In 1999 the First Presbyterian Church had 193 members. In 2019 the number was 75. This 20-year decline is not much different than what I see elsewhere in our presbytery. However, a church of 500 that drops to 250 can still support a pastor. The Coffeyville church can’t, at least not a seminary trained, ordained, and installed pastor.
We are not good at asking questions like “Why do border controls exist?” and “Why are there borders in the first place?” or “Why is locking up people who are seeking refuge wrong?” These are difficult conversations to have in church and in the public square.
I asked if they had ever had conversations with the town 12 miles away, which has a part time PCUSA pastor, about a yoked pastorate. They wondered aloud about what a pastor would do. The pulpit is filled by church members, retired pastors, and commissioned ruling elders, and they – the members and community – do everything else.
Baptizing in the name of love? No, I see no evidence of love. Those “ye” delegated and charged to go forth without benefit of gold, carrying neither staff nor provisions, might have recognized the general theme of hospitality – as they were supposed to teach hospitality – but they did not recognize the significance of the spontaneous hospitality proffered them by the Indigenous People of the Americas.
Hope, however, sparks in some parts of this country. Thousands of people flocked to the streets, protesting against the deaths of Floyd and other Black people. Their sustained protests have accomplished some positive changes, particularly in the operations of the police forces.
We’ve had years, decades, centuries to change the virus of racism and yet, because it’s uncomfortable or maybe unimaginable or too scary or there’s too much risk or there’s too many unknowns, we’ve just let it infect every cell in our social bodies.
Besides all of this, I have been unable to get over the fact that the vast majority of my non-POC “brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus” in the Church have been reticent to speak with a single voice about this enormous and ongoing SIN of racism in America. Because I love Jesus Christ and his body deeply on this planet, I have a bone to pick with the Church in its whiteness. I am both mad and sad.
I am writing this from my home in Minneapolis, half a mile from the Third Precinct police station that burned on Tuesday night and a block from a neighborhood bar that is still smoldering. Military helicopters fly close overhead. The air smells of tear gas and smoke. Images swirl in my head. Guilt weighs heavily on my heart. I worry about where we go from here.
But whatever its origins, many of us have embraced white-adjacency as our ticket to acceptance, at the expense of solidarity with the struggles of other people of color. Asian-Americans have been prominent in movements such as stopping affirmative action in colleges and protesting high school test reform. An alarming amount of Asian-Americans rail against “illegal immigration” since they “did it the right way,” and while various polls conflict as to the amount of support Asian Americans supported Trump, Filipino-Americans in particular seem to be near the top of Asian-American groups that have a significant minority of them supporting the man who called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers.
To my white siblings, as we once again have the unfortunate opportunity to reflect on the pernicious power of white supremacy in the United States, as we reflect on the specific injustices done to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, what are we willing to do to learn about the historic systems preceding their deaths? Make no mistake, these are but symptomatic events. Protesting their deaths is worthwhile, but what is the long slow work of truly good news that we are willing to undertake so that we can understand and empathize as best as possible? And then, equipped with that knowledge and empathy, how will we act? Micah 6:8 asks us “to do justice”, not just occasionally talk about it so we can feel good until the discomfort goes away.