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Black Lives Matter

Words matter.

If anyone knows that this is true, it must be we who claim the name “Christian.” For it is we Christians who say that Jesus the Christ, whom we love and serve, is the Word of God.

Our scriptures tell us that the very universe began with a bang when God spoke. All that is started with a few words.

Our tradition puts a speech, a proclamation, a sermon — puts words — as the climax of our worship gatherings.

Our experience of life together in community often revolves around words shared: “We are praying for you.” “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” “Lord, hear our prayer.” “Love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves in all we do and say.”

Words matter.

(Of course there are times when we misuse our words. When we speak without thinking. When we use our words to harm others. When silence is the best or only response. Even in these times, however, words matter.)

Here’s an example I’ve seen all over Facebook this week. The meme offers two similar sentences. The first: “It’s terrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.”

The second: “It’s terrible property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.”

See the difference? Better yet: see and hear and feel the difference? Words matter. What and whom we prioritize in our speech and in our actions matters.

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

How many of us have said, “Yes!” to this membership question in baptism or confirmation? How are we doing with that? I mean “we” in all our identities — as individuals, as families, as a congregation, as a denomination, as a nation, as a global community?

In this moment in our county, as evil and injustice and oppression reveal themselves, we strive to find both the right words say and the right actions to take in response to rampant racism. I definitely don’t know all the right words to say or all the right actions to take to bring those words into life. But I know this:

  • Racism is incompatible with Christian teaching. Racism is incompatible with following Jesus.
  • I am seeking the racist attitudes that reside in me so that I may eradicate them.
  • I am striving to be antiracist.
  • I condemn the racist murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others before them.
  • I condemn the racism built into our systems — often intentionally built into our systems — of housing, education, policing, healthcare, employment. Systems from which I have benefited greatly.
  • I invite you to join me on this journey. Because I need you and our community needs you.

As the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis said, "We can only heal from this nightmare by fighting through the white supremacy that has brought us here."

Words matter. So say it with me in full-throated, Spirit-anointed truth: Black Lives Matter.

End Gun Violence

Mass shootings are defined as four or more people shot, not including the shooter. By that definition, according to the nonprofit organization Gun Violence Archive, USAmerica has experienced 255 mass shootings so far in 2019. Today, August 9th, is only the 221st day of 2019.

It is indisputable that our country has an addiction to violence, an addiction to guns, and an addiction to gun violence. So what are we United Methodists doing in response to all this abhorrent violence and death?

We're praying, of course. Because our strength and resolve and grace comes from God: our Source of love and all that is good, right, true, and just.

And we are speaking out. Our Northern Illinois Conference Bishop, the Rev. Sally Dyck:

I urge all churches to pray for the victims of violence and death across this country again this week. We too easily slip into “moving on,” forgetting how many families will never “move on” after last weekend alone. Theologian Miroslav Volf said, “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.” We must endeavor “to do something,” as the crowd chanted at the governor of Ohio following the tragedy in Dayton. How will we resolve the violence, specifically related to guns, in our nation? What is our will to do so?

Read Bishop Dyck's full statement here.

As the United Methodist News Services writes: 

United Methodists have long looked for ways to stop gun violence in all its forms. The denomination’s Book of Resolutions encourages congregations to advocate for such measures as universal background checks for all gun purchases and bans on large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled. In both El Paso and Dayton, the suspected gunmen were armed with assault weapons and extra magazines.

How does the aforementioned Book of Resolution address gun violence? With a detailed, prophetic, scripture-soaked vision of a world freed from gun violence. Here's a taste:

"As followers of Jesus, called to live into the reality of God’s dream of shalom as described by Micah, we must address the epidemic of gun violence so “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” Therefore, we call upon United Methodists to prayerfully address gun violence in their local context."

Some of the ways the Resolution calls on us to address gun violence:

"For congregations to make preventing gun violence a regular part of our conversations and prayer times. Gun violence must be worshipfully and theologically reflected upon."

"For congregations to assist those affected by gun violence through prayer, pastoral care, creating space, and encouraging survivors to share their stories, financial assistance, and through identifying other resources in their communities as victims of gun violence and their families walk through the process of grieving and healing."

"For United Methodist congregations to partner with local law-enforcement agencies and community groups to identify gun retailers that engage in retail practices designed to circumvent laws on gun sales and ownership."

"For United Methodist congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence. Some of those measures include:

  • Universal background checks on all gun purchases
  • Ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty
  • Ensuring all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers
  • Prohibiting all individuals convicted of violent crimes from purchasing a gun for a fixed time period
  • Prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun
  • Prohibiting persons with serious mental illness, who pose a danger to themselves and their communities, from purchasing a gun
  • Ensuring greater access to services for those suffering from mental illness
  • Establishing a minimum age of 21 years for a gun purchase or possession
  • Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons designed to fire multiple rounds each time the trigger is pulled"

My hope and prayer is that we here at Woodridge UMC will continue to be people actively praying and speaking and working to end gun violence. 

In which ways will you join this effort?