An urgent appeal from Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Philadelphia Episcopal Area
On August 9 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed African American youth in Ferguson, Mo., was fatally shot multiple times by police officer Darren Wilson. Bishop Minerva Carcaño, president of our General Commission on Race and Religion, responded in a public statement that, “We are all accountable for his death and accountable to the African American young people in our communities everywhere.”
That is so true. Michael was our child. So were Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two other teenagers killed by gun shots in 2012, their assailants acquitted of their deaths by Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law.
Nine-year-old Antonio Davis of Chicago was slain just last Wednesday, August 21, by gun shots that tore through his young, innocent body as he likely sought to escape gang violence. He too was our child. And so were too many others taken from us in recent years in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other cities and towns across our nation.
The quaking ground on which we must stand is our accountability to children and yes, adults, of African American and other races, who are victims of violence-random and senseless or premeditated and prejudicial, by law-breakers and law-keepers. We must assert clearly, loudly that every life has value and promise, especially every young life, even in the most unpromising circumstances.
And the loss of each life, no matter how distant or disparate from us, diminishes us nonetheless. In the course of our prayers and anxious discourse, or even in our bewildered silence, that undeniable truth must strike a deep, solemn, reverberating chord in each of us.
We live in a society that is full of terrible violence, racism and socio-economic inequities. We as individuals and as members of our churches and communities need to do all we can to squarely face and address these daunting tragedies in and beyond our churches, in our families, communities, schools, workplaces and our personal lives.
We are all vulnerable when any one of us is vulnerable. There is no us and them. There is only us. We claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, who crosses boundaries and “has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) Well, he not only teaches us to do likewise; he demands it.
Hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill recently reprised her song “Black Rage” in response to the racism, poverty, disrespect and disregard faced by many in Ferguson and similar communities around our nation. She cites “blatant denial, squeezed economics, subsistent survival” as some of the reasons for this continued cycle of violence and distrust that too often erupt in upheaval. The pain felt there must be our pain too, wherever we are. We must see it, hear it, feel it and speak it from our hearts. And the dire need for serious, creative remedies must be our common quest.
How can you help? Well, where do you see or hear about these same struggles happening around you, in your community or other communities near or far? Poor schools and substandard education, rampant unemployment and poverty, growing hunger, dilapidated homes, unsafe streets, inadequate municipal services, distrust and conflicts between residents and police, high rates of incarceration, racial bias and mistreatment.
How can you help? Through joining local and state advocacy efforts; providing tutoring and higher education assistance; offering preparatory employment training and job search help; supporting community gardens and healthy food stores; getting involved in sweat equity ministries like Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing; starting recreation, arts and crafts and other activities for youth after school; holding community forums and gatherings for relationship building and dialogue; and generating citizen education, research, documentation, legal help, negotiation and advocacy to reduce and respond to mistreatment by police.
That’s just a start. Some churches can do more; but every church can do something, especially through church and community partnerships.
Actually, the way we start is to look and listen to our communities and get to know residents, schools, businesses, organizations and other participants from all walks of life. And then we must demonstrate the outreaching, redemptive love of Christ, as John Wesley reminds us, in all the ways we can, to all the people we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can.
"This past week I've watched an American city become something akin to a war zone," says popular actor Orlando Jones in a recent online video. He then borrows from the also popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where people are accepting the challenge to pour ice or cold water over their heads and make contributions to help find a cure for ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Jones, a lifetime member of the NRA, pours instead a bucket of bullets over his head. He then tells viewers, “I'm challenging myself to listen without prejudice, to love without limits and to reverse the hate. That's my challenge to me and hopefully you will accept this challenge too."
I accept Jones’ challenge wholeheartedly, and I urge each of you to do the same: Listen without prejudice, love without limits and reverse the hate.”
Dear members and churches of our two conferences in the Philadelphia Episcopal Area, I ask you to seek ways to help balance the scales of justice in this world so that everyone gets what they need, everyone is treated with respect and no one is seen as “less than” or undeserving of the blessings of life.
Christ tells us to "watch and pray always." So let us watch keenly and not be blind or deaf to what is happening in our midst. Let us not be mute or immobile and thus fail in our calling to be active witnesses to God’s transforming love, mercy and justice in our world.
Please join me in watching, praying and working for a nation–and indeed, a world–that is free from using violence as a misguided, tragic solution to life’s struggles. Together we must see it, hear it, feel it, speak it and then do it “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)