Solidarity or Distancing?

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, April 22, 2021

In last week’s letter I noted how eyewitnesses to the risen Lord turned the world upside down. According to biblical records, those that opposed the early Christian movement did not dispute the story of Jesus’ resurrection. There were just too many witnesses who claimed to see him, touch him, hear him, and eat with him. 

It was not the event of the resurrection, but its telling that the authorities contested. If the apostles had stayed quiet, they would not have gotten into trouble. Like congressman John Lewis, the early Christians welcomed “good trouble,” the kind of trouble one gets into for standing up to powers that seek to silence the truth.

The power of eyewitnesses to turn the world upside down was revealed yet again in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. Anyone with a smartphone can turn the whole world into witnesses. The power of witnesses whose testimony was utterly undeniable led to the historic conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.

Our siblings in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities have sent out to the whole church a request for support in this difficult time. Jeff Japinga, the presbytery’s Executive, issued the following call to prayer, and I encourage us all to take it to heart:

“I invite you to join your prayers and commitments with ours. Prayers for the soul-level exhaustion of the Black community, both within our presbytery and in our wider society. Prayers for a broken city and region whose necessary work for justice, not simply around one verdict but for its long-term transformation, will be steep and challenging. And a commitment to action fixed on what truly matters: changing and reforming our hearts and our systems. May God give us the courage, righteous anger, and dedication needed to dismantle the hatred, racism and white supremacy that plagues us.”

Let us be clear – the Chauvin verdict was an indictment of a particular individual, not of all police. Most police do their work with integrity and honor, often at great personal peril. Yet many Black people feel unsafe in the hands of police. Their fears are not unfounded or irrational. They will not go away until systemic change takes place.

Will those of us who do not personally fear the police stand in solidarity with those who do feel unsafe in the hands of public safety offers? Or will we stand at a distance, claiming it’s not our problem? Or even worse, will we deny that there even is a problem with our nation’s administration of law, order, and justice?

The need for better laws and more righteous enforcement of them has been highlighted by the recent escalation of mass shootings across the nation. According to CNN, there have been more than 50 reported mass shootings since the Atlanta spa shooting a month ago, and more than 150 in 2021. Many of these have made the national news cycle, while others have not. The question is not whether we need righteous enforcement of good laws, but whether we have the courage to demand it. We need more justice, not less.

Like the political and economic leaders confronted by the Easter message during the days of the apostles, those of us who enjoy privileged positions in our current order may well acknowledge unwelcome truths, yet want to silence any attempts to talk about them out loud. We need to do some honest self-assessment about how ready we are to embrace changes that genuine justice requires.

As God’s people, we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), repairers of the breach (Isaiah 58:12), agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). We can be none of these if we deny there is a problem, or if we want to silence calls for truth. We have no choice but to be people of the way to truth and life, if we are followers of the One who is himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Yours in seeking to tell the truth,

Sheldon 

Strong statements in response to the Chauvin verdict have been issued by our ministry partners, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities and the National Council of Churches.

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