By Bishop Peggy Johnson
Last week I attended our new quadrennium’s first meeting of the General Board of Church and Society. I am proud to serve for another four years on this agency that speaks for the concerns of faith, justice and peace in and on behalf of our denomination.
At the end of our three days of conversation, presentations, worship and organizing, a group of us walked down to the Washington DC National Mall, to the site of the new African American Museum of History and Culture, which was to open on Saturday, Sept. 24.
People had already gathered, even a day before. Excitement and joy was in the air. We paused to pray outside the huge bronze-colored building. Several other African American visitors joined us, saying “We are with you.”
I invite everyone to make the journey to the nation’s capital to see this museum. At the dedication on Saturday President Barack Obama stated, “The African American story perhaps needs to be told now more than ever.” This is unquestionably true in the wake of more police shootings of African Americans in Tulsa and Charlotte. We need to hear the real stories of the lives of real people.
In a recent podcast from Ministry Matters, titled “Terence Crutcher, Police Violence and Racism in America (Sept. 23, 2016) Shane Raynor, the editor of “News and Religion,” interviewed several church leaders about what the church needs to be doing. Listen to the podcast here.
The Rev. Hannah Bonner, an Eastern PA Conference elder on extension ministry, works at a faith community in Houston, Texas, known as “The Shout.” She shared her experience of working with the community after the death of Sandra Bland, who reportedly committed suicide in prison after being rudely arrested for a traffic violation.
Focus on lives, not just deaths of African Americans
Bonner said that one very important thing we can do is to focus on the lives of the African American victims of police violence people, and not just on their deaths. Despite the endless media attention on their deaths, we should take time to learn about and honor their lives and legacies, not just focus on how they died.
An important, life-affirming response to the horrors of this continual plague of death and violence is for white people to look, listen, learn and understand with open minds and hearts. This new museum celebrates an essential part of American history and culture. And it gives people an important opportunity to learn and understand more fully that part of our nation’s richly diverse, complex story.
Visitors will experience the journey from slavery to civil rights to Black Lives Matter and hear both famous and obscure stories of triumph and tragedy. It appears there is a war being waged in our society by those who wish to maintain oppressive systems of inequality.
But may this welcome museum experience prepare our church to offer what it uniquely brings to the world: the message that all people are divinely and equally created as children of God, and that everyone is blessed and deserving of life, liberty, respect and justice. This the church’s prophetic word for the world today.