A Letter to White Presbyterians
A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Elder Ralph Lowe
Director of Justice Ministries
June 2, 2020
Dear White Siblings in Christ,
Another news cycle, another black life taken, and another city in rage and in flames. I am tired; I am angry; I am scared; I am outraged; I am desperate; I am hurt; and I am Black. I am the Director of Justice Ministries, husband, father, coach, brother, best friend, student, and I am Black. Again and again in America it is clear that the last adjective is the only part that determines my worth. I am Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, George Floyd and Ralph Lowe.
As a father of four African American young men I have constant conversations with them about living while Black. We talk about how to effectively comply when pulled over or stopped on the street by the police: make sure your hands are always visible, always announce your actions, “I’m reaching for my wallet, I’m opening the glove compartment for my insurance.” This conversation is framed by the false narratives of black men and women whose noncompliance resulted in death. How do we explain the evil (violence) to our children of the George Floyd murder? I chose not to use the word violence because violence seems balanced, fair or justified and what we have seen recently is none of these. I educate my sons to speak truth always, but it’s heartbreaking to speak the truth when it means looking into my beautiful, young teenage boys’ eyes and declaring the reality that the world says their black lives do not matter.
The arrest of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin does not correct the issue of racism. The issue is systemic and historical; regardless of race we are affected by the realities of this societal injustice. We are all affected by this injustice; we are all responsible to correct it. Thank you for changing your Facebook profile or liking a post – but more is needed. The Holy Spirit calls us to embody justice. The book you read on white guilt is a good start, but the Holy Spirit calls us to action. Praying for these issues is not enough, the Holy Spirit calls us to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers…” (James 1:22a).
Last Sunday was Pentecost, a time when denominational lines dissolve as we celebrate with united hearts the start of the church. According to the PCUSA website , on the Day of Pentecost “we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit descending in a mighty rush of wind and flame to inspire the church’s proclamation of Christ’s rising and to empower its mission and ministry to the world.” We read throughout scripture that the Holy Spirit is more than charismatic experiences. The outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit is more than dancing and speaking in tongues. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples they are empowered to break from societal norms and live life in a new way.
From the Holy Spirit, we receive the gift of strength and ability to act. From the Holy Spirit we receive our commission to proclaim God’s justice “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) God through Jesus Christ has not orphaned us but empowered us through the Spirit of Truth, an Advocate forever.
We must respond to the call to action by the Spirit. No longer can pastors and congregations sit idly by as the progression of structural, systematic, and institutional racism continues to support the eradication of sisters and brothers of color. The time to act is now!
If you faithfully say “Black lives matter” you must get involved in Black life. Assume racism is everywhere, every day. Support the leadership of people of color. Talk to your children about racism. Understand and learn the history of racism and how it has evolved over time.
I know many of you don’t know what to do individually or as congregations. Here are some general and pragmatic things you can start doing now:
- Lead your congregations, friends, and family members into relationships with individuals and communities of color. Technology can destroy the barrier of separation by geography.
- Intentionally seek out the perspectives of people of color through writers, leaders, and scholars (the Office of the Director of Justice Ministries for the Pittsburgh Presbytery has great resources).
- Help organize a small task force to be in constant prayer over a few days to seek spiritual guidance for what your church can do to fight racism and injustice.
- Create small groups or committees focusing on racial harmony and awareness (the Office of the Director of Justice Ministries for the Pittsburgh Presbytery has great resources).
- Invite people to write a one sentence prayer on your Facebook page, “I pray for…..”
The Holy Spirit has given us tools to do these things. The only faithful way to honor Pentecost is to act. Please don’t waste this gift.