society have access to safe homes, meaningful and safe work, health care, good food, and the necessities of living.

Christ is risen, and the Matthew 25 vision invites us to make sure that the least of the human family, the people pushed to the margins, receive our attention and our care.

Christ is risen, and the resurrection reminds us that the worst things are never the last things.[v]

Though we tremble at the tomb, though alleluias quaver on our lips, Christ is risen. This Easter day and every day may we know the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death;

Victory is ours through Him who loves us.[vi]

Christ is risen.

People of the empty tomb, people of the temporarily empty building,

Christ is risen!

Alleluia.

[i] https://www.ctsnet.edu/the-life-giving-emptiness-of-this-easter/

[ii] This comes from a Facebook by the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson, coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), on April 12, 2020.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] This and the next several paragraphs are inspired by words written by the Rev. Ben Perry and posted on Facebook.

[v] Thanks to the Rev. Dr. Michael Granzen for this image.

[vi] Desmond Tutu, “Victory Is Ours” in An African Prayer Book (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1995), p. 80.

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A prayer and an affirmation

Friends –

I had another prayer prepared for today. It was loaded in my email and ready to send.

Last night, after the Session meeting, I learned about three Asian American friends who had recently experienced acts of hate. No one was hurt, thank God. But that is not always the case. There are at least reported hate incidents in New York City in which people have been injured. Again, thank God, the injuries have not been serious. But – all such behavior is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reality that all people are made and loved by God.

Clearly this situation worked on me overnight. This morning the following came out.

A prayer
God for all the world,
we give thanks for your work of creation.
You make all that is and call it good.
You make the human creature
in a wondrous array of diversity:
all in your image,
all beloved by you.
Pour your Holy Spirit upon us and upon all people
that we might:
give thanks for the diversity you create,
honor all people,
welcome the diversity you create as a gift
that enriches and blesses us all.
Lead our community, our city, our nation, and all nations and peoples
to reject hate
and to embrace love.
We pray in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Affirmation for the time of Covid-19
3/19/2020

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I reject racism and white supremacy and will work to disrupt it;
I reject “othering,” scapegoating, belittling, demeaning of any person or any group of people;
I reject violence directed against a person or group of people because of their perceived race, ethnicity, nationality, or any other factor.

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I affirm the worth and dignity of every person; I give thanks for the Asian Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders who I know, and who I have never met—I am grateful that I can share this community, this country with you;
I give thanks for the Asian Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders who have entrusted me with your friendship and trusted me to be your pastor—I am honored, I hold you in my heart, I see you in my mind’s eye, I am grateful for you.

As well as I am able
(and when I know better, I will do better)
I confess that I have often fallen short of my own affirmations, my own aspirations;
I commit to picking myself up when I fall short and continuing to work for a community, a country, and a world where everyone is welcome and justice and equity reign.

*****

Note: this is an affirmation for this moment. Other moments would elicit other affirmations.

Note two: my blog, my rules. Any comments I deem objectionable will be deleted. No questions. No debate.

 

 

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Justice giant

Sharecropper’s son,
Baltimore’s own,
justice giant.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings
January 18, 1951 – October 17, 2019

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Keep Faith

Keep Faith
4 August 2019
First Presbyterian Church of Whitesone
The Rev. Mark Koenig

This sermon was put together on the morning of Sunday, August 4, 2019 between about 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM. The scripture planned for the day was Luke 12:13-21. It is referenced in the sermon but does not serve as the text in the traditional sense. Beginning with the quote by the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson the material is adapted from a sermon originally preached in February, 2019. Apologies if I quoted anyone without attribution. What follows is a reconstruction based on the notes taken into the pulpit.

When Wiley likes one of my sermons, he shakes my hand and says, “You stuck the landing on that one, Mark.” I have a vision of a graceful female gymnast, both feet hitting the floor. Arms extended. Her smile filling the auditorium.

I like that. But I don’t usually think of myself as particularly graceful.

Today, I have a feeling the sermon may more closely resemble my breaking the springboard for the vault, knocking over the pommel horse, staggering away, hitting my head on the rings, walking into the supports for the parallel bar and bringing it down, careening into the balance bar, falling across it, and face-planting into the mat.

I am improvising today. At the church retreat, Leslie Mott talked about the importance of improvisation both in life and in ministry. It involves taking the situation we are given, saying yes, and making things work.

One form of improvisation for clergy involves being able to adapt to circumstances in the life of the congregation, the community, the nation and the world as we preach and lead worship.

I have done that before. Many times.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table in Iowa on a Sunday morning, cutting paper apart with scissors. Removing passages. Changing the location of paragraphs. Furiously scribbling notes and adding them. Pasting things together.

Sean was about two at the time. His eyes got bigger and bigger. Finally, he asked, “What is daddy doing?”

“Just rewriting his sermon,” Tricia assured him.

I have often rewritten sermons on Sunday mornings in response to circumstances.

Never before today have I done so in the back of an Uber.

Never before today do I remember a Sunday when there were two mass shootings within 24 hours of when I preached.

Reports from last night are that at least twenty people died in a Walmart in El Paso. The shooter may have been motivated by racial hatred. An Internet post that is believed to be his talked about hating people of color and the United States being “invaded”. He made his way from the Dallas area to El Paso – a diverse town that straddles the border and so has many Mexican-American residents and is often visited by people from Mexico. At least three of the people killed have been identified as Mexican citizens who had crossed from Ciudad Juárez to shop.

This morning’s report says that at least 9 people died in Dayton. The shooting took place in a popular nightclub area late last night. Details are only now emerging.

Last weekend 4 people died in a shooting in Gilroy, California. One person was killed and 11 wounded at a celebration in Brooklyn.

Groups that monitor gun violence note that at least 7 other mass shootings occurred since we last gathered in this sanctuary.

Those are shootings where at least 4 people are shot in the same incident. It does not include shootings of individuals. It does not include individual deaths by suicide.

My heart is shattered. My mind reels. I grieve. I grieve for those who died. For those who are recovering from wounds. For families blown apart in an instant. For first responders. For witnesses. For medical personnel. I grieve to hear reports that people in El Paso did not go to medical care or to family reunion centers because they feared that ICE might be there. I pray those reports are inaccurate, but I fear they are true. And I grieve for the evil that is revealed if they are.

I rage at a world where the obscenity of mass shootings happens again. And again. And again. One of the most painful memes I saw on Facebook either this weekend read along the lines of: “I will pray for those killed in today’s shooting. The most painful word in that sentence is today’s.”

My grief almost breaks me. My rage threatens to consume me. But I will not fail. I will not falter. I will never give up. I will rise again. I rise again because of my faith in Jesus Christ. On Christ, by Christ, with Christ, in Christ I stand.

Many words have already been written about the shootings. More will come.

Among the words that speak to me are these attributed to Representative Veronica Escober, congresswoman from El Paso. She says: “We have a hate epidemic in this country.”

I agree with that, but I would add, we have a racism epidemic in this country. We have a white supremacy epidemic in this country. We have a white nationalist epidemic in this country. Again and again, those who commit mass shootings are not people of color. They are not Muslims. They are not migrants whose status is out of order. They are white men. If our country wants to ban people to make us safer, we might consider banning people who look like me.

We have a hate, racist, white supremacist epidemic in this country.

But I interrupted Congresswoman Escobar and I need to allow her to reclaim her time. She goes on to say: “We respond with abundance and love.”

We will love. That was the end of my original sermon for this morning. I talked about the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable who was motivated by greed and self-interest and fear. Those were his economic principles. Jesus, as he tells the parable, presents an alternative economic vision.

When people speak about money and things economic, the phrase “the bottom line” often appears in the presentations and conversations. The bottom line: “the primary or most important point.”[i] The bottom line in Christ’s eternal economy is that God loves us. God loves us and will never let us go.

In response to the hate and evil of mass shootings, I will stand with Jesus. I will love.

I will think and I will pray.

But if we think with the insight and wisdom of the greatest sages of the ages, but fail to act in love, we are noisy gongs.

If we pray with the fervency of Mary (a member of the congregation who has a profound gift for prayer that she has nurtured through her 97 years) and other spiritual masters, but fail to act in love we are clanging cymbals.

Love is a verb. It moves. It acts. It responds. It disrupts. It challenges. It changes.

It is time for love. Personally, and publicly. It is time for justice. Love in action in public is justice.

What might we do?

We might contact our elected representatives. We might ask them to work for responsible gun policies. They may reply that the President will not change things. Then we can remind our elected officials that they work for us. And we want them to work to end gun violence. I will do that.

We might research candidates for elected office. Who is receiving contributions from the gun lobby? Perhaps we might vote to someone who does not. Perhaps we might contribute to someone who does not. Perhaps we might volunteer for someone who does not. I will do that.

We might contribute to organizations working for responsible gun policies. There are many. I will research them and determine where I would like to make a small gift. If the Session approves, the list can be shared in The Lift.

We might witness. Perhaps when I return we can organize a vigil.

We can welcome neighbors and build community across the wondrous diversity that God creates. We can interrupt racism and disrupt white supremacy and challenge white nationalism. I will try to do better.

We can examine our culture and the role violence plays in it. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of our General Assembly calls us to examine our culture. He notes that we live in a culture of violence. Violence has become a form of entertainment that ranges from

“toy guns and holsters, to movies and cartoons, to video games that simulate warfare and deaths by automatic weapons, including blood splatter. Violence on television provides actual blueprints for killing another person. And daily we watch the glamorizing of murder on our mobile devices and hear lyrics to songs declaring that there is something noble about killing another human being, including shooting the police.”[ii]

I was driving in Louisville a few years back with NPR on the radio. They were interviewing Dr. Cornell West about gun violence. In my head I was his one-person amen corner. “That’s right. Preach.”

Then he said something to the effect that, “Violence has become our new pornography. It entertains us. Stimulates us. Excites us.”

My video collection flashed before my eyes. And my amen corner said, “Slow down there, Dr. West. Now you are meddling.”

Preachers usually preach to ourselves when we are honest about what we are doing. I will consider what I use to entertain myself.

Mass shootings. Death by gun violence. This is a far cry from the Biblical vision of each person made in the image of God. Of each person beloved by God. Of the call of Jesus to transform a culture of violence to a culture of love and justice.

Followers of Jesus have sought to live according to his teachings both before the crucifixion and after the resurrection.

Reflecting on the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder,”[iii] John Calvin notes that each human life is loved and redeemed by God, and therefore, worthy of our love. He understands that in in this commandment violence and injustice, and every kind of harm from which our neighbor’s body suffers, is prohibited.[iv] Pro-actively, the commandment calls us to act to care for one another, protect each other, and do justice.

Those are some suggestions for responding to gun violence. They may prove helpful. They may not. Other ideas will be needed. The work will prove difficult. There is no other word for it. But it is work we as followers of Jesus must do. None of us can do it all. But everyone can do something.

To say nothing can be done is irresponsible. It breaks faith with those who have lost their lives to gun violence and those who wounded by gun violence and those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. It breaks faith with our ancestors famous and humble who faced situations of obscene injustice that violated God’s precious, beloved children and said, yes, yes, there is something I can do. It breaks faith with God who does new things. May we keep faith. May we love. May we work for justice. This day. And every day.

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bottom-line.

[ii] The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, https://www.presbypeacefellowship.org/resources/sermon-the-difference-a-gun-can-make/

[iii] Exodus 19:13

[iv] Gun Violence and Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call; approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); developed by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP); published in 2011; p. 9.

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Forever champion

Simona Halep won Wimbledon this year.

Serena Williams will forever be my champion.

The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I am in my grave.
– Serena Williams

Long will she reign.

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Extremists – Letter from Birmingham City Jail

At the Presbytery of New York City’s annual commemoration of Mrs. Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., held on January 21, 2019 at Eastchester Presbyterian Church, I had the privilege of speaking to the Letter from Birmingham City Jail. These are the words I took into the lectern; they are close to what I said.

November 1962. Birmingham, Alabama.

An election changed the city’s form of government from three elected commissioners to a mayor and city council.

April 2, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama.

In Birmingham’s first mayoral election, Albert Boutwell defeated Eugene “Bull” Connor, the city’s Commissioner of Public Safety who had oversight of the fire and police department in a close election. Connor attributed his defeat to the small number of African-American voters who he said voted for his opponent’s more moderate stance.[i] Due to a lawsuit about the change of government, Connor remained as Commissioner of Public Safety until May 1963.

April 3, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama.

Recognizing that a more moderate stance was simply a more refined version of the segregationist policies sustaining the Jim Crow status quo, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, led by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began coordinated nonviolent actions against the city’s practices of racial discrimination.[ii] The campaign included sit-ins, marches, boycotts of businesses, and a voter registration drive.[iii]

April 10, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama.

Commissioner Connor obtained an injunction banning nonviolent protests.[iv]

April 12, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama. Good Friday.

After a period of intense discernment, conversation, and prayer, fifty individuals violated the injunction and were arrested. Among them were the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[v]

That same day, eight white clergymen from Alabama published “A Call for Unity” that read in part:

[W]e are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.[vi]

April 12 – 20, 1963. Birmingham City Jail.

The Rev. Dr. King, Jr. was held in the jail. At some point, he saw a newspaper containing “A Call for Unity.” He began to write a response in longhand in the newspaper margins. His wrote on scraps of paper provided by a friendly black trusty. He finished on a pad provided by his attorneys.[vii]

This document which we now know as the Letter from Birmingham City Jail combines social and political analysis with theological insights and a clarion prophetic call to speak to the concerns of the white clergymen and to illustrate that the Birmingham Campaign was just and loving, rooted in faith, wise and timely.

The Rev. Dr. King, Jr. wrote about the interrelatedness the human family. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”[viii]

He stated that “waiting for justice” is rooted in white privilege. “I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation … “wait” has almost always meant “never” … I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” … when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”[ix]

He addressed the criticism that the campaign involved breaking laws. “‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’”[x]

He confessed his disappointment with white moderates who encouraged waiting and moving slowly. He directed specific criticisms at the church. “I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right … I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”[xi] “Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.”[xii]

The Letter from Birmingham City Jail notes that we are not destined to choose either to accommodate injustice or to resort to violence. There is a third way. The nonviolent way of Jesus. The letter provides a succinct and profound description of the theology and principles of nonviolent resistance.

The Rev. Dr. King, Jr. wrote out of love inviting his readers to join that “long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world”.[xiii] Addressed to eight white clergymen, the vision and the criticisms of the letter speak to the white community and the church in all times.

June 20, 2018. St. Louis, Missouri.

The 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to commend the “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” for study as a resource that provides prophetic witness that inspires, challenges, and educates both church and world. The Assembly also voted to begin the process to include the Letter in the Book of Confessions which is part of the constitution of our church.[xiv]

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms multiple creeds and confessions that declare “to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do.”[xv] Our creeds and confessions “arose in response to particular circumstances within the history of God’s people. They claim the truth of the Gospel at those points where their authors perceived that truth to be at risk. They are the result of prayer, thought, and experience within a living tradition. They appeal to the universal truth of the Gospel while expressing that truth within the social and cultural assumptions of their time. They affirm a common faith tradition, while also from time to time standing in tension with each other.”[xvi]

Should the Letter from Birmingham City Jail be added to the Book of Confessions, it would help shape and guide our church. The Letter from Birmingham City Jail would be one of the confessions that we agree will instruct and lead us in our ordination vows.[xvii]

January 21, 2019. The Bronx, New York.

How does this happen? What is the process that the 223rd General Assembly initiated?

We are Presbyterians. It starts with a committee.

The Office of the General Assembly appoints a study committee to consider the proposal. It consists of ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament with representation coming based on synods. That committee is currently being formed. If you would have interest in serving, let me know and I can help you make the appropriate connection.

That committee will report to the next General Assembly which meets in 2020 in Baltimore. That Assembly considers and votes on the committee’s report. If the Assembly votes to include the Letter from Birmingham Jail, it would send a proposed amendment to the presbyteries for a vote. If two-thirds of the presbyteries approve the amendment, then the General Assembly meeting in 2022 in Columbus, Ohio would confirm that action and the letter would be added to the Book of Confessions.

That’s a long process. It’s decent. It’s orderly. And in some ways, it is a form of ecclesiastical waiting.

But church, while we wait for the General Assembly’s action, we do not have to wait to put the words of the Letter from Birmingham Jail into action. The General Assembly has commended the letter to us for study and as a prophetic witness to inspire, challenge, and educate ourselves and the church and the world.

We can use the letter now to become, in a word from the letter, extremists. Extremists like Jesus. And the prophets. And Mrs. Rosa Parks. And the Rev. Dr. King, Jr. And so many others. Extremists for love. Extremists for justice. May it be so. May we be so. Amen.[xviii]

 

[i] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/boutwell-albert

[ii] https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000321

[iii] https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000321

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_campaign#Conflict_escalation

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_from_Birmingham_Jail

[vi] https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000321

[vii] https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000321

[viii] https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Letter_Birmingham_Jail.pdf

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] http://inside.sfuhs.org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter14/MLKriverside.htm

[xiv] https://pcbiz.s3.amazonaws.com/Uploads/e20a08ef-0d69-4099-985b-f3bc5440f560/Plenary_V_GA_2018_Minutes_1.pdf

[xv] Book of Order, F-2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Book of Order, W-4.0404c

[xviii] https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Letter_Birmingham_Jail.pdf

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