Pastoral Letter to the Community of Lawrence
(This is the full version of a letter to the editor that was published in the Lawrence Journal World on July 28, 2020.)
This letter is a public confession. As faith leaders in Lawrence, we confess that we have too often kept silent while our black and brown neighbors waited for us to speak up. We confess that we have not declared that black lives matter in unequivocal terms. We confess that our silence is complicity with violence that targets vulnerable people. We have permitted racism to fester in our institutions, in our public life, in our neighborhoods, in our congregations, and even in our personal lives, without calling it by name. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
The Apostle Paul urges the earliest Christians to not conform to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed (Romans 12:2). The word the Apostle uses here implies more than simply an intellectual changing of one’s mind, but a full conversion, encompassing a change of mind, heart, and behavior. We confess that we have too readily conformed to racist patterns. And we repent—which is to say we commit to the hard and holy process of transformation.
Racism in all its guises is sin. It separates us from God and from one another. Naming the sin of racism is the first step toward repentance. In our religious traditions, repentance begins with self-examination and an openness to personal transformation. We seek to understand first how it is that we have permitted sinful behavior into our lives. How have we excused it? How have we protected it from view by others? How have we benefited by it?
Repentance begins with confession and self-examination, but it does not end there. For us, true repentance means that we turn more faithfully toward the path of Jesus. Following Jesus means we offer ourselves to the work of transformation even beyond ourselves—that we work with God toward transformation in our families, our churches, our communities, our world.
Placing our trust in God’s power for life, we speak now against the death-dealing power of racism, and we commit ourselves to work for justice. That work will look different for each of us—in our own lives, in our churches, in our community involvement. We commit to doing that work to the best of our ability, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God.
Rev. Dr. Valerie Miller-Coleman, Sr. Pastor Plymouth Congregational Church
Rev. Joanna Harader, Pastor, Peace Mennonite Church
Rev. Carolynn Winters-Hazelton, Campus Minister, Ecumenical Campus Ministries
Rev. Dr. Matthew Sturtevant, Sr. Pastor, First Baptist Church