Church Leaders Address Injustice Following Charlottesville

8/16/2017
By Drew Page

More than 30 Conference staff and church leaders gathered together in Hartford Tuesday, August 15, in a conversation about racism and the current states of our church and our nation. Many of the participants who joined the meeting were looking for ways to respond to the injustices witnessed in Charlottesville over the weekend.

TJ Harper, Racial Justice Associate for the Connecticut and Massachusetts Conferences, and Isaac Monts, Associate for Justice and Leadership for the CT Conference, lead the meeting by asking participants to consider where we are today, both as a nation and as a church. Harper began by talking about "the harsh reality of how little has changed in America." He used data from the 1950s and compared it to inequities practiced today in mortgage approvals, employment rates, and school desegregation.
 
"How far is it going to pervade?" asked Harper.

Monts addressed the question of where we are as a church. He began by reminding all that "we are called to stand up to oppression, discrimination, and anything else that threatens the love of God from permeating the Earth."

He shared an experience of church leader questioning why Silver Lake Conference Center supports the Black Lives Matter movement. During the encounter the person offered an explanation of the movement that revealed a lack of understanding of both the meaning behind Black Lives Matter and the nature of racism.
 
"That just showed me that we as a body of Christ are not displaying that love that Christ displayed for us," said Monts.

During the conversation, participants both in-person and online express concerns for exactly how individuals and churches can stand up to injustices in their communities. One pastor stated, "I'm frightened at moments to speak out." Another said she felt that Christian values had been so politicized that it was now more difficult to confront injustices.

Rev. Jack Davidson, pastor of Spring Glen Church in Hamden, recognized that the modern "culture of choice," an environment in which church members simply choose to leave a church when topics become uncomfortable, makes it harder for pastors to address the issues.
 
"We are in an era where keeping silent on these things is no longer an option," said Davidson.

Suggesting that preaching about injustices may not work for every church, Davidson offered some other options such as "preaching with action," organizing events, or bringing in facilitators for Racial Justice Training.
 
Rev. Susan Townsley proposed that one-to-one conversations may be more effective than preaching. She suggested pastors consider who they might have a conversation with in order to change the hearts and minds of their congregations.

Harper concluded the meeting saying, "The road we are on is a long road to achieving equity. It’s a hard road and also tiresome." He added, "we are together, and God is with us too."
 
Below are links to some resources to consider in moving forward to address issues of racism and other injustices:
Racial Justice Training
Youth Racial Justice Training
White Privilege Curriculum
Racial Justice Podcast (available in September)
Waking up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy D. Snyder

A Message from The Conference Minister, Rev. Kent J. Siladi:

Colleagues:  
The events of this past weekend put a spotlight on the racism that is deeply embedded in our church and in our culture. We have work to do. We cannot simply point to others as “the problem.” It is too simple and too convenient to make this an issue that only tackles the disgusting overt racism we witnessed in Charlottesville. The systemic roots of racism run deep in our society and in our churches. Our Racial Justice Ministry staff and Board are working to find ways for local churches and leaders to not only “talk the talk” but “walk the walk” that is necessary to eradicate racism.

The national officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers issued this pastoral letter today that includes resources to include in your times of worship. Let us continue to work for the beloved community that Jesus commands us to be.

Read the Pastoral Letter here

With hope and commitment,

Kent Siladi,
CT Conference Minister