Sermon. January 17, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
Last summer, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd there were massive, sustained protests. George Floyd’s death caught on video shocked many white Americans. Suddenly we were confronted with the reality of white supremacy and the systemic racism Black people live with every day.
As a white person it is possible to choose to address racism or to live in denial and ignore it. Black people, Indigenous People, and People of Color do not have this choose. Racism slaps people who are not white in the face every day. These daily slaps might be tiny micro-aggressions or they might be life threatening.
Last summer the killing of George Floyd, caught on video, shocked many white Americans. Suddenly we were confronted with the reality of white supremacy and systemic racism that Black people live with every day.
Many white Americans joined in grassroots, sustained protests that took place across the USA. The vast majority of these protests were nonviolent.
Erica Chenoweth studies political violence, and also civil resistance. I met Dr. Chenoweth at a week-long program lead by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in 2014. In addition to listening to her lectures I was able to break bread with her during the meals throughout the week.
Dr. Chenoweth looked closely at the Black Lives Matter protests this summer and found that 96% were completely nonviolent. I’m not going to go into the weeds of her research, but the narrative that the Black Lives Matter protests were primarily violent is not true. Angry, yes, but not violent.
On January 6, 2021 the Capitol was invaded, not by a foreign power as in 1814, but by Americans. This was a violent assault on our democratic government.
Now the FBI is warning of the potential for organized violence by white nationalists at state capitols and in Washington DC in the days leading up to January 20th and the weeks following.
Back in 2014 during that week-long seminar on nonviolence I remember Dr. Chenoweth sharing during one of the informal gatherings we had that she feared that the possibility of a second civil war in the USA was 50 / 50. Donald Trump began running for the presidency the following year. This predates Trump.
There is I believe a decision that we as Americans and as Christians are being confronted with. Do we support the emergence of a multiracial democracy or do we support white nationalism?
George Floyd’s death confronted us all with the reality of systemic racism. The January 6th Capitol invasion confronts us all with the reality that there are those who are willing to dispense with democracy. That threatens the freedom we all have.
It is during a time such as this that we as a Church and as disciples of Jesus Christ are called to creating Brave Spaces. The term brave space is being used by three Midwestern conferences of the United Church of Christ to call local UCC churches to be both:
* Open and Affirming congregations, and
* Anti-Racist Churches.
We are already an Open and Affirming congregation. I will focus on our faithful commitment to being an Anti-Racist Church.
In our Gospel reading today we hear the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
It is out of Nazareth in Galilee that Jesus Christ comes. Not from Rome, the European center of imperial power, not even from Jerusalem. Nazareth, out in the margins.
Being from Galilee, rather than say Norway or Scotland, we can also be fairly confident that Jesus, rather than being blue eyed and blond, was very likely brown skinned.
From this place of marginality Jesus emerged and begins God’s Mission to redeem the world. Our faithful commitment to being an Anti-Racist Church comes from this Christ centered Mission to redeem the world.
What follows is the call to being an Anti-Racist Church that comes from the UCC Conferences in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. This is a call to a Brave Space discipleship process.
We have an emerging Justice Team at UCC Norwich to take up this call to Brave Space and to being an Anti-Racist Church.
When we are faced with violent white nationalists willing to subvert our democracy we as a faith community are called to create Brave Space.
Because we affirm that the beauty and blessedness of God’s creation is present in all people:
We make a conscious and deliberate decision to celebrate diversity of creation as uniquely experience by people of color. We honor the sacredness of people’s lives saying, “Black lives matter. Indigenous people’s lives matter. People of color’s lives matter. LGBTQ+ people of color matter.”
Because we know racism will not be eradicated without deliberate engagement in analysis and action:
We shake off complacency and strive constantly to identify the social institutions and practices that grant power and privilege to white people over and against people of color. We do not deflect, deny, or evade opportunities to examine racism and privilege and its effects – and then we work to dismantle it.
Because we confess that harm has been done to people of color in the name of God by words and deeds, and by silence and complacency:
We renounce theologies, ideologies, and doctrines that have been used to justify the enslavement and degradation of people of color. We examine and reimagine church systems and structures, decolonize our iconography and images, and transform the language of liturgies and hymns.
Because we embrace the extravagant love taught by Jesus:
We celebrate black, indigenous, and youth of color and follow their leadership toward creating a world that thinks critically race and racism, then acts for justice. We preach prophetically, witness publicly, and act boldly to confront injustice in all forms.
Because we recognize the need for greater understanding of how racism and white supremacy have impacted people in faith communities:
We support one another on journeys to learn how racism and its effects are embedded in the Church, in our social institutions, as well as in ourselves. We follow the lead of and come alongside people of color to actively resist and overcome systemic injustices of all kinds.
Because we look forward to the time that every church in the UCC, in our country, and in our world senses the movement of the Spirit, recognizes the impact of racism on people’s lives and our communities, and commits to dismantling racism:
We strive for racial justice within our congregation, and we support ministers and laypeople who protest and speak out, and who advocate for equity in access to housing, health care, education, banking, and all other social institutions that disadvantage people of color.
We create Brave Spaces in our congregation and dedicate time for the education, conversation, and discernment central to the journey of being anti-racist and dismantling racism, and we our neighbors to create Brave Space specific to racism in our community.
We hope for each and every Christian congregation to one day prophetically and publicly commit to being an Anti-Racist Church and to living out that commitment anew each day. We commit to BE Church together, live into God’s extravagant welcome, and advocate for justice so that all people may know love, safety, belonging, and dignity.
To this end we are forming a Justice Team to discern the path forward to being an Anti-Racist Church. I invite you to join this Brave Space discipleship process.