“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”
Lamentations 1:12 (NIV)
Dear CME Family:
One of the denominational leaders of another Black Methodist body called this week to ask me if I could sign onto a statement against “the assassinations against our sons and daughters.” This was my immediate and honest response: “I have no question with the statement; I can sign the statement, but what good will it do?” I am obviously tired of signing well worded but impotent statements.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, hardly an Annual Conference was held that I attended in which there was not a “State of the Country” statement that raised the issues of blatant and sometimes covert racism and called the Church to act in various ways in response. I don’t hear those statements in Annual Conferences much anymore. Could it be that we don’t hear it because of our laziness, or is it that we don’t have solutions, or have we become disparagingly cynical as if there be no hope in words?
We have a wordy President. He doesn’t use what we call “big words” – but he uses a lot of superlatives, saying that everything he wants or proposes is always very, very good; the best; the first; the greatest; the most amazing; etc. And then sometimes he uses words as code language to speak to a racist underground in the United States with which he seems to resonate.
But with all of his words, this President has not addressed in any considered way the miserable, degrading, shameful fact that more than 101,000 people in these United States have died from a pandemic that his predecessor (Mr. Obama) left him and his Administration an official warning about and an official manual for fighting. But Mr. Trump as a new President in 2017 was more focused on removing the red tape and more focused on engaging the surreptitious actions related to the phrase “limited government,” so the instructions given by Mr. Obama for hospitals and rest homes to prepare for a possible viral pandemic were reversed by Mr. Trump through an Executive Order in 2017. No wonder the hospitals were not more prepared!
I hope we will recognize in our worship on this Sunday – on this Pentecost Sunday – that this country has passed this significant milestone of more than 101,000 deaths from this Pandemic, more than any other country in the world. Their voices are silenced, even as the language of those early disciples were silenced from speaking to the non-Galileans who had assembled in Jerusalem! And yet God worked the miracle of tongues!
In their silence, these 101,000 yet speak!
I prayerfully hope we will recognize that the President who said early this year that this disease would “mysteriously go away” has had almost nothing to say about the significance of more than 101,000 persons have died, victims to COVID-19. Perhaps he doesn’t want us to know what a failure this Administration has been in this regard!
But I shan’t be so hard on the President, because he represents the United States of America. Oh! What I mean is, you may or may not have voted for him … but he represents who too much of this country is, and how sad! Because just as he wishes to ignore the deaths of 101,000 people, so the country wishes to ignore and “forget” the deaths of untold numbers of Black people in this country because of racism.
I say to you that, in their silence, the blood of our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, like the blood of Abel, will continue to “cry out from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). And this country will have no peace until these cries are recognized.
I had to hold my peace a few years ago in Lubbock at the hotel we used for Conference when, in settling the bill, the sales manager (in what he expressed as a compliment to Dr. Van Carl Williams meeting planner) told me how comfortable it is to deal with someone who doesn’t have a chip on their shoulder, and then said, “I’m tired of hearing people complain about what happened to their Grandfather.” Well, you know me well enough that sometimes my truth can be brash (especially when “Lorenzo” comes out), and I wanted to tell him, “It’s not about what happened to our Grandfathers! It’s about what’s happened to us!” But I knew I could not tell him in a calm tone, and this was our first meeting, so I prayed God to hold my tongue while I wrote a check and left.
The number – more than 101,000 dead – and a very large percentage of them are Black. That’s more than the sizes of Texas cities Greenville and Nacogdoches and Lufkin put together! Imagine those many people – the populations of all three of these cities together – dead! We are nearing the 2018 estimate of Tyler, Texas’ population (105,729) with the number of people dead of COVID-19 … and our wordy President has said very little to comfort us, or to recognize their deaths, or to commend the sacrifices of the many who died trying to work as healers (the “essential workers,” with very little to work with).
Meanwhile, people loot and riot in the streets of Minneapolis and other cities because they, too, are tired of trying to be peaceful, tired of pleading words falling on deaf ears, tired of a nation that refuses to hear the oppressions and sufferings which killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson and Oscar Grant and Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice … and … and … and ….
So: what can we do other than sign statements?
Pray. I know that sounds powerless to some, but I have to tell you that when I deal with these kinds of issues, I have to pray. I must pray for God to first calm my spirit enough to help me hear God above the noise. I must pray for God to give me wisdom in what to say and not say. I have to pray for God to lead me to the right groups of people to work with in the battles against racism. And I also must pray that God will change people’s hearts. I can’t change people’s hearts, but God can.
Persist. Continue in dialogue and working together, even though it is often difficult. This is probably the hardest part of these five things to do. That’s because it means to sit in the room with people who believe they are do-gooders when they don’t see when they also are parts of the problem. That’s because even in those rooms, you have to help educate the educated who are ignorant of any culture other than their own. That’s because in these rooms, sooner or later we, too, must confront our own biases and inconsistencies. It’s work, it’s hard, but we must.
Write. Take your computer and write a letter to the County Attorney of Minneapolis and demand the arrest on the charge of murder for the Policeman whom we can see on the video pressuring his knee into the neck of George Floyd until he was dead and a charge representing complicity of those Police officers who stood by, doing nothing to stop the killing. Here is the address: County Attorney Mike Freeman, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55487; email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or, on Twitter, @HennepinAtty. (Phone 612-348-5550.) I heard Friday from a national leader with Catholic Charities that George Floyd was a regular volunteer with the Salvation Army of Minneapolis. We’ve lost a good citizen. Don’t let his death go unmarked by our actions.
Participate. Join with me in BLACKOUT DAY on July 7, 2020. This is a call to action – to have one day of solidarity in America when not one Black person in American spends a dollar! That kind of day will not go unnoticed, and will have more positive effect than burning down stores in our communities. Please plan your shopping so that on July 7th you buy NOTHING! Not in the stores. Not on line. NOTHING! Let the country feel the impact of Black economics. #blackoutday2020.
Vote. Yes, vote. How many of us stayed home in 2016? We need to vote in every election. Why do you stay home when the Board of Education is being voted on? When the City Council is being formed? When propositions that affect us and our children are on the ballot? Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Yes, Christian Citizens, we must Vote!
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick