Beloved in Christ,
In times when I personally look to pastors in my life for words of comfort, prayer, and faithful response, I know that you are hoping to hear from your pastor, too. How blessed I am to be the Senior Pastor here at LUMC and serve alongside the clergy appointed (Revs. McSwords, Folden, and Hilliard). In this moment, however, I need you to know that the words I share in this letter are my own.
We read in the book of Amos the Prophet that God demands that we hate evil, love good, and establish justice. Famously, Amos 5:24 shares the earnest and fervent prayer of a prophet to “let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
While our nation’s governing system articulates justice, I truly and vulnerably wonder if what we witnessed in the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial was, indeed, justice. True justice would be no lives lost at the hands of law enforcement officers (or anyone else, for that matter). While former Minneapolis Police Office, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty on all three charges in the death of George Floyd, we must not rest in striving towards God’s vision of justice and realizing our own call to participate fully in that call.
One of my dearest colleagues, Rev. Jasmine Smothers, wrote to her own congregation at Atlanta First UMC that, “justice is a yearning and requirement that God desires from God’s people. We do not have the right to take the life of God’s people…” and she went on to prophetically articulate realities that we may know and choose to set aside:
- It is a statistical fact that black people in America are unjustly over-policed with fatal outcomes.
- It is a statistical fact that racism in America is rampant in our communities.
- It is a statistical fact that the lives of black people are neither protected nor cherished the way that the lives of white people are protected and cherished.
As I read her words, they stung. And they should have. God is in the business of calling us to look deep within ourselves, our systems, and our institutions towards the places that we are falling short of our baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.
I find it disheartening that I can reference back to the last time I sent an all-church communication regarding the intersection of racism and policing, but it is my reality. In light of that, I want to be clear: I am in support of fair policing and law enforcement practices and policies that are just and equally implemented. I have been privileged to pastor some of the most upstanding law enforcement officers that we could ever know. In fact, it heartens me to know that in both policing and in our military are those with whom I share faith.
But our own United Methodist Book of Discipline states, “Support without accountability promotes moral weakness; accountability without support is a form of cruelty.”
Those brave women and men who don a badge and uniform do so because (at least it is my hope) they want to protect, defend, and support their community. With the power that their badge affords them also comes need for understanding that their vocation elevates them to a position of power. To equate the color that represents their vocation to the color of skin in which a person resides is a false equivalency.
To boldly proclaim, “Black Lives Matter” has made some who receive my pastoral words uncomfortable because of the organizational and political connotations, and so I will also proclaim that a phrase I whole-heartedly believe: Black lives matter to God. To proclaim anything different is to deny that each and every person is made in the image of God, imago dei. Right now our sisters and brothers who are black are hurting, and if we say or do anything that hinders them receiving a message of God’s love for them, we are sinning.
And yet, even in the midst of the historical and emotional day of receiving the verdict, we live in a community that is again ripped apart by the intersections of racism and policing, two things which are not inextricably bound but continue to be intertwined. Certainly none of us can yet speak to what exactly happened in the altercation which merited a police response and ultimately fatal gunfire upon Ma’Khia Bryant, and yet without knowing fully we can be sorrowful over another black life taken, another police officer who will bear the weight of actions resulting in fatality, and also proclaim the racism in which we both knowingly and unknowingly participate.
The least we can do right now is pray for justice and peace, but I pray we go beyond the minimum. Let’s listen to those whose voices and tears are crying out for justice and who are quite literally dying in its absence. Let’s identify any and all power and privilege from which we benefit and then leverage that to amplify the voices which are not being heard. Let’s hold all in power to the highest standards, and let’s support them not unwaveringly but with accountability.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Anna Guillozet